While the world celebrates the great news coming from Cairo, Algerians are holding their breath wondering what will happen tomorrow. A coalition of political parties, unions, human rights groups and other non-governmental organizations (The National Coalition for Change) has issued a call for a march for tomorrow, February 12 in Algiers. The government’s refusal to authorize this came as no surprise. Under the state of emergency law , in place since 1992, all public events of that kind are banned. Although president Bouteflika recently announced that this would happen “soon”, the lifting of the state of emergency is one of the key demands of the march. This coalition which first met in January, undoubtedly influenced by the ongoing revolution in Tunisia, was the first time in many years that opposition parties and non-governmental organizations gave any indication that they might come out of the deep coma they seem to have fallen into and cooperate with each other. The riots that took place in early January, dubbed by some the “sugar riots” , highlighted the political vacuum that currently exists in Algeria. While in neighboring Tunisia the protest sparked by Mohamed Bouazizi gathered steam and was joined by an ever widening range of organizations from civil society, Algerian youths went into a quick burning rampage while the political class stood by silently. The February 12 march seemed like a good first step that would galvanize the opposition and lead to further actions. While it may appear as slightly chaotic, the organizational meeting that one can see in the video below represents a encouraging sign in the Algerian political landscape: People from different groups, with different political persuasions sitting around a table planning a common action. A partial transcript of the meeting (in French) can be found here.
Unfortunately the eternal divisions within the opposition quickly resurfaced after this meeting. Some organizations backed out of the the march. Some parties accused other parties of trying to take over the leadership of the movement and questioned the goals and motivation of the march following Bouteflika’s announcement about lifting the state of emergency. All of this created a confusion familiar to observers of Algerian politics. The organizers of the march have nevertheless maintained their call. The regime reacted by putting the police on high alerts and it is reported that 30,000 members of the police have been mobilized for tomorrow. Trains to Algiers have been stopped today and this afternoon it has been reported that police surrounded the headquarters of the RCD which already attempted, unsuccessfully, to organize a march in January. No one expects this march to lead quickly to the downfall of the the Algerian regime, but even a partial success of this event could signal a renewal of serious political activity in Algeria. While everyone agrees that the current situation cannot last forever, and everyone recognizes that violence leads nowhere (as shown by nearly 10 years of civil war) politics has become such a nauseating concept to many Algerians that one wonders how change could possibly happen. Tunisia and Egypt have shown that peaceful change can be accomplished through massive mobilization of the people, and today’s announcements in Cairo could have a mobilizing effect, but we will have to wait and see what happens tomorrow. Stay tuned.