Algeria is witnessing demonstrations of a magnitude that the oil-rich country has not experienced in decades. The trigger for the protests is the decision of the 82-year president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run for its 5th presidential term. Since he is not physically in the country, his proxy filed the necessary paperwork this week while Mr. Bouteflika himself lay in a Geneva hospital bed. Algerians have been protesting for days against his decision to run. The largest demonstration took place on 1 March and attracted thousands of people. While most protests have been peaceful, a few clashes between protestors and Algerian authorities have increased tensions.
Police have fired tear gas at people gathered on the streets of Algeria’s capital city with many demonstrators having been arrested. The question now is how the regime is going to respond. “They have no plan to deal with the protestors and there’s no ‘plan B’ for moving on from Bouteflika,” George Joffe, an Algeria expert who retired from the University of Cambridge. In the meantime, both the United States and the European Union have called for all parties to respect the rights of Algerians to peaceful protest, freedom of speech and assembly. “When we talk about demonstrations, the rights to freedom of expression and assembly are enshrined in the Algerian Constitution” said Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for the European Commission.
Mr. Bouteflika has not been seen much in public since his stroke in 2013. In rare public appearances, he seems to be having a difficulty to speak and he is bound to a wheelchair. His last public speech took place in 2014. Algerians find the fact that such an incapacitated elderly person could rule the country an insult with some holding posters: “Respect the dead. Bury him, don’t elect him”. The re-election of Mr. Bouteflika would also mean a de facto re-election of his entourage and patronage network, which many Algerians blame for the dire political and economic situation.