Socialist Worker

What next after movement forces out the Algerian president?

Will protesters wind down their campaign after bringing down president Bouteflika or will they seek deeper change, asks Alistair Farrow

Issue No. 2649

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Protests and strike have forced out Bouteflika (Pic: Kouadria Smain/Facebook)


Millions of people protested across Algeria on Friday of last week—just days after they toppled president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Mass protests and strikes forced out Bouteflika, who announced his resignation on Tuesday of last week.

The huge movement from below had made ruling class support for him untenable.

Now that movement can move forward and win more.

One of the slogans on Friday’s protests in Algeria was, “No to the 3Bs.”

This refers to prime minister Noureddine Bedoui, president of the constitutional council Tayeb Belaiz and Abdelkader Bensalah, president of the senate.

Thousands of people also ­protested in France, and over 500 in Britain.

Rabie, one of the London protest organisers, said, “Bouteflika has gone. That’s very positive for the movement—we can see that we are getting our goals, slowly.”

Now a fight is on for the direction of the movement.

There is a wide spread of ideas on the future of the protests.

There is near-unanimous support for “system change”, but what this means is hotly contested. Some argue for the removal of the corrupt clique of businessmen and politicians that gravitated around Bouteflika—“Le Pouvoir,” or “The Power”.

Others argue for a civil state with stronger democratic rights.

And others want the military to intervene on behalf of the people.

Fundemental

Some think more fundamental change is necessary with thoroughgoing economic and social transformation.

The people at the top of Algerian society are casting around for a replacement for Bouteflika, one they hope will choke off the fightback by the mass of ordinary Algerians.

Bensalah, leader of the upper house of the Algerian parliament, became the interim president on Tuesday.

Elections are scheduled for three months from now.

But there is no guarantee these will go ahead, and the military is waiting in the wings.

Yet jettisoning unpopular figures may not be enough to placate either protesters or rival factions within the ruling class.

A government official told the Middle East Eye news website, “The sacred balance between the presidency, the secret services and the general staff is about to be altered.

“That’s why everyone is worried about what lies ahead.”

The ruling class is terrified of a real challenge to its rule.

The protests must continue to keep the pressure on the state.

And the workers’ movement can play the decisive role by stopping the bosses’ profits.

Amaran on the London protest told Socialist Worker, “For me there are no limits—this is just the beginning.

“This is not just a protest, but a revolution.”


Revolt spreads to workplaces and unions

Algerian socialist activists have reported strikes across the country. Workers have called strike assemblies and elected strike committees to coordinate demands and action.

Activists from the PST (Socialist Workers Party) posted pictures on Facebook of strikers occupying factories, bus garages and mobilising on the streets.

Kouadria Smain, trade union leader and member of the executive of the left-wing Parti des Travailleurs (Workers Party), posted pictures of a mass meeting by striking workers at the IMC medical instrument factory.

Solidarity

The factory is in Rouiba, an industrial city which has already seen workers in state-run factories walk out in solidarity with the mass movement against Bouteflika.

IMC workers declared their support for the movement.

They also called for better pay and conditions at work and demanded the right to organise a trade union.

The rising tide of protest is shaking up trade unions. Rank and file activists are calling on union leaders close to the regime to quit.

Workers at the state-run SONACOM SNVI car factory in Rouiba held up banners calling for the UGTA trade union federation general secretary Sidi Sa’id to go. Sa’id had previously backed Bouteflika.

Four regions of the UGTA—Sa’ida, Bejaia, Tizi Ouzou and Tlemcen—issued a statement demanding Sa’id immediately leave office. The Confederation of Algerian Unions had issued a call for a general strike to begin this Wednesday.

Anne Alexander


Algeria’s ruling class is divided

There is a struggle going on for control of the Algerian state.

Talks have taken place between Said Bouteflika, the brother of the former president, and general Mohamed Mediene over who will oversee the “transition” process.

Yet the army’s assumption of control of the state is not the only possibility. It does not have the power or the popularity to simply declare itself in control.

Elements of the international ruling class are wary of backing another dictatorship. They would prefer a government with a strong base of support.

So the rival factions of the Algerian ruling class will have to reach some kind of agreement over what the new regime will look like. Inevitably this will mean disappointing the hopes of millions of Algerians.

The key issue is whether the protests and strikes continue. The ruling class is divided and in disarray, its weaknesses can be exploited.


How rebels became rulers

The legacy of resistance to the French during the anti-colonial struggle which ended in 1962 has a lasting impact in Algeria.

Part of the reason Bouteflika was able to cling on to office for so long was because he was a prominent figure in the struggle against the French occupation.

Many of those who fought for independence became the leaders of the Algerian state and ended up doing deals with the old colonial oppressor.


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