30 May 2019

Algeria: Army Chief Offers National Dialogue to End Crisis

Algerians continue to protest despite the upcoming elections and will say they will continue to do so until their demands are met. As the protests continue, the army chief of staff, Gaid Salah, has called for national dialogue .

"The only way to solve the crisis in our country lies in the adoption of a purposeful, serious, realistic, constructive, and visionary dialogue approach that puts Algeria above all considerations," said Salah said in a statement published by Algerian media. But with no candidates running in the July 4 elections, the effectiveness of a national dialogue appears limited.

Protesters apply pessure

Until Tuesday May 28, Salah had refused to respond to calls for dialogue, or to discuss the transitional phases outlined by political parties and the people. Instead, he emphasized that elections are the only way out of the current crisis.

The crisis followed the stepping down of former president Abdelaziz Boutflika. This was followed by the creation of a transitional government that was put in place for 90 days as per the constitution.

The transitional governement is made up of people connected to Bouteflika or the army, notably President Abdelkader Bensaleh, his Prime Minister Nourredine Bedoui and Salah himself.

"The protests from 22 February, known as 'harak' or [the] smile revolution, have dismissed and refused all political processes engaged by the system,[and] the regime" says Amor Shabbi, the managing editor of the online news site Atlas Times in Constantine, Algeria.

"They [the protesters] [are] call[ing] for all the political leaders to quit the scene and to hand over responsibility in order to organize an election in the future."

Despite the call for national dialogue, Salah did not given any specifics as to who is invited or where and when it would happen.

There is also the possible added complication of many different visions for the future that the protesters may present.

No election candidates?

Giving protesters the occasion to come to the table and formally present their demands could potentially provide them with some say in steering the direction of what happens next.

"The extent to which they can gain leverage would depend on whether they have a united vision for what the next steps should be. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case" says Mohammed Al-Jumaily a MENA Research Analyst at Integrity in London, UK.

To date, there are no presidential candidates in the running.

"Political parties submitted 77 potential candidates for the elections. However, the constitutional council declared that all of them did not fit the legal requirements" says Al-Jumaily.

In order for a candidate to run in the elections, he or she needs to be backed by 600 local councils and lawmakers or 60,000 voters in more than half of the country's regions.

The only candidates who have successfully submitted their bids are candidates that are unknowns, including Hamid Touahri, an aeronautical engineer. and Abdelhakim Hamadi, who heads a veterinary drug company.

"Two shadowy candidates ... .they are not well known on the political scene and I think it's a manner for the constitutional council and the regime to gain more time because the law says that the constitutional council, after [having] received candidates, has ten days to evaluate them" and validate their candidacy explains Shabbi.

Engaging in a phase of deliberation for these two candidates could be an attempt to "delay the inevitable, which seems to be the postponement of the 4th July elections and a last-ditch attempt to restore a degree of legitimacy" says Al-Juamily.

The longer the process surrounding the elections drag on, the longer the country will be left in a political vacuum, explains Al-Jumaily.

"The regime hopes that this could work in its favour in that political vacuums tend to lead to growing divisions within the protest movement (as can already be seen) as Algerians develop different visions on how to move forward."

Al-Juamily adds that the longer the vacuum remains, the more likely it is that the protesters will begin to divide; an element that would only work in legitimizing the power of the current government.

Peaceful protests triumph

Since 22 February when protesters took to the streets all over Algeria, a peaceful demonstration has united the people.

The protests continue on a weekly, if not daily basis, with very little problems from the police or army.

"Little skirmishes maybe in Algiers last week. But in general they are peaceful demonstrations without any incidents. They remain peaceful and that's in the hand of the demonstrators. If they change their attitude, [then] the response from the authorities will change" says Shabbi.

Added to that has been the dedication to the cause despite the month of Ramadan and the onset of the summer weather.

"People are fasting but they are taking to the streets demanding the change, a deep change in the regime in the political regime" he adds.

Even those in the south are finding ways to protest despite those constraints by demonstrating at night.

Regardless of where they are, the protesters appear to be unified in demanding a clean break from the current government.

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