Source: The Nation
The most striking feature of today’s uprising is that the gigantic rallies are peaceful and socially mixed, with men and women, old and young, taking part—and adamant in their resolve to get rid of the regime.
Since February 22, Algeria has been shaken by unprecedented nationwide demonstrations, which remind many of us of the 2011 uprisings in other Arab countries. Algeria escaped that so-called Arab Spring, but it experienced a much earlier period of unrest when weeklong riots erupted in October 1988. The nationwide violence ended only after the regime agreed to implement political reforms, including ending the single-party system and opening to pluralism. That democratic opening lasted only three years, however, and its failure led to a decade-long civil war, in which as many as 200,000 people are believed to have been killed, according to figures released by human-rights NGOs. Many Algerians say with national pride that they started the Arab Spring 25 years earlier than the rest of the Arab world. Algeria was not touched by the 2011 uprising for two reasons. First, the bloody decade of civil war (1992–2002) was still fresh in memory, so Algerians were wary about another uprising; and second, the government had enough financial means at the time to appease social unrest.
THE FAILURE OF THE FIRST DEMOCRATIC TRANSITION
In order to understand the current uprising, it is worth going back to the 1990s. In December 1991, after the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won a majority of parliamentary seats in the initial round of Algeria’s first free elections, it was poised to form a new government. The military, however, was surprised by the results and felt threatened by the Islamist victory, so it canceled the second round and forced the sitting president, Chadli Bendjedid, to resign. The Islamists then launched a guerrilla war, attacking the security forces. The military appointed as head of state Mohamed Boudiaf, a hero of the liberation war (1954–62) who had been living in exile for 30 years—but he was murdered after only five months in office. Public opinion was not convinced by the official story, which accused the Islamists of the assassination (many have long suspected the military of being behind Boudiaf’s murder). Gen. Liamine Zeroual, a former army chief of staff, was then appointed president, and in 1995 he was elected to the office. But Zeroual was forced to resign at the end of 1998 because the military hierarchy did not agree with him on the negotiations he was conducting with the jailed Islamist leaders. The military then asked Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a former minister of foreign affairs (1964–78), to run for office.