Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 July 2019

Algerian army can facilitate transition

After weeks of protests, this situation must be resolved, not merely managed

Protests have been ongoing for weeks demand that Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resign. Reuters
Protests have been ongoing for weeks demand that Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resign. Reuters

For several weeks, mass protests have filled the streets of Algeria, demanding the departure of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. A former liberation champion, Mr Bouteflika distinguished himself in the early 2000s by helping to end a grim civil war and establishing Algeria as an example of post-conflict stability. However, after years of political stagnation, the Algerian people are calling for change.

This is not an attack on the president himself, but on the opaque political system he represents. With the military, unions, and members of his ruling coalition turning against him, Mr Bouteflika has little chance of retaining the presidency. Meanwhile, his announcement last month that he would not seek a fifth term in office but would not depart immediately failed to pacify demonstrators.

And yet, protests have been characterised by a hopeful, positive atmosphere, free from violence. It is a testament to the will of all concerned to see a peaceful future for Algeria. Clearly, the country needs to forge a meaningful new path and this situation should not merely be managed, but resolved. Doing so effectively will set the tone for the future of this strategically important nation.

In recent days, the army has emerged as a key power-broker, after its chief, Lt Gen Ahmed Salah, called for Mr Bouteflika to be declared constitutionally unfit for office. Many individuals across Algeria’s political spectrum have come out in support of Mr Salah’s remarks – unsurprising, perhaps, given that it is at times such as this that names are made and reputations formed. The military is revered across the country for its role in bringing stability, and the institution has distinguished itself this month in a region where peaceful protests are often met with violence. As such, many protesters have pinned their hopes for a peaceful transition on the army.

As prominent activist Moustafa Bouchachi said: “I hope [the military] will continue to be with the people, and, yes, I hope it will help secure a transition.” This may now be the least injurious course of action, although Mr Salah should be aware that Algerians are unlikely to settle for more of the same. If Mr Bouteflika is replaced with another member of the ruling elite, anger will most likely continue to grow. It is a new breed of young Algerian politician that the people are demanding.

This is Algeria’s biggest challenge in decades. If handled well, it will give Algerians an opportunity to decide what kind of country they want. The military has an opportunity to facilitate this and oversee a meaningful transition befitting of the legacy of Mr Bouteflika. Dancing and blowing horns, Algerian protesters are imbued with hope for the future. That optimism must not give way to scenes of despair, or, worse, violence – and Algeria’s powerful military can and should make sure of that.

Updated: March 31, 2019 06:31 PM

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