Algeria this week marks the second anniversary of the popular Hirak revolt, a movement that emerged to demand the resignation of a fifth consecutive five-year term of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been seriously ill since 2013. Thousands of Algerians marched through the streets of the capital and many other cities across the country to commemorate the landmark date.
The city of Kherrata, in the Kabylia region, 300 kilometres east of the capital, was where the first demonstration took place two years ago, and was the trigger for the large march that followed days later in Algiers, where Hirak was born. Likewise, Kherrata has once again become the city where the demonstrations for the second anniversary of the protests have begun.
On this occasion, the demonstrators took to the streets to protest against the current government, which they consider to have changed little with respect to the one headed for two decades by Bouteflika. "We are not here to celebrate, but to demand his departure", the demonstrators shouted.
Following the resignation of former president Bouteflika, protesters continued their actions demanding a major overhaul of the system of government in place since Algeria's independence from France in 1962. These protests were suspended in March 2020 as a result of restrictions imposed by the coronavirus. In Algiers, this new march is the largest demonstration since its suspension on 13 March last year.
On the eve of the anniversary, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, elected in December 2019 with a very low turnout in an election boycotted by the protest movement, announced a limited government reshuffle in an attempt to tackle the new rallies. The current Algerian president referred to this gesture as a move to "end the era of fraud", and thus showed his determination to "put an end to any doubt about the elected institutions". In this context, he called on young people to stand for election and pledged, under the new constitution, to provide them with financial and moral support.
Elected in December 2019, Tebboune pledged to take measures aimed at diversifying the economy to decrease dependence on oil and gas, which account for 60 per cent of the state budget and 94 per cent of total export revenues. Algerians have been waiting for the implementation of the economic and political reforms Tebboune promised after succeeding Bouteflika.
The need for a generational change at the helm of the country has been one of the reasons behind the protests first against Bouteflika and now with Tebboune. In an attempt to calm the atmosphere ahead of the Hirak anniversary, the Algerian president pardoned 33 political prisoners linked to the movement, including journalist Khaled Drareni, who was sentenced to two years in prison last September and has become a symbol of the struggle for press freedom in Algeria. Still, according to human rights groups, around 70 people remain in prison for their links to the Hirak movement or for other peaceful political activities of the opposition.
Once again Algerians are taking to the streets, despite COVID-19 restrictions, to demand reforms and protest against corruption, mismanagement and injustices in the Algerian political system.