Frustration drives Algeria’s ‘shockwave’ protests

ALGIERS (AFP) – Mounting frustration at their ailing president’s bid for a fifth term has brought protestors to the streets in Algeria, where Abdelaziz Bouteflika is the regime’s candidate for April elections.

Bouteflika, in power for 20 years, has rarely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke. He is currently in Switzerland for what his office calls “routine medical checks”.

Thousands have taken to the streets to protest against the 81-year-old’s candidacy in recent days.

The authorities were probably aware that a bid for a fifth term would be unpopular. But it was difficult to foresee how the nearly unprecedented protests would escalate so quickly.

Complacency may have set in because Bouteflika’s successful 2014 bid was accepted “relatively easily”, according to Louisa Dris-Ait Hamadouche, who teaches political science at the University of Algiers 3.

For Zoubir Arous, a sociologist at the University of Algiers 2, the architects of the bid for a fifth term “have made a big error”.

“They did not anticipate that society had reached this level of maturity and (political) consciousness,” he told AFP.

The government’s stubbornness in sticking with Bouteflika even amid protests “is an under-estimation of the shockwave” already in motion, Arous said.

For fellow sociologist Nacer Djabi, the regime did not see the protests coming because its leaders have “lived in isolation for 30 years and are cut off from the people”.

One major source of anger is the humiliation Algerians feel in seeing their country’s image defined by a head of state whose speech is impaired and only appears in public in a wheelchair.

Arous believes people are angry because Algeria has “become the laughing stock of the world”.