Preview: Now that back-to-school season is behind them, Algerians are shifting their focus on ratcheting up pressure on their government. Eight months after the anti-regime Hirak movement began, labor unions have decided to take part to the protest, promising an extremely difficult November for the government headed by the military command. The intersection of anti-regime movement and labor unions could be a dangerous environment for the regime to confront. If the half of the regime tied to the Bouteflika era has fallen due to the Hirak, the other half still in power will find it harder to withstand a progressive escalation of unrest and strikes, which could grind the country to a halt, if no change takes place in governance.
October 24, 2019
- Political unrest in Algeria is expected to increase substantially
- A confluence of events is leading the anti-regime protest movement to further solidify:
- The unwillingness of the regime to put forward a transition period acceptable to the population,
- The imposition of former regime operatives as presidential candidates
- The insistence of the regime on a December 12 election
- The arbitrary mass arrests of militants and others
- Uproar over a 2020 draft budget seen as punitive to the population
- Rejected of a new oil bill seen as giving too many concessions to foreign companies
- The closing of independent media located abroad
- The commemoration of Algeria’s start of the war of independence on November 1, 1954
- Reports and allegations of the involvement of France and the United Arab Emirates in supporting the regime for its survival
- The involvement of labor unions and their joining of the anti-regime protestsAre among the key factors that are leading Algerians into a period of turbulent time, likely to stretch from October 25 to past November 1. What comes after November 1 will largely depend on the reaction of the military command and its support abroad and whether there is a plan B to consider at least the basic grievances of the population.
Now that back-to-school season is behind them, Algerians are shifting their focus on ratcheting up pressure on their government. Eight months after the anti-regime Hirak movement began, labor unions have decided to take part to the protest, promising an extremely difficult November for the government headed by the military command. The intersection of anti-regime movement and labor unions could be a dangerous environment for the regime to confront. If the half of the regime tied to the Bouteflika era has fallen due to the Hirak, the other half still in power will find it harder to withstand a progressive escalation of unrest and strikes, which could grind the country to a halt, if no change takes place in governance.
Over the past couple of weeks, there have been an increase in calls for both industrial strikes and mass rallies, likely to peak on November 1, 2019. The day carries a symbolic importance, since it commemorates the first day of the Algerian war of independence against colonial France in 1954. The population today has been blanketed by these calls for rallies and strikes and so we expect a record turnout out in rallies stretching from Friday, October 25 to November 1. What happens after that will depend on the reaction of the military and to what extent their supporters abroad agree with a new appeasement approach instead of confrontation.
Already primary school teachers have began their strike. One to their unions, the UNPEF said the strike is to demand improvements in their social and economic conditions. Another education union, SNTE endorsed the call and asked its members to take part. This could have a paralyzing effect on the primary school system, which in turn could further galvanize the Hirak movement as parents of school children join in. The education sector’s strike could eventually generalize to K-through-12 grades. There have been anonymous calls on social media for a complete halt in the education sector, and often such calls tend to find receptive ears given the toxic political environment Algeria finds itself. The legal profession has also began its protest movement starting Thursday, 24 October to denounce abuses against the profession and dismal working conditions.
Small scale, often localized strikes and sit-ins have taken place across Algeria. Individually, they do not have a major impact on the broad political life, but collectively they could be used by labor unions to extract major concessions and influence policy, if coordinated. Several professions, some more sensitive than others, have launched this week their industrial actions. Psychologists decided to stage their own protest. Workers in many municipalities, including Oran, have been on strike over the past week. Most of them have not been paid in a few months but municipal services cannot be provided without them, and so they continue working without getting paid. Small businesses operating in construction, transportation, and manufacturing are up in arms. The longer the political crisis lasts, the more unsustainable the situation is. Today, virtually every Algerian company, regardless of its size, is facing difficulties. But a campaign of coordinating these grievances is underway. Some 28 autonomous unions organized under the ‘Confédération des Syndicats Algériens’, have been working to launch a nationwide strike on 29 October, followed by rallies to be held in 48 provinces. That date will coincide with the weekly student anti-government protests, offering to the Algerian government a substantially more difficult challenge ahead. After that date, November 1 will coincide with the commemoration of the official date of the start of the Algerian war of independence against the French army on November 1 1954. Here again, there are plenty of indications that the population is likely to rally en-masse, given the increasing resistance against the regime.
General Crisis Update
The Algerian political crisis is in its ninth month, with protesters bracing for their 36th Friday of rallies this week. Sentiments and positions have hardened on both sides of the conflict. An objective assessment of the current situation shows both parties have experienced setbacks. On the regime front, the authorities, headed by the military command, have increased their crackdown on dissent, which after arresting scores of activists, they turned to the media located outside of Algeria to impose a ban on their activities. The banning last week of anti-regime TV outlets Al-Magharibia TV and Amal TV by two European satellite organizations, are evidence of the Algerian government convincing the French authorities, in particular, to ban these stations. The issue remains perplexing considering that the arguments for shutting down the stations are not logical in light of European law, and therefore litigation is likely. Without these two TV stations reaching Algerian households, information from the opposition has been largely contained.
The government’s rough methods however may have a galvanizing effect on the Hirak movement. There is already uproar over the 2020 budget, which introduces steep austerity measures, and a draft petroleum law, which is seen by most Algerians as a major concession to international oil companies. Another draft law giving more power to the military and removing basic protection to suspects arrested by police is being attacked by the Hirak as another effort to broaden the crack down. In the proposed law, a police and even military unit could arrest anyone without judicial supervision and due process. These changes will open to more abuses.
So far, the insistence on a 12 December election is the only card being played by the military command, which has been severely weakened due to its chief, General Gaid Salah’s health problems. The General has reduced his appearances and made only one speech (in writing) in two weeks without any camera present. His weakness, however, does not reduce the regime’s steadfast positions on the elections and repression.
While a general assessment would lead to a conclusion that the Hirak has a slight dominant position given its scope and size, the regime continues to drive the agenda and appears unshaken. If reports and rumors that the regime is getting a great deal of support from France and the United Arab Emirates in an effort to maintain its survival, the situation will get much more complicated and the crisis could drag for a while.
An escalation of the conflict appears inevitable now that labor unions are calling for several days of a nationwide strike starting at the end of October 2019. The Algerian regime is preparing another divide-and-conquer tactic that could backfire. After forcing the shutdown of Al-Magharibia TV, the Algeria government is preparing to broadcast a series of pro-government marches and rallies in rural areas that will be targeted to a foreign audience. Already opponents have been talking about this plan and are focusing their speeches on remaining united and on peaceful protests with the the “Silmiya” slogan.