Algeria Protests Grow Against President Bouteflika, Ailing and Out of Sight

Algeria Protests Grow Against President Bouteflika, Ailing and Out of Sight

Algeria, heavily dependent on oil and gas — over two-thirds of state revenue comes from it — faces a crisis of youth unemployment in a country where over 70 percent of the population is under 30. State revenues have dropped sharply with the fall of the price in oil, forcing the government to make cuts in the social programs that otherwise keep citizens quiescent.

“I’m not demonstrating for myself. Our generation is finished,” said Mourad, an engineer in his 50s who was in the crowd in central Algiers. “I’m marching for my children. I’m demonstrating so that our kids no longer have to endure classes of 45.”

The demonstration were not limited to the capital. In Algerian’s second city, Oran, the streets were “black with people” Friday, the independent news website TSA said. The government rarely admits foreign journalists into the country, one of the most closed in the Arab world. On Thursday, dozens of journalists were arrested protesting against state media’s refusal to cover the ongoing protests.

“It’s a huge mobilization,” said Nacer Djabi, a well-known Algerian sociologist, in a telephone interview from Algiers. “You can see it today. There are millions of people, and it’s all over the country. People have seen this candidacy as a provocation, and a humiliation. He doesn’t represent Algeria anymore, inside our outside the country. People don’t see how a president that sick can run Algeria.”

Mr. Bouteflika was an influential young colonel in the liberation army of the early 1960s and later served as Algeria’s foreign minister. He has won his recent elections with huge majorities, leading to suspicions of vote rigging, though the Algerian system is so opaque it is difficult to know for certain.

But the stretch for a fifth five-year term and the country’s general stasis are now apparently frustrating and mobilizing a new generation of youth.

“The number of people who are coming out is really big,” said Fatiha Benabbou, a constitutional scholar in Algeria who signed a letter denouncing Mr. Bouteflika’s candidacy. “It’s the young who people thought were completely depoliticized, those who don’t even vote,” she said. “They don’t want this fifth term. It’s sort of a humiliation for them.”

And for those who had voted for the president in the past, “they don’t detest Bouteflika, but they are saying, ‘He’s done four, and that’s enough,’” said Ms. Benabbou. “These are minimal demands. This country is governed by a gerontocracy that is immobile.”

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