With a Small Turnout, Protests in Algeria End with Arrests but not all Lost
[The North Africa Journal] The call for a nationwide march for February 12 failed to draw the crowds that organizers hoped. Only an estimated 2,000 people managed to gather in the capital’s central square Place du 1ier Mai. Some say that the show of force of the government scared many potential participants who decided to stay at home. However, the protesters delivered their message to the government that meaningful political and economic reforms must be enacted and the rule of law implemented.
Today, some 300 people were arrested nationwide. Dozens of arrests were made in the Place du 1ier Mai in downtown Algiers and the police managed to stop the march there. There were some 70 arrests in Oran and about 30 in Annaba according to the Algerian Human Rights League (LADDA). Gatherings took place in other cities including Constantine in the east of the country.
Despite their small numbers, the protestors were vocal and their message was clear. Anti government slogans were heard, in particular attacking Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and the regime broadly.
Meanwhile, small counter demonstrations also took place, with individuals chanting pro-government and pro-Bouteflika slogans. As in Egypt, it is believed these individuals, probably members of the FLN and RND governing parties may have been paid.
The demonstrations took place in a heightened security environment. The entire city was under the control of estimated 30,000 police agents. So much so that an observer says “the city looks like a penitentiary.” Train service was suspended, and bus service was reduced to minimum.
In our opinion, in the events in Algeria, while not rising to the level of Tunisia or Egypt, independent and peaceful voices continue to send strong signals to the entrenched Bouteflika government that democratic changes and reform must take place, above and beyond the basic economic grievances. While the youth has not taken part to the movement on Saturday, the Algerian government has a historical chance to deal with the democratic aspirations of its people, starting with the lifting of the state of emergency to dealing with corruption, a broken administration, a political system that needs fixing, etc. While these demands are legitimate, we continue to question whether the current leadership is willing to compromise.