Algerians in large numbers took to the streets across the country on Friday, May 14, days after the government banned ‘unauthorized demonstrations’ in an effort to curtail the Hirak protests. The protesters demanded an end to quasi-military rule, large scale reforms to improve the economic and social conditions in the country, and a new political system devoid of the corrupt politicians, businessmen and others belonging to the Abdelaziz Bouteflika era.
A staggering 900 arrests were made across the country. Among those held were the recently released journalist Khaled Drareni and Kenza Khatou, a woman journalist whose violent detention sparked massive outrage. Politicians from opposition parties, such as head of the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) party, Mohsen Bel Abbas, and the National Coordinator of the Social Democratic Movement Party, Fathi Grass, were also detained.
The protests which took place on the day of Eid Ul-Fitr, were staged in Algiers, as well as smaller cities such as Setif, Bordj Bou Arreridj, Oran, and Mostaganem. In Algiers, thousands of protesters faced off against a large contingent of security forces equipped with riot gear near the city’s Al-Rahma mosque. The police surrounded the protesters from all sides and cordoned off them in one location, preventing them from moving forward or others from joining in. According to media reports, protesters were seen chanting slogans such as “You can do whatever you want. We will not stop.”
The police reportedly also attacked a group of protesters in the central part of Algiers. The Algerian army has issued threats of troop deployment against the Hirak protesters, leading to fears of a violent crackdown. Earlier in the week, the Human Rights Office of the United Nations had urged the Algerian government to stop its crackdown on protesters and critics.
The Algerian interior ministry issued a warning prior to the protests in which it said that “failure to comply with these procedures (ban on unauthorized protests) will result in violating the law and the constitution, which denies the legitimacy of the march, and it will be necessary to deal with it on this basis.” The government had also used the pretext of the coronavirus pandemic to justify its restrictions, even though news reports said that the country recorded only 207 cases in the preceding 24 hours.
According to observers, the crackdown is related to the legislative elections scheduled for June 12. The government fears that the Hirak protests will lead to large-scale boycotting of elections and a low turnout. The presidential elections held in December 2019, which saw Abdelmadjid Tebboune come to power, saw only a 40% turnout. The Hirak protesters have vowed to boycott all elections as long as those with ties to the regime of deposed president Abdelaziz Bouteflika take part. Bouteflika was overthrown in April 2019 by a wave of massive protests.