Algerian president's resignation fuels calls to remove key allies

Protesters carrying the Algerian national flag in Algiers last Friday, following the resignation of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years in power.
Protesters carrying the Algerian national flag in Algiers last Friday, following the resignation of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years in power.PHOTO: REUTERS

ALGIERS • Thousands of Algerians poured into the streets after Friday prayers demanding a transition towards democracy and the ouster of key allies of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned last week after 20 years in power.

The protests were the starkest indicator yet that Mr Bouteflika's ouster, at the insistence of the country's powerful military, has failed to satisfy the tens of thousands Algerians who have staged massive anti-government street protests nationwide over the past six weeks in this vast North African country.

Rather, Mr Bouteflika's departure appears to be only the start of a struggle whose ultimate denouement is far from certain.

Protesters are now more emboldened in seeking a dismissal of the remaining vestiges of the political order that has governed the country since winning independence from France in 1962 - and is now widely derided for its cronyism and corruption.

A circle of Mr Bouteflika's allies - influential lawmakers, relatives and business executives known as the "pouvoir" or power - remain in control of the levers of the nation. They have become the protesters' new targets.

"The people want them all out," chanted the demonstrators last Friday by the ornate main post office in the centre of the capital.

By the afternoon, thousands more protesters from all walks of life - young and old, middle class and poor - were flowing along the main boulevards as contingents of riot police watched.

 
 
 

The mood was festive and joyful, with many draped in Algerian flags or waving them. Others carried posters emblazoned with images of officials in Mr Bouteflika's government.

One read: "You will be judged." Last Friday's demonstrations came at the end of one of the most tumultuous weeks for Algeria, Africa's largest country by area and a major oil and gas producer. Mr Bouteflika, its longest serving head of state, joined the ranks of autocrats in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen who have been forced out of power by populist revolutions since the Arab Spring uprisings that swept across the region in 2011.

Mr Bouteflika's political life began to unravel when General Ahmed Gaid Salah, the army chief of staff, urged lawmakers to deploy constitutional measures to declare the president unfit for office.

Last Tuesday, Mr Gaid Salah bluntly demanded that Mr Bouteflika vacate the presidency. Hours later, he did.

Many Algerians, though, remain wary. The Constitution calls for the head of the Upper House of Parliament, Mr Abdelkader Bensalah, to become interim leader until an election can be held. But Mr Bensalah has also been a key Bouteflika ally.

While Algerians have applauded Mr Gaid Salah and the military for speeding up Mr Bouteflika's departure, they have not forgotten that until two weeks ago, the army was instrumental in keeping the regime in power.

Last Friday, some protesters expressed concern about the army's growing involvement in politics.

Mr Smail Ahcene, 35, the owner of a car rental company, said that Mr Gaid Salah's call for constitutional procedures to declare Mr Bouteflika unfit for office was "an entanglement" and that the military "should not go into that aspect". The army, he added, must remain neutral.

"Its role, now, should be to assure the protection of this revolution," said Mr Ahcene, who was carrying an Algerian flag.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 07, 2019, with the headline 'Algerian president's resignation fuels calls to remove key allies'. Print Edition | Subscribe