Can bitter past signpost a better future?

Author:Wood, David
Position:Algeria - Essay - Cover story
 
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In Algeria, it remains unclear what comes after the ongoing political demonstrations. But the Arab Spring--tainted by its catastrophic failures--is an unreliable guide. Algerians however can look back to their own unique history for a more navigable course. Analysis by David Wood.

"rotesting is now an obligation," said Madani Bezoui, who teaches mathematics at the University of Boumerdes, just outside the Algerian capital. "We must participate because we will not nave this chance for another 20 years."

For weeks, mass demonstrations have swept across Africa's largest country. At first, the rallies opposed a fifth term for Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria's wheelchair-bound authoritarian president, who assumed power two decades ago. The army forced Bouteflika to resign on 2 April, citing medical grounds.

Unsatisfied, the protesters are now demanding what Bezoui describes as an "opportunity to evolve" --to build a modernised society in the place of today's faltering, thinly veiled kleptocracy.

The eye-catching demonstrations have evoked memories of 2010-11s Arab Spring', when millions protested against authoritarian regimes across North Africa and the Middle East. Major international news outlets have already declared a kind of Arab Spring 2.0' for Algeria, which saw relatively muted protests during those heady revolutionary days.

Such accounts do not bode well for Algerians, given the Arab Spring's largely dismal track record. Democratic movements were snuffed out in Egypt and several Gulf states, while Libya, Syria and Yemen spiralled into anarchy and civil war. Only Tunisia swapped authoritarianism for democracy.

Yet the Arab Spring is hardly the most reliable guide for Algeria, with its rich tradition of public protesting and regime resistance. Indeed, many Algerians argue that their nation has already had its Arab Spring moment--30 years ago.

Algeria's unique history helps to explain the perceived "maturity" of the public demonstrations so far. It also challenges predictions based on the Arab Spring's fallout, including that Islamists would gain power in open elections.

The road forward for any new civilian government in Algeria is beset with formidable challenges-overcoming the pouvoir ("the power," or regime elites), restraining the armed forces, and restoring the economy. But Algerian activists maintain hope of succeeding where the Arab Spring did not.

Old hands at protesting

Algerian protesters have won praise in high places. In early...

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