Algerian Authorities Foil ‘Historical’ Opposition Rallies

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An Algerian protester wears a mock gas as he takes part in a demonstration called by associations and opposition parties against the exploitation of shale gas in Algeria on February 24, 2015 in the capital Algiers. AFP/Farouk Batiche

By: Adam al-Sabiri

Published Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Algerian government has managed to overcome the opposition's call to hold a demonstration on Tuesday with the least possible damage. The opposition broke the “intimidation” barrier by taking to the streets of Algiers after a years-long ban on demonstrations in the capital. However, it is required to determine its priorities and future strategies if it seeks to pressure the incumbent regime to fulfill its demands, which include holding early presidential, parliamentary, and local elections.

Algeria — Algerian opposition forces have called for demonstrations in solidarity with the people of Ain Salah in southern Algeria, who protested the government’s decision to authorize shale gas exploration. Although the call did not receive much attention, the demonstrations were quelled by anti-riot and police forces. Large numbers of security personnel cordoned off the main entrances of Algiers, starting in the early morning, in anticipation of the demonstrations called for weeks ago.

The authorities organized folkloric celebrations and cultural and sports activities to obstruct the opposition’s move. The security services arrested about 20 people who responded to the call, including journalists, while some were prohibited from taking photos at the location.

Despite the wave of arrests targeting them, the opposition parties saw the demonstration as a successful historical achievement. They called the Algerian authorities “repressive,” asserting the presence of an authoritarian regime.

Soufiane Djilali, president of the “Jil Jadid” (New Generation) opposition party, said that “the authorities deployed thousands of security personnel to confront a peaceful rally,” adding that the opposition has made a “historical achievement,” supported by the citizens, who attended in large numbers to express their rejection of the shale gas exploration decision.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, attorney Mohnad Arezki Farad said that “the regime, through its position, has shown that it is weak and fragile, given the large number of police officers who encircled the capital.” He said that “the authorities’ prevention of citizens to exercise their right of assembly, which is guaranteed by the constitution, is an oppressive act.”

Abdel Razzaq Maqari, president of the Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP), the largest Islamic opposition party, said that the “demonstration held by the opposition is a successful historical achievement by all standards,” adding that “the protest is a successful step — for all Algerians — toward imposing change, especially since the barrier of fear of the police state has been broken.”

Ali Benflis, head of the Talaia al-Houriat party and President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s main rival in the presidential election, told Al-Akhbar, that the authorities’ suppression of the peaceful demonstration through the security services “is unjustified legally, and is an arbitrary behavior inconsistent with the provisions of the constitution and the law. It is also an internal and external political message — and a very negative one — by the authorities, and reflects the absence of any intention to open the door for political freedoms in Algeria.” He added that “the authorities do not want to see the convergence and cooperation of serious and responsible politicians in order to serve Algeria, but rather seek their division.”

The pro-government Rally for Algeria's Hope (TAJ), headed by Transport Minister Amar Ghoul, gathered its supporters and warned against taking to the streets, saying that this might have serious implications and “allow the proliferation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and bring back instability to the country.”

“Algeria is targeted, and there is an intention to drag it into a new bloody [Arab] Spring, this time with the participation of its fellow citizens, after the Arab Spring schemes have failed to divide it into six states,” said Ghoul. He added that “Algeria has confronted the ‘Arab Spring,’ ‘al-Qaeda,’ and ‘ISIS,’ and it is not normal for its own citizens to help to implement the West’s and US' schemes.”

Amid the current conflict between the government and the opposition, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika issued a statement on the anniversary of the nationalization of hydrocarbons on Tuesday, conveying implicit messages to the opposition. He said that Algeria is facing major security challenges, and that the army is capable of defeating and eliminating any threat against national territory. He noted that austerity measures alone cannot solve the country’s crises, and that Algeria will not abandon its social policy. He noted that “the government will continue all residential projects and the employment policy, which is an ‘inevitable priority’ for the implementation of political reforms.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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