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The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 7th March 2019

Anger in Algiers

Blue Lines

The campaign to stop President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from running for a fifth term in Algeria's elections has provoked both shock and surrealism. Shock because the millions of young Algerians marching in Constantine, Oran as well as the capital Algiers is the biggest show of popular protest since 1988 when demonstrators demanded and secured free elections. Surreal because the response of le pouvoir, the secretive cabal around the ailing President, was to send campaign manager Abdelghani Zalene to the Constitutional council to register Bouteflika's candidacy. At the time, the President was in Geneva undergoing more medical treatment. Bouteflika has not spoken in public since his stroke in 2013.

In one of his last speeches before that, he said he wanted to hand the baton to a new generation. But the clique around Bouteflika, led by his younger brother Said, doesn't share that view of the succession. The swelling opposition movement has forced the regime to make concessions. The first, on 4 March, was that Bouteflika would run in next month's election but step down after a year.

At most it will buy le pouvoir some time while it considers its next move, perhaps an offer of a transitional regime before fresh elections. For now, many are watching Army chief of staff Ahmed Gaid Salah, one of Bouteflika's strongest supporters, whose declared abhorrence of military interventions in politics has lessened markedly in recent weeks.

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