Weary protesters see straight through Tebboune's 'new Algeria'
Despite Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune's declaration that the recent parliamentary elections would deliver a "new Algeria," the uprisings this week in the south of the country suggest that the same old problems continue to plague the population.
The Algerian government put all its weight behind the elections that took place last month, portraying them as an opportunity for national renewal.
However, the regime's increased repression of opponents and critics in the lead up to the election did not send reassuring signals about the potential for actual positive change.
"The spurious use of terrorism charges has been deployed by the state against Hirak activists"
Described by Human Rights Watch as a "frightening escalation of repression", the period was marked by increased levels of police presence, the blocking of main roads in the country's capital as well as the arrest of activists linked to the anti-regime Hirak. The Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights announced that seven opposition figures and activists had been detained, including activist Karim Tabbou and prominent journalists Khaled Drareni and Ihsane El-Kadi.
Furthermore, the spurious use of terrorism charges has been deployed by the state against Hirak activists, something Amnesty also noted in their report. Human rights advocates Kaddour Chouicha, Jamila Loukil and Said Boudour, along with lawyer Abderraouf Arslane and another dozen Hirak activists were accused of being members of terrorist groups, and of organising a "conspiracy against the state".
During the vote, things did not get any better.
Algerians, who have been protesting against the military regime since February 2019, called for a boycott of the elections because they had no faith in the electoral system or its representatives.
While Tebboune claimed he respected those who took part in the boycott, this did not translate into action on the day. Nearly 70 people faced prosecution based on claims they had broken national electoral laws. Around half were taken into custody and some were also sentenced to 6-18 month-long sentences and given fines.
In the Kabylie region, where the regime faced the most intense opposition to the election, dozens of protesters were arrested for their actions.
This all comes following the president's repeated claims that he is doing everything in his power to address the major shortcomings in the political system, the same shortcomings the Hirak had been marching against.
The new electoral law, for example, which was pushed through by Tebboune a few months ago, seems positive on the surface because it targets corruption, bribery and even the violation of people's democratic rights.
But there's a fundamental flaw when the very people who have been complicit in the old, unequal, and corrupt system are also those implementing the reforms.
Unsurprisingly, the people have no confidence in the significance of these changes. Especially given that one of the recent amendments to the Penal Code under Tebboune has been to include, "attempting to gain power or change the system of governance by unconstitutional means" within the definition of terrorism.
None of the "changes" promised by those historically linked to the regime is likely to benefit the masses.
In the end, there was a 23.03 percent turnout, the lowest on record in 20 years, and around 1 million votes were considered invalid. While the National Liberation Front (FLN) won the elections, they did so with fewer seats than before, causing Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad to resign.
"None of the 'changes' being promised by those historically linked to the regime are likely to benefit the masses"
The regime proceeded to peddle the idea that a new parliament and a reformed constitution would be transformative. Very soon after this political charade, however, protests erupted in the Ouargla and Touggourt regions in the south of Algeria against mass unemployment and nepotism, underlining that the socio-economic problems have certainly not changed.
In fact, poverty and unemployment are worsening as an outcome of the twin Covid-19 and economic global crises. Already in February people in the same oil-rich area took to the streets to demonstrate against their deteriorating living conditions and lack of jobs. The latest demonstrations erupted when oil companies announced jobs that protesters say have been distributed illegally.
The remobilisation of protests in the south of Algeria is a serious cause for concern for the regime, which has long feared the impacts of an organised revolt at the heart of Algeria's key strategic resource.
Whilst those leading the country may conveniently either bat the rage away as terrorist activity - playing on a lingering association with the civil war - or blame plummeting oil prices for the lack of jobs, these communities know better.
They have lived through and suffered from the corruption of the state for decades, seeing the wealth extracted from under their feet, redirected to the political elite in the north – a slogan often even chanted during protests – and in turn, syphoned off to banks abroad.
The multiple waves of action in such a short space of time make clear that they are not waiting for the so-called reforms of Tebboune, but are taking matters into their own hands. They are building a new Algeria from the bottom up.
Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.
Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia
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