While the world celebrates the great news coming from Cairo, Algerians are holding their breath wondering what will happen tomorrow. A coalition of political parties, unions, human rights groups and other non-governmental organizations (The National Coalition for Change) has issued a call for a march for tomorrow, February 12 in Algiers. The government’s refusal to authorize the event came as no surprise. Under Algeria’s state of emergency law , in place since 1992, all public events of this kind are prohibited. Although Algerian President Abdulaziz Bouteflika recently announced that the emergency law would “soon” be lifted, this has remained one of the key demands of the march.
The coalition of political groups organizing the February 12 march first gathered in January, undoubtedly influenced by the-then ongoing revolution in Tunisia. There meeting represented the first time in years that opposition parties and non-governmental organizations gave any signs of emerging from their deep political coma and cooperating with each other for a greater political purpose. The Algerian riots that took place in early January, dubbed by some as the “sugar riots”, highlighted the political vacuum that exists within the country. While in neighboring Tunisia the protests sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi gathered steam and attracted an ever widening range of civil society organizations, the Algerian riots, fueled by the country’s youth, quickly fizzled out as the political classes stood by silently.
Against this background, the February 12 march seemed like a good first step towards galvanizing the opposition and inspiring further action. While it may appear as slightly chaotic, the organizational meeting that took place in early January (video here) involved representatives from various groups of differing political persuasions and brought encouraging signs about the state of the Algerian political scene.
Unfortunately, following this meeting, eternal divisions within the opposition quickly resurfaced, with some organizations backing out of the the march. Some factions accused other groups of attempting to commandeer the movement and questioned the goals and motivations of the march, following Bouteflika’s announcement on February 3 that the state of emergency law would be lifted in the “very near future”. While this commotion created a confusion familiar to observers of Algerian politics, the organizers of the February 12 march have nevertheless maintained their call to action. In response, the regime has placed the police on high alert, with reports that 30,000 policemen were mobilized in advance of the protests. On February 11, trains to Algiers stopped operating and reports surfaced that police had surrounded the headquarters of the opposition party Rally for Culture and Democracy , which had unsuccessfully attempted to organize a march in January.
While there are few expectations that the February 12 march will quickly lead to the downfall of the the Algerian regime, even partial success could trigger a reemergence of political activity in Algeria. Though many may agree that the status quo remains untenable, the ten year Algerian civil war has also left people with little appetite for violence; politics has similarly become a degraded concept in the eyes of many Algerians, who see little hope for change. Still, Tunisia and Egypt have demonstrated that peaceful change can be accomplished through massive popular mobilization. With two Arab dictators toppled in two months, it remains to be seen whether these inspiring events can turn the tables on the Algerian regime.
*A previous version of this article appeared on DZ Calling.