[News] Welcome to the New Algerian Revolution

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Apr 29 12:05:51 EDT 2019


https://www.counterpunch.org/2019/04/29/welcome-to-the-new-algerian-revolution-an-interview-with-hamza-hamouchene/ 



  Welcome to the New Algerian Revolution: an Interview with Hamza Hamouchene

by Omar Hassan <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/omhassan0991/> - 
April 29, 2019
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/In 2011, a wave of revolutionary struggle swept the Middle East and 
North Africa, often bringing down dictatorships that had governed for 
decades. Millions protested on the streets, occupied public spaces and 
demanded “bread, freedom and social justice”. Having broken through the 
fear produced by years of repression, the Arab Spring became an 
inspiration for activists across the world./

/Predictably, the existing elites – the military, big business and the 
institutional Islamist groups – refused to accept the democratic 
aspirations of the people. Rather than subject their states to 
democratic reform, they used all their tricks, including cooptation and 
brutal repression, to defeat the revolutionary movements./

/Yet the conditions that sparked the Arab Spring, notably the 
combination of extreme economy inequality and political 
authoritarianism, remained unchanged. While the first wave of the 
revolutions ended in defeat, it was sure to be back. In Sudan and now 
Algeria, enormous and persistent protest movements re-emerged late last 
year with all the same courage and dynamism. They have toppled their own 
military dictatorships, although in both cases the military remains in 
power despite the removal of the hated figurehead./

/Omar Hassan speaks to Algerian scholar and activist Hamza Hamouchene, 
coordinator of Environmental Justice North Africa and co-founder of the 
Algeria Solidarity Campaign, about the mass movement sweeping the country./

*What have the protests in Algeria been about?*

The mass protest movement started just a few days after Abdelaziz 
Bouteflika’s announcement of his intention to run for a fifth term as 
president. At first, the mobilisations were small and localised, but 
they became massive. Every Friday from 22 February, millions of 
Algerians (some estimates are as high as 17 and 22 million in a country 
of 42 millions) – young and old, men and women from different social 
classes – have taken to the streets in a momentous uprising, 
re-appropriating long confiscated public spaces. These historic Friday 
marches have been followed by protests by workers in education, health, 
the justice system, the petrochemical industry, and student and trade 
union mobilisations, making the contestation a daily matter.

What started as a rejection of the candidacy of a physically unfit 
octogenarian president has transformed in face of the obstinacy and 
deceptive ploys of the ruling elites into a united rejection of the 
ruling system, with demands for radical democratic change, freedom and 
justice. This revolt is an expression of the convergence of popular 
discontent from below with a deep internal crisis within the ruling 
classes. Basically, those from above can no longer rule in the old ways 
and those from below can no longer take it.

It is also the expression of decades of profound pain and anger and a 
rejection of the repressive authoritarianism, suppression of freedoms, 
economic and social exclusion, endemic corruption and nepotism, 
parasitic accumulation and impoverishment, growing social inequalities 
and uneven economic development in the country. There is a lack of 
horizons, especially for the unemployed youth risking their lives to 
reach the northern shores of the Mediterranean to escape the despair and 
the humiliation of being marginalised and relegated to being Hittiste – 
the unemployed who ceased to be stakeholders in post-colonial Algeria. 
And all of this taking place in a rich country like ours!

The Algerian uprising is a revolt against dispossession and plunder. The 
Algerian slogan, “The people want them all to go!” (or, more accurately, 
“The people want them to be all extirpated!”) is another version of “The 
people want to overthrow the system!” – the slogan of the Arab uprisings 
in 2010-11. In this respect, what is happening in Sudan and Algeria is 
the continuation of a revolutionary process in North Africa and West 
Asia, a process with ups and downs, gains and setbacks, which 
materialised in a neoliberal democratic transition in Tunisia and bloody 
counter-revolutions and imperialist interventions in the remaining 
countries.

The hope is that people in Algeria and Sudan will learn from the 
experiences of their brothers and sisters in other countries and push 
their revolutions even further to achieve their fundamental demands of 
dignity, justice, popular sovereignty and freedom, and end decades of 
political and economic oppression.

*There have been several videos released online that demonstrate the 
creativity and solidarity of the revolutionary movement in Algeria and 
elsewhere. Are there any stories that have highlighted this for you?*

The revolutionary movement in Algeria released the boundless creativity 
of the “popular genius”. 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, confidence, wit, humour and joy 
this movement has inspired after decades of social and political 
suppression. Humour and satire can be very subversive. Algerians 
demonstrate this in their slogans, chants and placards reviving and 
emphasising popular culture. I have seen and heard so many online and in 
the streets in several towns in Algeria. Here are a few I captured with 
my phone camera:

“Algeria, country of heroes that is ruled by zeros”

“System change … 99 percent loading”

“We need Detol to kill 99.99 percent of the gang” [referring to members 
of the regime]

And this one from a medical student: “We are vaccinated and we have 
developed anti-system IgGs (antibodies) … and we keep getting boosters 
every Friday”

“The problem is the persistence of idolatry and not the replacement of 
the idol”

Some slogans were directly targeting French complicity and interferences:

“France is scared that if Algeria takes its independence it would ask 
for compensation for the metal it used to build the Eiffel tower”

“Allo Allo Macron, the grandchildren of November ’54 are back”

And in reaction to calls by the chief commander of armed forces, Gaid 
Salah, to apply article 102 of the constitution, which would allow the 
leader of the upper house to take over and to organise elections 90 days 
after the presidency is declared vacant by the constitutional council, 
people replied:

“We want the application of article 2019 … You are all going”

“We asked for the departure of all the gang, not the promotion of some 
of its members”

“Batteries are dead so no need to squeeze them”

“Dear system, you are a piece of shit and I can prove it mathematically”

“Here Algeria: the voice of the people. The number 102 is no longer in 
service. Please call people’s service at 07” (in reference to article 07 
stipulating that the people are the source of all sovereignty)

When it comes to international solidarity, the downtrodden and oppressed 
people in the region and beyond are in a dialogue. The Sudanese and 
Algerians are followings each others’ struggle and get more inspired and 
more determined to follow with their own revolution and topple the 
systems that crushed them for decades. There is a funny cartoon by 
Algerian journalist Ali Dilem showing Sudanese so far winning 2-1 
against Algerians because they toppled two heads of state compared to 
only one in Algeria. The Moroccans are also inspired by what is happening.

*While the events of 2011 swept much of the region, important local 
differences shaped the divergent outcomes. For instance, in Egypt it was 
youth-led and relatively loose, which meant it lacked institutional and 
social weight at crucial times. In Tunisia, the national trade union 
centre – especially its lower ranks – was very important. What kind of 
social forces have been leading the movement in Algeria? Are there 
organisations or ideas of particular prominence?*

The Algerian uprising has its own specificities, strengths and weaknesses.

First, what makes this movement unique is its scale, peaceful character 
and national spread, including in the marginalised south. The movement 
is also characterised by significant participation of women and 
especially young people, who are the majority of the population. Algeria 
has not witnessed such a broad, diverse and widespread movement since 
1962, when Algerians celebrated their hard won independence from French 
colonial rule.

Second, one can see this uprising as a continuation of the anti-colonial 
struggle of the 1950s and 1960s to regain popular and economic 
sovereignty. Many references have been made in the protests and marches 
to the anti-colonial revolution and to its glorious martyrs who 
sacrificed their lives for Algeria’s independence, reaffirming that 
formal independence has no meaning without popular and national 
sovereignty – the ruling elites have been selling off the country and 
its resources for more than 30 years. These anti-colonial sentiments are 
reinforced by a staunch hostility to foreign interference and 
imperialist intervention.

Third is the unshakeable and eternal solidarity with Palestinians: 
Algerians understand that their liberation won’t be complete without the 
liberation of Palestine. This is unique in the Arab world: alongside 
Algerian flags, you always see the Palestinian flag. And people 
commemorate Algerian and Palestinian martyrs without distinguishing 
between them. This can be explained by Algeria and Palestine being the 
only countries in the region that experienced racist, genocidal 
settler-colonialism.

Fourth, the arid political landscape that resulted from the decimation 
of a genuine political opposition – the bankruptcy of party politics 
within the country – coupled with the repression and co-option of trade 
unions led people to organise differently. In the last few years, 
growing dissent and discontent have increasingly been expressed through 
sectional protests or the emergence of horizontal social movements, 
especially in the gas and oil-rich Sahara.

There is an entrenched hostility toward political parties. Similar to 
Egypt, the movement is youth-led and relatively loose. There are no 
clearly identifiable leaders or organised structures that are propelling 
it. It is a popular uprising mobilising mass forces from the middle 
classes and from the marginalised classes in urban and rural areas 
affected by decades-long neoliberal policies and a corrupt rentier 
economy within the framework of a predatory globalisation that 
facilitates the pillage of the country’s resources, financial and 
natural. Students, workers (especially those in the oil and gas sector), 
autonomous trade unions, judges and lawyers are playing a very important 
role in these mobilisations as they participate and organise their own 
protests, call for strikes and keep the momentum going. Unlike Sudan, 
where the Sudanese Professional Association is playing a leading and 
organising role, in Algeria it looks like things get organised mainly 
through social media.

Finally, I am not one of those who, if they don’t like the outcome of a 
revolution – or its forces, demands and strategies – rush to downplay or 
deny its revolutionary character. However, we need to be critical, 
intellectually honest and learn from the mistakes of previous 
revolutions. The valorisation of spontaneity and “leaderless” movements, 
and the hostility to any form of structuring, is not unique to the 
Algerian case but has been seen in other revolutions in places such as 
Egypt and Tunisia.

Spontaneity and leaderless movements will generate large inter-class 
mobilisations that give the impression of unity despite class, gender 
and ideological differences. However, this can become dangerous when the 
question of the socio-economic rights of the marginalised are expelled 
from any debate. In such scenarios, legitimate questions of popular 
sovereignty and social justice will give way to vague liberal notions of 
democracy, freedom and equality at the expense of the fundamental 
demands of the wretched of the earth.

This situation has been dubbed the “revolution without revolutionaries” 
or “revolution without organising”. These amorphous, non-structured and 
leaderless dynamics and movements are extremely vulnerable. These 
characteristics can be fatal weaknesses, especially when repression starts.

This is the reality on the ground. But it is amazing and inspiring to 
see people regaining their confidence and starting to trust a collective 
“we”. I have seen how they have not been fooled by the various ploys 
advanced by the different factions of the system. The movement is 
growing stronger and its demands are getting more radical by the day. 
What unites them is that all the symbols of the old system must go and 
must be made accountable for all the pain and depredation they caused.

*The leading role of women in the protest movement in Sudan has 
increasingly come to the fore, most dramatically in the person of Alaa’a 
Saleh. This is not a surprise for those who have studied history; 
revolutions have often been described as festivals of the oppressed. Can 
you talk about the situation in Algeria in relation to women, the Berber 
minority and other oppressed groups? What are their grievances and what 
has their involvement been in the protests so far?*

Revolutions cannot happen without women and without their active 
participation. The Algerian revolution is no different. From the start 
of this popular dynamic, women have played an important role linking 
their demands against the patriarchy with the democratic demands of the 
whole movement. I’ve seen how women’s involvement has grown week after 
week. Their numbers were significant in the protests I’ve seen in 
Algiers, Bejaia and Skikda. They are also very much involved in the 
student and trade union movements.

However, much of Algerian society is still conservative and macho. One 
episode helps illustrate this: feminists were harassed and attacked on 
one march in Algiers and have been exhorted (by men) not to make 
feminist demands – because they allegedly divide the movement. There was 
also a video circulating, in which men threatened to use acid against 
women who dare to advance such claims. This might be an isolated and 
extreme incident, but it shows the entrenched sexism and opposition to 
women’s rights that are present in our society. A few days ago, the 
police arrested four female activists and humiliated them by forcing 
them to strip themselves of all their clothes!

Despite all the achievements that women have made in the last few 
decades in education, employment and involvement in political life, 
their struggle for equality with men and against patriarchal oppression 
and violence is still far from over (as in all parts of the world). They 
are still resisting a reactionary vision of their role in society.

As for the Berber minority, I want to make a correction: it is not a 
minority. The majority of Algerians are ethnically Berbers (Amazighs). 
We are Arabo-Berbers; Arabic is also an important part of who we are as 
a cultural and political community. These identity issues have created a 
lot of tensions in the last few decades because our cultural diversity 
was ignored for a narrower conception of our identity. The Berber 
dimension of the Algerian cultural heritage was marginalised and reduced 
to folklore.

However, the struggle to recognise Tamazight language as an equal 
element to Arabic and Islam in our cultural identity has achieved much 
since the Berber Spring of 1980, when the Cultural Berber Movement rose 
in the Kabylie region in the north of the country. The Berber Spring was 
the first large scale political challenge to the regime since the early 
1960s, when the Kabyles articulated their grievances against regime 
authoritarianism, its disdain for rich Berber linguistic and cultural 
identity and its neglect of the region’s economy. This true democratic 
mass movement inspired a decade of continuing struggle and revolts.

In April 2001, an insurrection started in Kabylie and in 18 months, a 
strong popular movement called La’rouche occupied the front of the 
political scene and put the question of democracy back on the agenda. 
This movement organised a very impressive march on Algiers and inspired 
many citizens in other regions to revolt against Hogra (humiliation and 
social injustice). However, that movement was co-opted, infiltrated and 
crushed.

When people in the West talk about the Berber minority, they mainly mean 
the Kabyle population. For reasons that go back to colonial times, this 
region has been at the frontlines of struggle against oppression and 
authoritarianism. In the current events, this is no different. The same 
goes for other Amazigh groups such as the Chaouis, Mouzabit and 
Touaregs. All are involved as Algerian citizens confronting the “divide 
and rule” tactics of the ruling elites. Slogans were clear in the 
marches: “We don’t want division, we are all Algerians”, emphasising 
their popular unity.

*What are the main strands of leftist thought in Algeria and to what 
extent does the organised left play a role in this movement?*

The left should be the force that can bring freedom and equality 
together. Not only political equality, but socio-economic equality that 
eliminates class disparities in society. Democracy cannot be complete 
under the framework of the domination of capital and the dictatorship of 
the markets. That’s why we need social and economic democracy too. What 
would a young Algerian do with freedom if they don’t have a job or 
decent housing?

Unfortunately, for various reasons, including global ones, the organised 
left in Algeria is fragmented, atomised and weak. However, in 
revolutionary moments it can revive itself and grow if it wants to play 
its historic role as a tool for the masses to express and achieve their 
fundamental demands of freedom, dignity and justice. To do so, it needs 
to have a clear vision of that desired future, it needs to be autonomous 
intellectually and organisationally and must rid itself of paternalism 
and become mass organisations in the service of the masses.

The biggest lefty party in Algeria is the Workers’ Party of Louisa 
Hanoune, which is Trotskyist. Unfortunately, for reasons beyond 
comprehension, Hanoune supported Bouteflika for a long time because she 
considered him a bulwark against imperialism. This misguided 
“anti-imperialist” stance that ends up justifying authoritarianism has 
been seen before, especially in the case of Syria with Bashar al-Assad. 
It is ironic when the Bouteflika era is the most ultra-liberal era in 
the history of independent Algeria, with many concessions made to 
multinationals and Western capitals. It is the era of the 
compradorisation of the ruling elites by aligning their interests and 
subordinating national ones to those of international capital. Simply 
put, Bouteflika’s system dispensed with popular legitimacy to benefit 
domestic and international capital.

There are other smaller organisations and political parties, such the 
Socialist Workers Party and the Democratic and Social Movement, trying 
to multiply initiatives such as calls for the self-organisation of 
workers, students and popular masses. This initiative should be 
encouraged and strengthened. We are already seeing this within the 
student movement and in attempts by some rank and file trade unionists 
to re-appropriate the country’s largest union, the General Union of 
Algerian Workers, and to oust its corrupt, pro-business and pro-regime 
leaders.

*In places such as Egypt there is a strong political tradition defending 
the military based on its supposed “Arab Nationalist” past. Are there 
similar illusions in Algeria regarding the government’s roots in the 
National Liberation Front (FLN)? And how much have people absorbed the 
lessons of the military’s reactionary role in the Egyptian revolution?*

The National Popular Army in Algeria has a unique history as it 
originated from the anti-colonial struggle against the French and has 
played a predominant role in the political sphere ever since. So it 
still has some revolutionary legitimacy despite all its excesses since 
independence in 1962 – including the killing of hundreds of youths in 
the 1988 Intifada, the military coup of 1992 and its implication in 
massacres and in the war against civilians in the black decade of civil 
war that followed.

Because of the deep militarisation of society, there is justified fear 
of the army and what it can do. The military high command and the 
generals have participated in parasitic accumulation and entrenched 
corruption within a military-oligarchic nexus that denies the Algerian 
people their right to self-determination.

The FLN has been completely discredited as the civilian façade of an 
authoritarian corrupt military rule. The decisive entrance of the people 
onto the political stage forced the military high command to distance 
itself from the presidency. The military intervened to put an end to 
Bouteflika’s reign to safeguard the regime. Bouteflika’s abdication is a 
significant moment in the popular dynamic as this is only one victory in 
the long struggle for radical change that must include the overthrow of 
all the symbols of the system, including major general Gaid Salah, 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 not to be trusted. This was made clear by Salah’s 
initial threats against the movement before he adopted a more 
conciliatory tone. In a 10 April declaration from Oran, a port city in 
the north-west, the general said there is no other solution to the 
crisis except through a constitution designed in the first place to 
safeguard the ruling elites and their interests. Basically, he is giving 
his support and weight to a transition controlled from above – to a coup 
against the popular uprising. Salah and the military high command are 
the spearhead of the counter-revolution that has shown itself openly, 
including in the violent repression of peaceful protesters. Those with 
illusions in him – and in his announcements that he is on the side of 
the people and their aspirations – have become much more cautious.

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 to avoid a scenario à la 
general Sisi in Egypt. There too, Sisi claimed that he intervened on 
behalf of the people when he executed a coup against Morsi. We all know 
what has happened since. 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. The Algerian people need to be more 
vigilant and determined than ever to stop the counter-revolutionary 
forces from hijacking this historic uprising.

*What are the immediate tasks and challenges facing the movement?*

In this, the 9th week, despite all attempts to manipulate through 
propaganda – to divide, to instil fear – the movement is not faltering. 
It is growing and spreading. No one expected that judges would come out 
and support the popular movement and even refuse to oversee the next 
presidential elections scheduled for 4 July. Students are still 
organising huge protests and marches all over the country to support Al 
Hirak Acha’bi (the popular movement) and have called for a national 
strike. Some autonomous trade unions are maintaining their calls for 
strikes to support the ongoing dynamic. This week, around 40 mayors 
declared their refusal to organise elections in their localities. Some 
organisations of civil society are determined to re-appropriate public 
spaces by organising public debates and activities, which are not 
allowed in the capital Algiers and which end in repression and arrests.

We’ve also seen how various ministerial visits were disrupted or 
cancelled as people chased several ministers from Tebessa, Bechar, 
Tissemsilt and Tipaza. It is becoming clear that people are rejecting 
the regime’s transitional plan and we are living in a revolutionary 
situation that could escalate and radicalise, depending on the reaction 
of the ruling classes and the level of political consciousness and 
organising in the movement. What the protesters are calling “members of 
the gang” have huge vested interests in maintaining the status quo. They 
will do whatever it takes to preserve these, including sacrificing 
scapegoats to gain time and save the system.

We cannot be naïve; revolutions come at a cost and repression will be in 
the mix. The peaceful or violent character of a revolution is always 
determined by the oppressor and its methods. The balance of forces must 
be shifted significantly toward the masses by maintaining the resistance 
(marches, protests, occupations of public spaces, general strikes, etc.) 
to force the army command to yield to people’s demands for system change 
and the removal of the entire old political guard.

Some of the challenges facing the movement can be summarised:

It must structure itself by encouraging local self-organisation through 
neighbourhood committees, student collectives, independent local 
representations and the opening up of spaces for discussion, debate and 
reflection to have a solid platform or a coherent program.

It must be endowed with popular and democratic structures and mechanisms 
that allow us to strategise: how to formulate clear demands, what kind 
of tactics to adopt and when to escalate resistance or negotiate. We 
cannot rush into elections as it will be always the structured forces 
(including the ancient regime) that will take over.

At this crucial juncture, it is very important to insist on individual 
and collective freedoms of expression and organising all the time, not 
just every Friday.

We must categorically oppose any transition managed by the comprador 
oligarchies and the military and call for a sovereign and popular 
constituent assembly to come up with a popular and democratic 
constitution that will consecrate social justice and popular sovereignty 
over natural resources. The democratic transition must be in the hands 
of the people, managed by its forces and for the people.

We must continue to reject any foreign intervention in the ongoing events.

Finally, we must wed social justice and socio-economic rights to 
democracy because this revolution expresses a general will of the 
downtrodden to defend their common interests.

Radical change is not a programmed push-button operation; it is a 
protracted political process, requiring confrontation and sacrifices 
that, at certain times, lead to a path prepared by long struggles and 
accumulated experiences. To paraphrase a saying familiar to Muslims: 
“Let’s work for radical change as if it would take an eternity to 
realise, and let’s prepare the ground for it as if it’s going to happen 
tomorrow”.

/This article was originally published by Redflag 
<https://redflag.org.au/node/6759> on April 17, 2019./

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