(Photo: Farouk Batiche/AFP/Getty Images)

Don’t Hold Your Breath Waiting for Real Change in Algeria

Experts say that despite the military’s call for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down, the country’s deeply entrenched ruling powers will not allow the sweeping changes demanded by protesters

Algerians are waiting for an important decision by the country’s Constitutional Council after hearing a call by the military chief of staff to activate Article 102 – which would remove President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from office.

On Tuesday, Ahmed Gaed Salah, the army chief, called for Bouteflika to be declared unfit to rule and for Abdelkader Bensalah, chairperson of the upper house, to take over for 45 days. Under Algerian law, the speaker of parliament serves as acting president in case of a sudden vacancy.

Although this makes Bouteflika’s departure likely, the Algerian opposition – which has been out in the streets since he announced his candidacy for a fifth term, only to see him stand down but then say that the April 18 elections had been canceled – believes it won’t solve the real issue, which is to revamp the country’s entire system of governance. The opposition has repeatedly said it would reject any orchestrated succession or military interference in politics, and accept only a government decided by consensus.

It is worth mentioning here that since independence from France in 1962, Algeria’s military has always been intimately involved in politics.

Ahmed al-Bouz, a Moroccan political analyst, told The Media Line that while Algerian voices are demanding transition to democracy, this can’t happen unless the military establishment’s powers are reconsidered.

“The Algerian army has played a very important and critical role since Algeria’s independence,” Bouz said. “The main question is its place in a new system.”

He explained that the opposition so far has been avoiding any talk about the military, which brings up the question of whether or not there is a possible alternative to the existing situation.

“Algerian popular discontent reminds me of what happened in some Arab countries during the so-called Arab Spring,” he said, clarifying that in order for there to be a true revolution, it will not be enough merely for a leader to stand down – the entire system must be dismantled. Otherwise, fear would remain among the people.

“The essence of the problem is the lack of an alternative to the old system,” he continued. “Otherwise, Bouteflika and his regime would be long gone.”

Qassem Qasser, a Lebanese political analyst, told The Media Line that what’s happening in Algeria is more of an internal conflict within the existing system.

“Powers within the old system are fighting Bouteflika and his group,” he explained.

Qasser pointed out that it is these powers that have allowed the people to take to the streets.

“Some parts of the old system are taking advantage of the people’s movement to change the political scene,” he stated, adding that he believed these powers had no interest in allowing the comprehensive reforms the opposition is demanding.

“Currently,” he said, “there is no possibility for radical change in Algeria.”

For its part, the National Rally for Democracy (RND), an influential Algerian party and a member of the ruling coalition, issued a statement backing the army’s call for Bouteflika to resign.

“The National Rally for Democracy is following with great interest the developments in the situation in the country, like all citizens who are concerned about Algeria’s safety,” the party said.

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