Where is Algeria heading?

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The decision by Abdelaziz Bouteflika not to seek a fifth term as president has failed to placate Algerians who descended on the capital on Friday yet again.

Because this was the biggest demonstration – one million people – since unrest erupted six weeks ago, it is clear that neither Bouteflika’s pledge to eventually step down nor the succession of loyalists calling on him to leave have pacified the increasing number of protesters. They want more. They want to replace the establishment with a new generation of leaders capable of modernizing the country and giving hope to a population impatient for a better life.

The protesters of Algeria have ambitious demands in a country long dominated by the history of the independence war against France. Those wars in the 1950s and the early 1960s were a great inspiration for Arab revolutionaries and nationalists. It was a golden era of fighting for independence, freedom and national dignity. For this, the Algerian people set an example in sacrifice rarely seen in modern Arab history. The fierce struggle for independence from French rule fired the imagination, traveling well beyond the Arab world to the Third World.

But it is that same leadership that inspired Algerians that is now seen by many as too old and out of touch. Bouteflika’s nomination unleashed a massive protest movement that cut across all political parties, classes, professionals, genders and even the ranks of the ruling party, the National Liberation Front that had led the fight for independence.

Seeing the breadth of the protests against him, it’s hard to remember that Bouteflika was once a revered figure in Algeria. He succeeded in meeting two existential challenges that threatened the country. The first was leading Algeria out of what is known as the “black decade” from 1991 to 1999 that cost Algeria 200,000 dead after Islamists took up arms when their parliamentary victory was annulled by the army. He called for national reconciliation that echoed throughout the country.

The second challenge was protecting Algeria from the devastating storms of the Arab Spring that destroyed many Arab republican regimes. He shielded Algerian society from the havoc and upheaval seen in other Arab societies. The fear of the return of the black decade was probably the reason why the protests have been largely peaceful thus far.

But it seems that Algeria has reached a crossroads. The mass movement against a fifth term for the ailing Algerian president appears to signal the end of an important cycle in the political history of Algeria. Those young men and women born in the last four decades have neither sentimental attachment to the national struggle of their fathers and forefathers nor do they connect with the political legacy of either the president or the National Liberation Front. Their ambitions and aspirations lie somewhere else. They want to have a say in determining the future of their country and their own personal future. Algeria is in search of a new identity that will reflect the ambitions of its youth.

The stability and security of Algeria will greatly depend on how the present highly tense situation is managed, not only by the president and the National Liberation Front, but also by all political forces. The current struggle is not just a fight for the highest office in the land but for the future of Algeria. It will set the stage for a new Algeria anchored in a glorious past of national independence, freedom and national dignity.

Algeria is on the threshold of a new uncertain era. However, the Algerian people, in calling for new directions for their country, should be aware that the safest way to ensure the stability of their country is to have a peaceful and orderly transfer of power.


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