Is an Algerian ‘spring’ around the corner?

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Algerian men protest against President Bouteflika's decision to run for a fourth term. He ultimately won the elections and is now carrying out his fourth term in office. AFP

By: Adam al-Sabiri

Published Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The political situation in Algeria has taken a dangerous turn, portending difficult days for the regime. In conjunction with a visit by a European Union delegation to the country, opposition parties have called for early presidential elections that would put an end to incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s term.

Algiers – European Union (EU) diplomats held talks with a number of political organizations, including the opposition-aligned Committee for Freedoms and Democratic Transition. This has infuriated pro-government forces, which have accused the opposition of ‘treason,’ exacerbating tensions between the two sides.

The visit by the EU delegation to Algeria and the meetings it held with a number of political figures has stirred a number of reactions that reveal some of the mysteries of the power struggle between opposition and pro-government forces.

The leader of the ruling party, Amar Saadani, attacked the opposition and accused it of ‘treason,’ saying that oppositionists were “discordant voices moved by hidden internal and external hands that do not want the good of the country.”

Although Saadani was present in a meeting with the EU delegation, he said the meeting between the opposition and EU diplomats “paves the way for foreign intervention and the return of colonialism.” Reacting to calls for early presidential elections, Saadani said that this demand is tantamount to a coup and an assault on the will of the people, stressing that the opposition’s only goal is to reach the presidency.

Official spokesperson of the ruling party, Said Bouhaja, echoed Saadani’s remarks. In response to a question from Al-Akhbar about the meetings, Bouhaja reproached and censured the opposition.

The ruling party also held talks with the EU delegation. During the meeting, the leader of the party asked his guests questions like, “Where was the EU when Algeria was fighting terrorism on its own?” and “What did the Europeans leave behind after their intervention in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya except ruin?”

Saadani was thus clearly opposed to discussing the internal situation in Algeria with the delegation. He concluded his remarks by saying that the Algerian Republic was the only viable republic left in the Arab world, and said the EU was seeking to sabotage it through opposition parties. Saadani claimed the opposition was trying to undermine the constitution through its recent movements in parliament, even though President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had promised constitutional reforms to give the government greater powers and guarantee more protection for the opposition and the freedom of the press, as he put it.

The opposition has responded to these accusations. MP for the opposition Green Algeria alliance Naaman Laawar, and member of the political bureau of the Islamist Movement for the Society of Peace, said that the meeting with the EU diplomats was ordinary and transparent. Laawar told Al-Akhbar that the leader of the party, Abdel Razzaq Maqari, was deliberately absent from the meeting to avoid such interpretations, and added, “We work very transparently and not under the table.”

Laawar said the meeting with the EU delegation tackled the political situation in Algeria, pointing out that the EU delegation was concerned primarily with European interests, “as it insisted on learning more about the political climate with a view to develop the partnership between the two sides.” Laawar insisted the meeting was “ordinary,” in which the members of the opposition committee presented an overview of the political situation and their vision for a peaceful democratic transition.

Laawar stressed that the opposition delegation did not ask the EU diplomats to act as mediators between them and the authorities, and accused the pro-government parties of promoting a “distorted image” of Algeria. Laawar concluded that another voice needs to be heard in order to change the situation.
For his part, MP Lakhdar Benkhelaf of the Islamist Front for Justice and Development said that the democratic transition committee, which represents the opposition, “does not care what the pro-government parties say,” accusing them of serving narrow interests by seeking to undermine the opposition. Benkhelaf added that the opposition would continue meeting with the EU delegation in the coming days, and said that the EU has accepted a request from the opposition to follow up its recommendations regarding the elections.

In light of these developments, all eyes in Algeria are now set on the outcome of the new political situation in the coming days, especially after the government accused the opposition of ‘treason’, on the one hand, and in light of the opposition’s efforts to involve foreigners in trying to fulfill its internal demands. Observers consider this latter issue to be a dangerous development that could result in repercussions that possibly go against the interests of the Algerian people.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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