2019 Algerian protests

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2019 Algerian protests
Manifestation contre le 5e mandat de Bouteflika (Batna).jpg
Protesters on 1 March 2019 in Batna
Date16 February 2019 (2019-02-16) – ongoing (30 days)
Caused by
  • Opposition to President Bouteflika's 5th term, regime and corruption
Resulted in
  • Bouteflika drops bid for fifth term
  • Resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia
  • Presidential elections postponed indefinitely
  • Government of national unity formed to write new constitution
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures
  • Unknown
Injuries183 (112 police officers)[1]

The 2019 Algerian protests, also called the Smile Revolution,[3] began on 16 February 2019, ten days after Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his candidacy for a fifth presidential term in a signed statement.

These protests, without precedent since the Algerian Civil War, have been peaceful.[4][5]


Bouteflika in power since 1999[edit]

Abdelaziz Bouteflika, president of Algeria since 1999.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been president of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria since 1999. Two amnesties (via referendum) for former combatants in the Algerian Civil War had taken place during his presidency (1999 and 2005). This "dirty war" between Islamic guerrillas and the government had claimed up to 200,000 lives from 1991-2002. Nearly half of the Algerian population was born after the end of the conflict.[6]

Oil-rich during the Arab Spring, the government was able to quiet dissent during the 2010-2012 protests with increased spending.[7]

The constitutional revision of 2016 limited the number of presidential terms that could be served to two, but nevertheless allowed Bouteflika to seek a fifth term, because the law was not retroactive.[8]

Since 2005, and especially after his stroke in 2013, Bouteflika's ability to govern the country was called into question: rumors of his death were frequent as he was frequently hospitalized, no longer spoke and made very few written statements.[9] In this context, some Algerians considered his announced candidacy for the presidential election, originally scheduled for 18 April 2019, to be humiliating.[10]


Early days[edit]

In December 2018, calls for demonstrations in the neighborhood of Bab El Oued against the fifth term went unheeded, except by the police, which mobilized a significant dissuasive force.[11][12]

The protest was at first limited geographically to northern Algeria.[13] The first major demonstration took place on 16 February 2019 in Kherrata, at the eastern end of the wilaya of Bejaia.[14] In Khenchela, on 19 February, a giant poster of the President of the Republic was torn down from city hall and trampled. Two days later, another suffered a similar fate in Annaba.[15] This form of protest was related to the recent practice of offering gifts to a framed portrait of Bouteflika in the latter's absence.[16][17][18]

22 February[edit]

Protests were organized via social media in major and mid-sized cities on 22 February. Those in Algiers—where street protests had been illegal since a demonstration on 14 June 2001, "when hundreds of thousands of demonstrators from Kabylie converged on the capital"[19]—were the biggest in nearly 18 years.[20][10] Smaller protests, with slogans like "There is no president, there's a poster," had been taking place in Algiers since 11 February.[21][22] On 22 February, the portrait of the President was torn down from the landmark central post office.[23] Human rights activists said that there were up to 800,000 demonstrators on 22 February 2019.[10][24]

Regularly hospitalized for "periodic medical examinations", Abdelaziz Bouteflika was admitted to the University Hospital of Geneva (Switzerland) on 24 February 2019.[25]

Another large-scale demonstration took place on 24 February at the call of the Mouwatana movement ("citizenship"),[26] and another on 1 March, following another anonymous call.[27]

1–3 March[edit]

During the 1 March demonstration, 183 people were injured and Hassan Benkhedda, son of former interim government president, Benyoucef Benkhedda, died of a heart attack.[28][29] Speaking as Interior Minister, Noureddine Bedoui [fr; ar] confirmed that it was related to police action against "thugs unrelated to the protestors."[30]

On 2 March 2019, Abdelaziz Bouteflika replaced his campaign director, the former prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal, who had actively campaigned for the President since 2004, by the virtually unknown Abdelghani Zaalane [fr; ar], a career provincial administrator. Considered to be a response to the ongoing protests,[31] this dismissal followed the disclosure of a recording between Sellal and Ali Haddad in which the former is heard making threats.[32] The deadline for submitting candidatures for the presidential election was 3 March 2019.[31] The idea of postponing the election was put forward.[33]. The private channel Dzaïr News reported that one million people demonstrated across Algeria on 1 March, which was also the first time state television broadcast images of the protests.[34] Unofficial estimations put the total number of protestors at 3 million for the second week.[35]

On 3 March, the candidacy of Bouteflika was filed by his campaign director, though the law stipulates that the candidate must be physically present for this process.[36] Another signed message announced that if re-elected, a national conference would be convened to adopt reforms as well as a new Constitution - to be approved by referendum - and that he would not take part in the next presidential election which he promised would be held early.[37][38]

4–8 March[edit]

After the confirmation of Bouteflika's candidacy on 3 March, and the withdrawal of several opposition candidates, including Ali Benflis and Louisa Hanoune,[39] an anonymous call to strike was made the next day, as well as a call to protest on 8 March.[40] Even before the candidacy was formalized, tens of thousands of protesters were out on the streets.[41] On the night of 3–4 March, hundreds of protesters marched peacefully,[42] calling his candidacy a "provocation", an "insult" and a "masquerade".[43] The next day, many students boycotted their classes.[44]

Protesters in Blida

The opposition, meeting at the headquarters of the Justice and Development Front, called for candidates to withdraw from the election.[45] On the same day, following the example of the resignation the day before of Khaled Tazaghart, an elected representative (député) from the El Moustakbal party, & former minister Sid Ahmed Ferroukhi (FLN), resigned from the party.[46] Zahir Kherraz, FLN mayor of Oued Amizour, also said he did not support a fifth term.[47] Amar Benadouda (1931), doyen of the mayors of the country, resigned from the town hall of Guenzet.[48]

On 5 March, protests and student strikes continued, thousands were in the streets of Algiers,[49] Constantine,[50] Oran, Annaba, Bejaia, Tizi Ouzou, Bouira, Blida, Setif, or Tlemcen.[51]

On 7 March, a thousand lawyers demonstrated in Algiers.[52]

The "Pacifist and Civilized Walkers' 18 Commandments", written by Lazhari Labter [fr], were widely circulated on social media prior to the 8 March demonstration.[53][54]

9–16 March[edit]

On 9 March, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research moved the spring university holidays forward to the next day (10 March) and extended them by two weeks in an effort to calm matters down.[55] On 10 March, the Army Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah, close to Bouteflika, gave a speech to officer cadets saying the "army and the people had a common vision of the future". This speech was front page news in El Khabar.[56] A 5-day general strike was begun the same day.[57]

On 11 March, it was announced that the President would not seek re-election; that Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia had resigned and been replaced by Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui; and that the April 2019 presidential election was postponed indefinitely.[58] The day after the announcement, students protested for the third consecutive Tuesday across the country on 12 March, chanting "No Tricks, Bouteflika" in response to the postponement sine die of the Presidential elections.[59]

On 14 March, Djamila Bouhired encouraged the younger generation demonstrating, saying: "Your elders liberated Algeria from colonial domination, and you are giving back to Algerians their liberties and their pride despoiled since independence"[60]

The protests on 15 March were estimated to have been larger than those the previous Friday.[61] The Guardian reported that hundreds of thousands were in the streets,[62] La Croix put the number at over a million.[63] Protesters carried a banner criticizing France's comments that the cancellation of elections should lead to a "transition of reasonable length" saying, "It's the people who decide, not France!". Other signs included "Macron, deal with your yellow vests" and "Elysée, stop ! It's 2019, not 1830".[61]

17-24 March[edit]

On 17 March, the newly appointed Prime Minister announced the intention of forming a government of politically unaffiliated experts, which would "reflect the demographics of the Algerian society".[64]



Protesters on 1 March 2019 in Mohammadia.

These are the largest protests in Algeria since 2001. The demonstraters are primarily young people who did not experience the "Black Decade".[10] One observer lauded the millenials' reappropriation of corporate branding to their own uses, as well as their respect for their living space through peaceful demonstrations, saying:

Algerian millennials thrive on positive messages. They flooded the web with images of young demonstrators kissing, handing flowers to police officers and women on international women’s day, distributing water bottles, volunteering for first aid or encouraging people to clean the streets after the demonstrations.[65]

Women's active role in the protests was credited with minimizing violence,[66] and marked a sharp contrast with the 1988 protests predominantly led by salafists.[67]

Demonstrations also took place abroad, particularly in France,[68][69] where 10,000 demonstrated in Paris on 8 March.[53]


Most immediately, the protesters want Abdelaziz Bouteflika to withdraw his candidacy for a fifth term and want Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia to step down.

More generally, they called for more democracy, a less corrupt society and for the current governing system to change radically.

Slogans, songs and symbols[edit]

Some slogans referred to the incumbent president as "the Moroccan" because of his birthplace[20] and his reputed membership in a shadowy second Oudja Clan.[70] Others, such as "bring back the commandos of the army and the BIS, there will be no fifth term" alluded to the baltaguias.[71]

The song, "Libérer l'Algérie", written by artists supporting the movement, became a hit with the protesters upon its release on 1 March.[72]

Cachir, an emblematic Algerian sausage, was brandished and tossed around during demonstrations as a reminder of the 2014 elections when the press reported that Bouteflika's re-election committee was increasing attendance at their meetings by handing out free sandwiches filled with the sausage. In the protestor's eyes, cachir had become a "symbol of corruption and of the 'buying of votes and souls.'"[73]


Although the rallies were generally peaceful, some vehicles were burned and shops were vandalized in the evening of demonstrations.[22][74] On 1 March, clashes took place between the police and groups of young people throwing stones at them.[22]

41 arrests were recorded on 23 February[75] and 45 on 1 March.[76]

Media coverage[edit]

Until 1 March 2019, public television and radio totally ignored the demonstrations, while private channels linked to power dealt with them in a limited way.[77] A boycott campaign was launched against the media.[78] The editor-in-chief of Algiers Channel 3 [ar; fr] resigned on 23 February as a protest against the treatment of the movement on the government-run radio station. Several journalists were arrested.[77] A hundred journalists and the NGO Reporters Without Borders publicly denounced the censorship practiced by the Algerian executive.[79] When state TV channels did begin mentioning the protests, they were critical of the protesters and did not refer to their motives.[22][79] In contrast, the private print media and news sites reported widely on events from the beginning.[77]

Despite the opening of the audiovisual media to competition in 2011, off-shore channels can be shut down at any time because of their precarious legal status.[80] One foreign media outlet, Al Jazeera, has been banned from Algeria since 2004.[81]

On 4 March, Nadia Madassi, Canal Algérie's nightly news anchor for the past 15 years, resigned because she had been required to read a letter attributed to the president on the air.[82]

On 5 March, Echorouk and El Bilad were sanctioned by the Ministries of Communication for having covered the demonstrations, and were cut off from advertising by the ANEP (national publishing and advertising agency).[83]


Demonstrator wrapped in the Algerian flag.

On 28 February 2019, the economist Omar Benderra asserted that a deep separation exists between civil society and the Algerian government, which outlawed street protests twenty years ago, and which he wrote is controlled by "warlords". Public opinion, Benderra continues, is suspicious of official government communication and has also begun to show signs of frustration with spiritual leaders urging the people to stay off the streets.[84]

In Le Figaro on 1 March 2019, the Algerian writer Boualem Sansal said: "Such demonstrations in all the cities of the country and even in the capital, not far from El Mouradia (the district of the presidential palace), the Tagarins (the district of the Ministry of Defense), of Alger Centre (the district of the palace of the government), is an unbearable humiliation for the president, his brothers, his army, his police, his deputies, his senators, his oligarchs, his officials, his extra militias, in short, the "revolutionary family" (that's the name they give themselves), whom no one has ever disrespected without paying for it with his life. Their silence has an air of preparing for battle that does not bode well".[25][85]


On 5 March, the National Organization of Mujahideen [ar; fr] (the powerful organization of veterans of the Algerian War of Independence) announced by press release that they supported the demonstrations, lamenting "the collusion between both influential parties in the seat of power and unscrupulous businessmen who have profited illicitly from public money".[86]

International reactions were cautious: most countries and international organizations remained silent until 5 March. The European Commission called for respect for the rule of law, including freedom of expression and assembly.[87][88] The US State Department issued a statement saying that the country "supports the Algerian people and their right to demonstrate peacefully".[87][89]

Speaking in Djibouti on 12 March, French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed Bouteflika's decision not to seek reelection and applauded the Algerian government's plan for a constitutional conference validated by a popular referendum after a "transition of reasonable length".[90]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ "Proteste weiten sich aus: Hunderte Festnahmen in Algerien" [Protests are spreading: hundreds of arrests in Algeria]. n-tv (in German). 8 March 2019. Retrieved 9 March 2019.
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