[News] “We Woke Up and You Will Pay!” Algeria in Revolt

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Apr 10 12:28:03 EDT 2019


https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/04/10/we-woke-up-and-you-will-pay-algeria-in-revolt/ 



  “We Woke Up and You Will Pay!” Algeria in Revolt

by Hamza Hamouchene <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/nrk7z8j111/> - 
April 10, 2019
------------------------------------------------------------------------

What is happening in Algeria is truly historic. The people won the first 
battle in their struggle to radically overhaul the system. 
Abdelaziz**Bouteflika, president for the past twenty years, was forced 
to abdicate after more than six weeks of street protests and a 
re-configuration of alliances within the ruling classes.

Since Friday, February 22, millions of people, young and old, men and 
women from different social classes have taken to the streets in a 
momentous uprising, re-appropriating long-confiscated public space. 
Historic Friday marches followed by protests in several sectors 
(education, health, petrochemical industry, students, etc) united people 
in their rejection of the ruling system and their demands of radical 
democratic change.

The two emblematic slogans of this peaceful uprising — “They must all 
go!” and “The country is ours and we’ll do what we wish” — symbolize the 
radical evolution of this popular movement that was triggered by the 
octogenarian president’s announcement to run for a fifth term despite 
dealing with serious health issues; Bouteflika has not addressed the 
nation for nearly six years.

What makes this movement really unique is its massive scale, peaceful 
character and national spread, including the marginalized south. The 
movement is also characterized by a significant participation of women 
and especially young people, who constitute the majority of the 
population. Algeria has not witnessed such a broad, diverse and 
widespread movement since 1962, when Algerians went to the streets to 
celebrate their hard-won independence from French colonial rule.

The uprising caught many by surprise. In early February, the political 
mood was still that of despair and resignation at what the authorities 
were preparing to do with the presidential elections scheduled for April 
2019. The generally arid political landscape resulted from the 
decimation of a genuine political opposition within the country coupled 
with the repression and/or co-optation of trade unions and other such 
civil society actors.

The popular mass protests starting from late February, however, upturned 
this status quo and created huge potential for change and resistance. 
When chanting “We woke up and you will pay!” the people are expressing 
their newly-discovered political will. The liberatory process is at the 
same time a transformative one. We can witness this in the euphoria, 
energy, creativity, confidence, wit, humor and joy that this movement 
has inspired after decades of social and political suppression.

This revolution is like a breath of fresh air. The people have affirmed 
their role as agents of their own destiny. Following Fanon, it 
illustrates 
<https://www.counterpunch.org/2015/03/13/the-legacy-of-frantz-fanon/>how, 
in the midst of the worst disasters, the masses find the means of 
reorganizing themselves and continue their existence when they have a 
common objective of getting rid of their oppressors and emancipating 
themselves.

*DOMESTIC PEACE, INTERNATIONAL ACQUIESCENCE*

This decisive awakening on the part of the people and their growing 
political awareness are harbingers of good things to come and of the 
stormy days ahead for the profiteering caste and their foreign backers 
who have been scandalously enriching themselves. In the midst of 
increasing pauperization, unemployment 
<https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/north-africa-west-asia/wretched-of-sea-algerian-perspective/>, 
paralyzing austerity, the pillaging of resources 
<http://www.jadaliyya.com/Details/27927/Algeria,-an-Immense-Bazaar-The-Politics-and-Economic-Consequences-of-Infitah>, 
uneven development and corruption 
<https://www.counter-balance.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/energy_colonialism_algeria_eng.pdf>, 
the rationality of the current revolt and rebellion becomes absolutely 
clear.

First of all, it is important to note that this eruption of popular 
anger is the result of an accumulation of struggles and acts of 
resistance that date back to the ‘80s, the most recent examples being 
the anti-shale gas uprising of 2015 and the unemployed movement since 
2012 in the Algerian Sahara.

The Algerian uprising should also be analyzed within the context of a 
protracted revolutionary process 
<https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/algeria-and-arab-spring/>that has 
swept across the Arab region in the last decade, starting from Tunisia 
and spreading to Egypt and a dozen other countries. Obviously, this 
process has been fraught with contradictions and has seen ups and downs, 
gains and setbacks, which materialized in a liberal democratic 
transition in Tunisia and bloody counter-revolutions and imperialist 
interventions in the remaining countries that have witnessed these 
uprisings.

Nine years ago, Algeria seemed to be immune to this revolutionary fever 
and was viewed as the exception to the rule, despite harboring the same 
set of conditions for revolt. At the time, the government suggested that 
Algeria already had its “spring” over two decades earlier, referring to 
the short-lived democratic transition following weeks of demonstrations 
in October 1988 that forced the regime to give way to political 
pluralism and an independent press. However, these gains in civil 
liberties and the “democratic transition” were aborted by the military 
coup and the civil war of the 1990s.

In addition to ongoing forms of repression, collective memories of 
hundreds of thousands of deaths and brutal state violence underpinning 
the eradication of the Islamist opposition may help explain the failure 
of an uprising to take root in Algeria during the 2010-2011 period. The 
spectre of the civil war and the fear of bloody violence have been 
further exacerbated by the intervention in Libya, the counter-revolution 
in Egypt and the carnage and foreign interference in Syria.

Additionally, oil and gas revenues — which prices peaked in the late 
2000s — were used to purchase social peace domestically and to secure 
international acquiescence. Domestically, the hydrocarbon bonanza was 
used to pacify the population and prevent the intensification of popular 
anger. Externally, by virtue of being the third largest provider of 
natural gas to Europe after Russia and Norway, and given the dwindling 
production in the North Sea and the Ukrainian crisis, Algeria hoped it 
could leverage this position to play an even more important role in 
securing Europe’s energy supplies, and by extension Western collusion 
and approval.

These factors do no longer constitute a brake on people’s desire for 
meaningful change as popular discontent from below converged with a deep 
crisis within the ruling classes leading to the indignation of the 
oppressed to burst forth and find its expression in the streets.

*A POLITICAL CRISIS AND INTERNAL POWER STRUGGLES*

Algeria has been undergoing an acute multi-dimensional crisis for some 
time now. The country has been experiencing a political crisis for 
decades — in particular since the 1992 military coup and the ensuing 
brutal civil war. The origins of this crisis date back to the colonial 
era, though its most recent manifestations are the direct result of the 
politics of a parasitic accumulation and entrenched corruption: a 
militaro-oligarchic nexus that denies the Algerian people their right to 
self-determination and dispenses with popular legitimacy for the benefit 
of domestic and international capital.

This crisis has been exacerbated by several factors, not in the least by 
the ailing Bouteflika’s general absence from the political stage. The 
crisis has been compounded by intra-elite power struggles, culminating 
in the fall of Algeria’s long-term king maker, the Military Intelligence 
Agency (DRS) Chief in 2015 and the cocaine scandal of 2018, which led to 
the sacking of the head of police, a few generals and other high 
functionaries in the Ministry of Defense.

In a context of the failure of the institutionalized opposition and 
social movements to articulate and carry out a viable alternative, we 
predicted in 2016 
<https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03056244.2016.1213714> that

    the slump in oil prices may just hammer the final nail in the coffin
    of a rentier, non-productive and de-industrialized economy that is
    highly dependent on oil and gas exports, the main source of foreign
    currency…..With the oil prices plummeting and with foreign currency
    reserves (estimated at $179 billion at the end of 2014) deemed to
    not last beyond 2016-2017, the 1988 experience could easily be
    replicated and the crisis has the potential to escalate into a full
    explosion that will threaten the country’s national security and
    possibly its territorial integrity.

The recent events come at a time of an acute economic crisis 
characterized by crippling austerity measures following the decline of 
oil and gas export revenues, coupled with an intensification of 
infighting and divisions within the ruling elites after the imposition 
of the candidacy of Bouteflika for a fifth term at the helm of the state.

The triad of power consisting of the presidency, military intelligence 
(DRS) and the armed forces’ high command showed its first signs of 
weakness 
<http://jadaliyya.com/Details/32546/De-dramatizing-Algerian-Politics>in 
2008 when the DRS started clashing with the two other centers of power. 
In 2019 the split was complete, when the decisive entrance of the people 
unto the political stage effectively forced the armed forces’ high 
command to distance itself from the presidency. The military clearly 
intervened to put an end to Bouteflika’s reign in order to safeguard the 
regime in place.

Such public displays of rivalry and dispute are symptomatic of the 
deep-seated contradictions and instability of the current ruling block 
and the crisis of hegemony within it, which has opened up new spaces for 
resistance.

This is a significant moment in the popular dynamic that started in 
February 2019 as this is only one victory in the long struggle for 
radical change that must include the overthrow of Major General Gaid 
Salah too; a key loyal figure in Bouteflika’s regime and a supporter of 
his fifth term before backtracking under the pressure of the growing 
popular movement. The army leadership is definitely not to be trusted, 
as was made clear by Major General Salah’s initial threats towards 
movement before adopting a more conciliatory tone. The Algerian people 
need to be more vigilant and determined than ever in order to halt the 
counter-revolutionary forces from hijacking this historic uprising.

Now that Bouteflika resigned, it is absolutely necessary to implement a 
truly democratic transition, and the people should not yield to calls 
for applying article 102 of the constitution, which would allow the 
leader of the upper house to take over and to organize elections in 90 
days after the presidency has been declared vacant by the constitutional 
council (as the incumbent is too ill to exercise his functions).

Basically, if applied to the letter, this will keep the current system 
in place and will not guarantee free and transparent elections. The 
people are asking for popular sovereignty which cannot be curtailed by 
rigid legalistic and constitutionalist arguments. This is a unique 
moment in Algeria’s history to impose a new revolutionary paradigm, 
which go beyond legal and constitutional frameworks in order to 
radically challenge the status quo and create a fundamental break with 
the oppressive system in place.

There are already several proposals to resolve the crisis and to 
initiate a kind of a transition that will satisfy peoples’ demands and 
give them back their stifled sovereignty. The army command must not 
interfere with this process and must stick to its constitutional role of 
guaranteeing national security. Algerians did not revolt to replace some 
oppressors with others.

For this reason, the balance of forces must be shifted significantly 
towards the masses by maintaining the resistance (marches, occupations 
of public spaces, general strikes, etc) to force the army command to 
yield to people’s demand for system change entailing the removal of the 
entire old political guard.

*UNDERLYING ECONOMIC CAUSES*

The economic crisis that lies at the heart of the current revolt, has 
been long in the making 
<http://jadaliyya.com/Details/27927/Algeria,-an-Immense-Bazaar-The-Politics-and-Economic-Consequences-of-Infitah>. 
By the mid 1980s, Algeria’s nationalist development program of the ‘60s 
and ‘70s was deemed to be a failure and the attempt to disconnect from 
the global capitalist system was halted and replaced by a market 
economy. Similar to processes occurring elsewhere in the region, this 
new orientation entailed the de-industrialization of the economy, the 
dismantlement and privatization of public companies, deregulation and 
other forms of neoliberal restructuring. As a result, a military-private 
bourgeoisie nexus took the lead in shaping Algeria’s socio-economic 
agenda in line with the globally dominant neoliberal doctrine.

In the 1990s, the Algerian experience was not only one of horrific civil 
war but also of forced economic liberalizations dictated by the 
International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. It was Algeria’s 
turn to experiment with the “Shock Doctrine” by introducing painful and 
extremely controversial policies. A course that entailed the break-up of 
state-owned companies, borrowing from the IMF, the initiation of the 
import-import bazaar economy, not to mention the subjugation of the 
Algerian people to harsh austerity measures and further surrendering 
national sovereignty.

This process of re-linking the national economy to international capital 
resulted in the compradorisation of the ruling elites by aligning their 
interests and subordinating national ones to those of international 
capital. Yet, by the end of the 90s, Algeria’s excesses led to its 
diplomatic isolation.

The Bush administration’s declaration of a “global war on terror” 
following the 9/11 attacks provided a perfect opportunity for the 
Algerian ruling classes to garner renewed Western — and especially 
American — backing. In late 2002, president Bouteflika penned a letter, 
titled “A Friend in Algeria”, which was published in the Washington 
Times. In it, he pledged full intelligence cooperation and energy 
security to the United States. In a nutshell, over the two decades 
following the 1992 coup d’état, the Algerian regime’s reliance on 
external — as opposed to popular — legitimacy and support became the 
modus operandi.

We cannot fully appreciate the political situation in Algeria without 
scrutinizing foreign influence and interference and apprehending the 
economic question from the angle of natural resource grabs and energy 
(neo)colonialism 
<https://www.counter-balance.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/energy_colonialism_algeria_eng.pdf>. 
This includes the enormous concessions made to multinationals and the 
pressures coming from outside to execute further liberalization in order 
to remove all restrictions to international capital and fully integrate 
Algeria into the global economy in a totally subordinate position.

The attempts to finalize a new hydrocarbon law in 2019 that will be 
friendlier to multinationals and which offers more incentives (read 
concessions) for them to invest epitomize this tendency and opens the 
way to destructive projects such as exploitation of shale gas in the 
Sahara and offshore resources in the Mediterranean.

*TOWARDS A TRUE DEMOCRATIC TRANSITION?*

If Algeria continues on this path of liberalization and privatization, 
we will definitely see more explosions of popular unrest and discontent 
as a social consensus cannot be achieved while pauperization, 
unemployment and inequality continue. If maintained, the neoliberal 
policies will block the democratization process in Algeria and will end 
up reinforcing an authoritarian regime with a democratic façade.

The primacy of the socio-economic question has been demonstrated by the 
Tunisian experience: a neoliberal “democratic” transition that has not 
resolved any of the problems that led to the revolution. It was rather a 
dynamic process that crushed 
<https://roarmag.org/essays/tunisia-protesting-austerity-demanding-sovereignty/> 
the revolutionary spirit of the people.

Democracy means the sovereignty of the people and cannot be reduced to 
mere electoralism. Genuine democracy can only be constructed when it is 
opposed to imperialism and its local lackeys in the comprador 
bourgeoisie, as well as to neoliberal capitalism and its dispossessing 
policies. In order to achieve genuine national independence, social 
justice and true democracy, we cannot separate the democratic 
(anti-authoritarian), social (anti-capitalist) and anti-imperialist 
struggles.

The latter dimension has been reasserted by a staunch hostility to any 
foreign interferences by the Algerian people. They strongly rejected 
French complicity with the ruling factions and disapproved of attempts 
by the former Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra to internationalize the 
conflict through his trips to US, Europe, Russia and China.

Following this, it becomes clear that any transition that will not 
address questions of social and economic justice as well as national and 
popular sovereignty on natural resources will be vacuous and will sow 
the seeds of future revolts and uprisings. We will definitely do better 
than continuing to implement more of the disastrous economic policies 
that led the people to rise up and revolt in the first place.

After Bouteflika’s abdication a new chapter has begun in the Algerian 
uprising; a chapter where organizations and intellectuals who are highly 
conscious and armed with revolutionary principles ought to bar the way 
to the rule of the military and the comprador oligarchy. Slogans such as 
“The army and the people are brothers” cannot be applied to the corrupt 
generals that benefited from and upheld Bouteflika’s rule.

The Algerian people — especially the popular masses — need to be wary of 
the interventionism of such actors in order to avoid a scenario à la 
Sisi in Egypt. There too, Sisi claimed that he intervened on behalf of 
the people when he executed a coup against Morsi and we all know what 
happened after. It could be tactical to profit from the ongoing internal 
power struggle among the ruling elites, but it would be a fatal mistake 
to believe that the leadership of the army would be on the side of the 
people or their revolution.

At this time, the organic revolutionary intellectuals and opposition 
leaders and activists need to assume their historic role of engaging and 
thinking with the masses, educating them politically, organizing them 
and taking their demands forward. In this respect, autonomous trade 
unions, students committees, unemployed people’s organizations can play 
an important role mobilizing people and channeling their anger.

Some in Algeria are calling for a three to six months transitional 
period. This must be rejected as we need not to rush. Enough time must 
be given to the masses to organize themselves locally and for 
representatives and leaders to emerge organically in order to fully 
participate in the construction of a radical democracy.

Confrontation is at the heart of every revolutionary practice, so 
instead of avoiding it, itis better to prepare and keep organizing and 
multiplying spaces for debate and reflectionon true democratic 
alternatives to the current exploitative and authoritarian status quo. 
The masses must continue to mobilize and toreject any foreign 
intervention. In order not to miss this historic opportunity, the 
democratic transition has to take place upon the initiative and under 
the guidance of the people.

/A version of this article first appeared in Roar magazine 
<https://roarmag.org/>./

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