August 22, 2019
2019 Algerian Protests and the bureaucratic consequences: Background
Algeria was rocked by months of street demonstrations starting in February 2019. These demonstrations were initially triggered by President AbdelAziz Bouteflika’s decision to announce his candidacy for a fifth presidential term in a signed statement. The scope of the protests took the Bouteflika administration by surprise since they have been the biggest demonstrations since the Algerian civil war. Protesters were out in the streets to demonstrate against the dire state of the economy, lack of freedoms and the endemic level of corruption that came to perpetuate the hold of the old Guard in power. The demonstrations eventually led to the resignation of Bouteflika in April 2019. In what seemed to be an effort to regain public trust, a number of prominent pro-establishment power-brokers were also arrested including Said Bouteflika (AbdelAziz Boueflika’s son) along with two spy chiefs, dealing a major blow to the old guard of Algerian politics. The trials eventually extended to other high-ranking officials.
Prosecutions and Arrests
Since April 2019, the date when Algeria’s military chief announced that the ruling elite would be prosecuted for corruption, the arrests and prosecutions, which started with Bouteflika’s son and two spy chiefs, have proliferated. Ever since Bouteflika’s resignation, the army has remained the most powerful institution in the country; Army’s chief of staff, Ahmed Gaed Salah, has promised to purge corrupt politicians, oligarchs and military officials and restore the confidence of the people. Immediately afterwards, Algeria’s wealthiest businessman and four other billionaires close to former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika were arrested as part of an anti-graft investigation. Former Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and Finance Minister Mohamed Louka, close to former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, were also summoned to appear in court.Ahmed Ouyahia became the most senior figure to be detained since mass protests broke out. In late July, the interim President Abdelkader Bensalah abruptly sacked Algeria’s justice minister, Slimane Brahmi amid the ongoing corruption probes.
The arrests continued and incorporated two ex-ministers from Bouteflika’s government, including Abdelghani Zaalane, a former public works and transport minister, and Mohamed El Ghazi, the country’s labor minister from May 2014 to May 2017. Moreover, the Former Minister of Defense Khaled Nazar also received an arrest warrant from an Algerian military court for conspiring against the army and creating public disorder.
Stability in Algeria
While recent arrests have been celebrated by protestors, their demands are far-reaching and have yet to be completely met, despite the recent arrest of high-ranking officials for corruption charges. Some of the oft-raised slogans of Algerian protests were on freedom and the release of political prisoners. It is very likely that protesters will press for these demands in the future. Moreover, for the time being, it is unlikely for the regime to resort to large-scale violence against protesters using the army given that part of the army also empathizes with the population, as pointed out by Mourad Ouchichi, a top brass of the military.
By Vahid Yucesoy