Algeria is witnessing one of the largest popular mobilizations of its modern history. Fears about the future, discontent with the political and economic lethargy, and a general fatigue with the ruling clan’s corruption formed an explosive mixture. It is possible, moreover, that some clans inside Algeria’s power circles have backed these demonstrations, especially via media and social media.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is largely incapacitated by a stroke he had in 2013. It is therefore the clique around him that has been crucial in several decisions taken since then. The clique includes his family, members from the army, police and business elite. On February 24, Bouteflika was taken to Geneva for medical check-up. The street, in the same time, was raging. After a long silence, the Presidential palace issued a communique announcing that, if elected in April (a presidential election was scheduled for April 18), Bouteflika would only stay in power for one year, then organize early elections and not run again. It was the first concession.
The revolted youth did not accept. Demonstrations continued. Bouteflika was then flown back home, had a few meetings with the main figures of his regime, announced the postponing of the election, the appointment of a new government and the establishment of a committee that would oversee the drafting of a new constitution and lead a political transition. That was the second concession. What it means, however, is that the Bouteflika system would stay around for at least one if not two years or more. While many Algerians cheered for the decisions when they were first announced, most very quickly rose up against it. And the anti-Bouteflika clans inside the Algerian establishment were not happy neither.
The Bouteflika clan needs to come up with new ideas; perhaps their last trick. Currently, sidelining Bouteflika -his resignation- might be the best option. They may also reshuffle the cabinet, by elevating younger and less polemical faces. This would, perhaps, calm-down the masses and allow the people around the President time to secure their wealth, power and interests.
Tunisia went through a similar phase in January 2011. As the Ben Ali regime was crumbling, several of its figures tried to consolidate the system by looking for compromise with the opposition, in order to calm the street. But thousands of Tunisian youth gathered in front of the seat of government, the Kasbah, asking for a total dissolution of the system: it is called the Kasbah Sit-in. Their voices were partly listened to, although even then a consensus was found that avoided a state collapse and paved the way for a shaky but sustainable transition.
Will Algerians strike the right balance? And will the regional and international players, i.e. France, the U.S., Russia, the U.A.E., Qatar, Egypt, and Turkey, stay aside and watch? As long as there is no major violence, the international community should avoid interference and leave it to the Algerians to find their own path. This movement proved exemplar on various aspects, and its outcome can transform not only Algeria, but the Arab region in its totality.