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"It's Time to Break the Chains." Algerian Seek and Revolution.



ALGIERS – High above the sea in a heavily guarded villa, Algeria's 82-year-old president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, seated in a wheelchair – mute, paralyzed, barely able to move his hands. Hovered over by a flurry of attendants and family members, he has not published a single word in public, much less given a speech or interview, since a stroke in 2013.

Twenty miles away in the capital, Algiers, tens of thousands or demonstrators fill the streets every week loudly demanding his departure, and that of the extensive, ill-defined entourage around him that Algerians call simply the "power," the nexus of high-ranking officials, wealthy businessmen and military officers who actually run the country.

The demonstrations, the largest in over 30 years, have grown larger every week and seem unstoppable. Algeria, the largest country in Africa and a rare pillar of stability in the Arab world, now faces and uncertain future.

The protesters' demands are unambiguous: After two decades of undivided reign, Mr. Bouteflika, his clan, and his system must go

“We feel like we've been violated for 20 years,” said Haid Mohamed Islam, a 27-year-old doctor standing outside the modernistic national library on a recent wind -wept day. "It's time to break the chains."

It is far from clear what happens next, a sense that is inevitable is sweeping the country.

The protest has caught on across the country and among all classes of society , from bankers to truck drivers to teachers to waiters to students. "It is extraordinarily diverse," said Nacer Djabi, and sociologist.

An offering by Mr. Bouteflika that would not run for a fifth term, which the government portrayed as a major concession, was roundly rebuffed by the protesters because it fell short of their demand that it stepped down immediately and because it appeared to leave him in office indefinitely. The episode seemed to be only energy-efficient.

The government and the security forces, allegedly swatting away from the small protests that periodically erupted in Algeria, seem to have fought. Its officials say they have ruled out the protesters. And as the protesters' numbers have grown, and violent response could backfire.

Although it remains difficult to imagine the government yielding to the protesters, recently there have been positive signs of at least a tacit acceptance.

State news media , at first barred from covering the protests, have started reporting on them. "The Street Is Not Backing Down" was the banner headline in the daily Liberté on Wednesday.

The ruling National Liberation Front and the Army have joined the chorus of praise for the demonstrators, with the chief of staff hailing their "unequaled sense of civic responsibility. ”

“ Just on its face, the dynamic is really very strong, ”said Louisa Dris-Ait Hamadouche, a leading political scientist here, here almost drowned out by thousands protesting around here on Friday.

For decades, Algeria was seen by allies on both sides of the Atlantic as a bulwark against the regional Islamist threat. After the army brutally crushed an Islamist insurgency in the 1990s, the military chose Mr. Bouteflika, an ex-foreign minister whose political roots go back to the earliest years of Algerian independence, to lead the country.

Algerians welcomed the end of the nearly decade-long conflict and accepted Mr. Bouteflika with it, an arrangement made even easier than oil money started flowing freely in the early 2000s, and with it generous social benefits. [2011] Algeria proudly red out the Arab Spring, its leaders mocking the reckless, pro-democracy demonstrators in neighboring countries even as they shut the country off from the outside world. There are virtually no tourists here, and downtown Algiers is free of the international commercial brands seen elsewhere.

Mr. Bouteflika also cloistered himself. According to journalists and political scientists here, he has never given an interview in the Algerian news media in his two decades in office. Since his stroke, even his body has disappeared: He has been replaced in public appearances by his framed portrait, known as "the frame."

There were few complaints. Large public works programs and free loans to young people, financed by the country's oil and gas wealth, kept citizens content and quiescent.

A top member of the governing coalition, speaking on condition of anonymity to talk freely, said the Bouteflika system was built on patronage and corruption. With oil fetching high prices, money flowed like water, he said. “There was corruption in praying. Easy bank loans. People got rich on public money. ”

But in 2014, the prices of oil and gas, which account for 97 percent of the country's exports, started falling. Unemployment among the young bit as the government cut social benefits

Last month, when Mr. Bouteflika announced it would run for a fifth term, the bottom fell out. Algerians had enough of his system, and his physical incapacity became a metaphor for the withering country.

Ordinary Algerians, in the grimy downtown streets where great chunks of plaster are peeling from the Haussmann-style buildings, in the shabby cafes made shabbier by five years of fluctuating oil prices, and in the mass demonstrations, say there is no going back.

"They thought that we were quiet, we were stupid," said Rabah Bouberras, 32, a shopkeeper from the suburbs who was demonstrating in Algiers on Friday. "But the people are not going to forgive them. We're not hungry. It's a question of dignity. ”

Corruption has become a major grievance.

" In my sector it's blatant, "said Abdenour Hadjici, a sales manager for a plaster company. "There are certain people that are favored." A builder he knows, for instance, got a cheap loan because he knows a high-ranking general, he said.

But it is the central demand of the protesters, that the whole Bouteflika system must go, which would be hardest to satisfy, government insiders and analysts here say. "The clan that governs this country is not just going to just like that," said Abir, a leading sociologist, as he watched a stream of chanting youth, many draped in the Algerian flag, on a downtown street. "It's a question of life or death for them."

And "the system" is wider than Mr. Bouteflika and his cronies. Eliminating it would require a tentative web of corruption and compiling thousands of people and built up over years.

And a doctor, Zaidi Hamza, 26. "The Algerian people want a radical change," he said. "There is no single category in the population that will negotiate with them."

They say they will fight to the end.

"We're not afraid of a blood bath," said Zohir Geurroumi, a 23-year-old law student. “This isn’t for us. It's for our descendants. ”


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