The return of Algerian citizen protests occurred despite official recommendations against the spread of COVID-19

Hirak's return to Algeria leaves dozens of detainees

AFP/AMAL BELALLOUFI - Anti-government demonstration in Algeria

The Hirak citizens' movement returned to the streets of Algeria to demand a radical change in the country's public institutions and to urge an end to state corruption. Hundreds of people demonstrated this past Friday in different cities of the North African country to demand the fall of the current regime and the cessation of the army's intervention in political matters. This new episode is a reprint of the massive protests that broke out in February 2019 and which took place every Tuesday and Friday until last March when they were banned as part of the preventive measures taken to stop the spread of the COVID-19 disease.

The limitations imposed by the authorities remain in place in the African nation, but hundreds of young people defied the confinement and house arrest decreed to demonstrate, mainly in northern Kabylia, a mountainous area with a Berber majority.

Social media publications showed how the police intervened by making arrests and using deterrents such as tear gas to disperse demonstrators who were making claims of "murderous power", "free and democratic Algeria" or "civil, not military state" against the new authority represented by Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, elected at the end of last year. 

The National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees (NCLD) reported on its official Facebook page that a dozen people were held in Bejaia, Tizi Ouzou and Bouira, the three largest cities in Kabylia, because of these demonstrations. Several others, including a minor, were also arrested in the northern cities of Annaba, Tlemcen, Oran and Mostaganem, although most of them were later released. In Algiers, groups of people tried to march in the centre of the capital, but were prevented from doing so by a large police deployment with a large presence of secret service agents.

"We went out to march from the Bab el Oued quarter, but we did not manage to demonstrate because dozens of people were arrested and taken to the police station in the quarter. The police were deployed everywhere," one of the organisers told the Efe agency before warning that they would try again next Friday.

Las fuerzas de seguridad argelinas rodean una manifestación antigubernamental en la capital Argel

Despite the recommendations of several activists and political representatives promoting the Hirak, who advised against demonstrating in the streets due to the current situation and hoping that the health situation would improve, hundreds of young people went out to oppose the Algerian regime. At a difficult time due to the coronavirus crisis, which has left hundreds of thousands dead and millions of cases diagnosed worldwide and which in Algeria has so far resulted in 825 deaths and more than 11,500 cases affected. 

This revealed the discrepancy between elements of the Hirak movement in Algeria that were divided on two fronts, one demanding the need for their return and the other warning of the danger of the coronavirus outbreak. The return of the popular demonstrations, for the first time in almost three months after their halt due to the coronavirus pandemic, responded to calls made through social networks that asked to benefit from the relaxation of measures by COVID-19 in view of a return to popular protests demanding radical political change in the nation. The Hirak warned of this "adventure" and asked Algerians to stay home and not risk their health. 

Among the leading members of the movement who called on Algerians not to demonstrate on Friday was political activist Samir Belarbi, who asked that the previous image of the movement not be distorted by these latest actions. In a statement released, he said that "the greatest movement of Algerians after the spread of the coronavirus is to preserve souls and lives", and stressed that "wisdom requires that we all be more careful and cautious".

Manifestación antigubernamental en la capital Argel, el 18 de febrero de 2020

In turn, Saif al-Islam ben Attia, one of the most prominent protagonists of the movement in Algeria, criticized the calls that had been made in recent weeks for the resumption of popular demonstrations in order to put pressure on Algerian leaders, as was also reported by Al-Ain News.

Ben Attia indicated in a Facebook post that "most of these invitations come from personalities and organizations living abroad," and wondered if at least these parties had the correct and sufficient information about the epidemiological situation. 

The political activist, who also works as a doctor in a hospital in the Algerian capital, revealed that the health and epidemiological situation is unstable with an increase in the number of patients admitted to hospitals. He demanded the so-called "imperative to return to the principle of the primacy of the interior over the exterior in order to determine the main paths" and eliminate from the popular movement any foreign influence. 

Corruption, the economic crisis and widespread unemployment were the perfect breeding ground for the emergence of Hirak, and the straw that broke the camel's back was the fact that former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika confirmed that he was running for re-election for the fifth consecutive time. Millions of people took to the streets to demand the veteran leader's resignation, which eventually happened after the late Algerian army chief Ahmed Gaïd Salah forced him to disappear from the political scene.  

El presidente de Argelia, Abdelmadjid Tebboune

On 12 December last, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who was linked to the established power in Algeria by being part of Bouteflika's former government, was elected as the new president. Although the new leader of the Republic wanted to disassociate himself from his past and promised constitutional changes and to separate himself from the regime that has governed Algeria's designs in recent decades. A country in which he has long ruled the military establishment and which has experienced major cases of political corruption that have led to citizen dissatisfaction. 

The structures of government in Algeria have remained untouched in recent years and there is a demand for greater democratic openness, hence the emergence of a movement such as the Hirak. Following the election victory in Tebboune, thousands of people continued to take to the streets in the following weeks to protest against the results of these elections and to call for a genuine democratic transition in the country.