In the wake of the overthrow of longtime leader Abdel Aziz Bouteflika in April, Algeria has embarked on a slow but significant political transition. At present, however, there's no end in sight to the process, in part because the political opposition is attempting to test the limits of what it can demand from the military-dominated and -backed government.
Algeria's opposition is finding just how far it can push "le pouvoir" (the power) that calls the country's shots. This week, the interim government and army chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah rejected the preconditions from a six-member opposition panel as part of a dialogue process to chart Algiers' path toward elections and beyond — namely, the release of prisoners of conscience and the lifting of extra security measures around the capital. On Aug. 1, the panel, which is headed by a former president of Parliament's lower house, Karim Younes, huddled to take stock of the government's attitude and decide how to move forward. Expressing their disappointment at the authorities' refusal to negotiate, two prominent members of the panel resigned (Younes would have joined them, but his colleagues in the delegation persuaded him to stay), although the body did invite new members to join it.
Why It Matters
The rejection is a major blow to Algeria's opposition and popular protest movement, which is trying to dramatically overhaul the country's political system. The interim government (and more importantly, the military) has made it clear that there are a number of demands that it will not grant. At the same time, the nature of the rebuke highlighted just how prominent the military has become in underpinning the government. As a key component of "le pouvoir," Algeria's army has exercised an outsized degree of control, but it has never been so visible and public about it as it is now.
Meanwhile, the longer the panel gets bogged down in talks with the interim government, the more it risks losing credibility with harder-line segments of the opposition. Already, some on the streets have accused the panel of becoming a military tool to dilute the opposition's demands — something that spurred this week's resignations from the body.
The rejection is a major blow to Algeria's opposition and popular protest movement, but the interim government (and more importantly, the military) has made it clear that there are a number of demands that it will not grant.
In part to help deflect popular anger from the government (and, in all likelihood, to help sideline potential establishment opponents to Gaid Salah's preferred agenda), anti-corruption trials against loyalists of former President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika have continued. This week, interim President Abdelkader Bensalah replaced the heads of two important public banks because their former leaders had become the subject of graft probes. Also on Aug. 1, Bensalah fired Justice Minister Slimane Brahmi, replacing him with Algiers' public prosecutor, Belkacem Zeghmati. The new appointee could represent a pragmatic choice by the government, because he is known to oppose Bouteflika's loyalists, but the shuffle is indicative of the type of government decisions that have spurred popular anger. The interim government doesn't technically have the constitutional power to reshape the government. Such abrupt government actions have driven protesters onto the streets for weeks (as of Aug. 2, it's 24 weeks and counting) and are likely to continue doing so — regardless of le pouvoir's red lines.