Thousands of people turned out Friday in the center of the Algerian capital, Algiers, as well as other towns and cities, for the 37th consecutive weekly protest against the government, according to Arab media reports.
Many protesters called for the postponement of presidential elections, set to take place December 12. The crowds appeared to be larger than usual, probably because Friday marked the 65th anniversary of the breakout of the Algerian revolution against then-colonial power France.
Arab news channels showed live video of thousands of demonstrators waving Algerian flags and chanting in front of Algiers’ iconic main post office building, as dozens of government security forces ringed off the area.
It was the largest anti-government demonstration in weeks, and some observers estimated that more 1 million people may have turned out nationwide.
The protesters are upset with plans for the vote to replace longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who quit in April in the face of mass demonstrations against the country’s leadership. They have called for an overhaul of the political system that has been in place for decades. Amid the anti-government protests were official celebrations of the war that led to Algeria’s independence from France.
An Algerian military band played taps to honor the many victims of the Algerian revolution against France, which officially broke out Nov. 1, 1954. Analyst Adel Fellahi, a former member of parliament, told Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV that “the large turnout for this Friday’s protest is due to the anniversary of the 1954 revolution” and that “many people are taking advantage of that anniversary to push their own agendas.”
Meanwhile, Interior Minister Salaheddin Dahmoun told a gathering to commemorate the anniversary that Algerians should “turn out in large numbers” for next month’s election.
Many young people taking part in the protests have expressed disillusion with the political system. One man in his 20s and draped in an Algerian flag told Arab media he has no faith in the elections.
He said the problem is that the military has imposed presidents since the country became independent. The opposition, he maintains, has never been allowed to take power.
A man in his 30s, wearing a baseball cap, told Arab media that the time for change has come.
He said protesters are signaling to the military that the time for ignoring the people has come to an end. It is time, he argues, for the military to hand over power to a civilian, elected government.
Hilal Khashan teaches political science at the American University of Beirut and has made note of the impact of similar anti-government protests elsewhere in the Middle East. He tells VOA that “protesters in both Algeria and Lebanon have been watching crowds turn out for demonstrations in Iraq and that the events are undoubtedly contagious.” Khashan also thinks that “more protests will break out, elsewhere,” as Arabs watch demonstrations on TV.
Dahmoun says it is a chance for the people of Algeria to reaffirm the democratic principles that have been put in place for five decades since the country became independent and to reaffirm their commitment to the principles of independence.
Algeria won its independence from France in 1962.