For 21 consecutive Fridays protestors have filled the streets of Algiers calling for democratic reform, but despite widespread support, the movement’s lack of leadership and organization could impede their goal of democracy.
In a recent report by the Brookings Institute, it was found that around 90 percent of Algerian protestors, soldiers, and junior officers in the military and almost 80 percent of non-protestors and senior military officers believe the rallies will result in a transition to democracy.
However, this could prove difficult because, despite the large numbers attendees, the movement lacks the organization to be able to negotiate with military leaders and reach a compromise, Sharan Grewal, a research fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, said at an event at the Brookings Institute on Wednesday.
“The way forward now appears to be negotiations between the regime and the protestors. The difficulty here is that unlike in Sudan where you have a professional association that’s heading the protests and that you can talk with, in Algeria there’s no one hierarchical organization that you can speak to that would represent the protestors,” he said.
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In April, Algerians succeeded in ousting President Abdelaziz Bouteflika following months of protests. Subsequent to his removal, the military called for elections to be held on July 4. However, protestors boycotted these elections because they didn’t believe that they would be free and fair. This resulted in the stalemate today, where the military does not want to give up their power and the protestors want a complete overhaul of the system.
“I think we still see a lot of uncertainty about where Algerians want things to go today, so there isn’t a clear mechanism through which Algeria is going to be led out of, or lead themselves out of the current impasse,” Alexis Arieff, an expert on African affairs, said at the event. “There is no roadmap, there’s sort of various efforts by certain civil society platforms and some government actors to put forward possible roadmaps, but I don’t see anything like a gelling around one specific path forward.”
However, Grewal said negotiations most likely will not take place until interim President Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Abdelkader Bensalah, the two holdovers from Bouteflika’s administration, are removed from power. The men, also known as the two Bs, are seen as the distrusted pair that surrounded Bouteflika while he was in power.
“Even a dialogue would not be accepted by protestors until the two Bs are gone… the argument they [protestors] are making every Friday is why would we negotiate with these remnants of the Bouteflika regime,” said Grewal. “We should be negotiating with either a consensus candidate or some more moderate individual that we can actually have a discussion with.”
The likelihood of negotiations between the military and protestors is helped by the fact that there is a significant split within the military when it comes to supporting the protestors and their goals. The Brookings report shows that the support among the lower ranks is almost on par with that of protestors when it comes to supporting the protestor’s goals.
“There appears to be a vertical split within the military, where the lower ranks of the military the soldiers and the junior officers appear to be very supportive of the protests, about 80 percent of the lower ranks are saying they support the goals of the protest movement and think the protests should continue,” said Grewal.
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The report puts this split between lower and upper ranks down to the lack of benefits lower-ranked soldiers have received from being in the military. Those who hold higher-rankings have benefitted from the corruption of the former Algerian regime, which makes them resistant to change, whereas lower officers have not experienced such benefits.
However, the report found that the lower and upper ranking officers would come together if the rise of democracy threatened military power. If this were to happen this would increase the probability of the military repressing protest efforts, said Grewal.
Despite differing views within the military and among protestors the relations between the military and the demonstrators have surprisingly remained peaceful, said Robert Ford, the former ambassador to Syria, at the Brookings Institute event.
“Over the last 21 weeks, the protest movement has been exceptionally peaceful, not well organized, but very peaceful, and there’s real effort to reach out to the military during the marches themselves,” he said.