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Anti-Bouteflika protests in Algiers on Feb. 26
Anti-Bouteflika protests in Algiers on Feb. 26
Natalie Malek

-Analysis-

It's a striking contrast in both age and public exposure. Defying a sometimes repressive police force, a bold youth-led Algerian street protest movement has risen up against the North African country's aging and largely invisible leader.

Tens of thousands demonstrated over the past couple of weeks against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's decision to seek a fifth term, despite years of poor health and lack of public accountability.

In addition to concern that 81-year-old's multiple health problems render him unable to properly lead, many believe that he has significantly abused his power throughout his 20-year reign. Perhaps most disturbing is that Bouteflika has not made an official public appearance since a 2013 stroke.

The president must go.

A college student named Wassim, who attended recent protests in the country's capital Algiers, told El-Watan that it is time for Bouteflika to retire: "I was born in 1999. I opened my eyes to the portrait of Bouteflika and he is still here," he said. "And it's been six years since we've seen him. It is unacceptable."

In a country where over a quarter of people under the age of 30 are unemployed, young citizens are bound to blame their lack of prospects on those in charge. That is multiplied when the leader is by almost all accounts incapacitated by age and illness.

Bouteflika poster in Algeria — Photo: Maya-Anaïs Yataghène

Wassim considers himself a part of the Mouwatana (Democracy and Citizenship) movement, the opposition group behind the protests. Their members are as young as 16, and unlike most political organizations, they do not back a specific candidate. One of the leaders of the movement, Soufiane Dijali, told the Guardian that the Mouwatana strives to do more than just dethrone Bouteflika: It wants to create a whole new democratic system.

"The president must go, the government must resign, and the fake national assembly — all of these need to be dismantled," Dijali said.

Le Point Afrique reports that in a speech on Monday addressing the protests, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia directly addressed the protesters' doubts about whether the April 18 elections will be fair: "Everyone has the right to support or oppose … But things will be decided in the ballot box."

Having largely avoided the unrest of the Arab Spring earlier this decade, Algeria is now facing a delicate moment where civic protests can prompt government crackdowns, and even all-out civil war — with young leaders of the movement were trying to avoid confrontation by concentrating protesting on college campuses, Le Monde says. Security guards, however, retaliated by trying to block the gate.

Another protester, a third-year biology student named Khaled, told El Watan that the group made sure to avoid clashes with forces by keeping each other in line. "Our people have shown a high level of maturity. When someone was about to throw a stone, we would stop them before the police saw."

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Martin Schutt/dpa via ZUMA
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