Thousands of Algerian protesters marched amid massive police presence in their nation’s capital Saturday to demand the government’s ouster, echoing the events in Egypt that ended the decades-long authoritarian rule of former President Hosni Mubarak.
The Associated Press reports that some 10,000 protesters faced off against 30,000 riot police in the streets of Algers, according to estimates by protest organizers, although Algerian officials put the number of protesters at around 1,500.
“Protesters chanted ‘No to the police state!’ and ‘Bouteflika out!’ a reference to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has led the nation since 1999.
The heavy police presence and barricades turned Saturday’s 3-mile march into a rally at the First of May square. …
‘This demonstration is a success because it’s been 10 years that people haven’t been able to march in Algiers and there’s a sort of psychological barrier,’ said Ali Rachedi, the former head of the Front of Socialist Forces party. ‘The fear is gone.’ ”
The AP adds that a human rights activist said more than 400 people were arrested.
Al Jazeera notes that while there is often a police presence in Algers to defend against terrorist attacks, the numbers on Saturday were “unbelievable” according to Elias Filali, an Algerian blogger and activist.
“The regime is frightened,” Mr. Filali told Al Jazeera. “And the presence of 30,000 police officers in the capital gives you an idea of how frightened the regime [is] of its people.”
Filali accused Algeria’s government of being “corrupt to the bone, based on electoral fraud, and repression. There is a lot of discontent among young people … the country is badly managed by a corrupt regime that does not want to listen,” he said.
IAl Jazeera adds that Algeria has seen protests during the past several months over unemployment, high food costs, poor housing, and corruption.
Mr. Bouteflika announced earlier this month that the government was planning to lift its emergency powers and deal with unemployment and food costs in an effort to assuage the people. Al Jazeera chronicles Algeria’s political unrest since 1988 in a graphical timeline on their website.
Karima Bennoune, a Rutgers law professor who was at the protests, writes in the Guardian’s Comment is Free section that “the single most moving part of the day was the women’s demonstration.”
A group of about 50 of the many women present – a few young women in hijab, many other young women in jeans, older, seasoned feminist activists wearing khaffiyehs and dresses – took up position next to the bus station at 1st of May Square holding a large Algerian flag. One of these women, prominent psychologist Cherifa Bouatta, told me on Friday as we watched the celebration in Cairo:
“I have been waiting for this for years. This is the beginning. From the years of terrorism [the 1990s] and what came after, everything seemed lost. Our hopes for a just society were dying. But now the possibilities are fantastic.”
Ms. Bennoune adds that “the most surreal moment came as I watched the unyielding female activists attacked by a group of young policewomen in pants and boots – their own career paths only imaginable thanks to the hard work of some of the very women activists they hit and shoved. … The women protesters’ only ‘crime’ had been to stand peacefully on the sidewalk of their own capital city singing the national anthem and calling for democracy.”
Amid the protests, there were conflicting reports as to whether the Algerian government cut off Internet access, a tactic that Mubarak’s government used in Egypt to try to quell protests without success.
Under the headline “Algeria shuts down internet and Facebook as protest mounts,” The Daily Telegraph writes that Rachid Salem of Co-ordination for Democratic Change in Algeria said, “The government doesn’t want us forming crowds through the internet. Security forces are armed to the teeth out on the street, and they’re also doing everything to crush our uprising on the internet.”
But on the blog of Internet monitoring company Renesys, James Cowie writes that there’s little evidence to back claims of an Algerian Internet cutoff.
Mr. Cowie writes that “Algeria typically has about 135 routed network prefixes in the global routing table, and our data show that they are all still routed and relatively stable. Traceroutes inbound confirm that sites hosted in these prefixes are still alive, and spot checks of websites hosted in Algeria show that most are up and functioning normally.”
Cowie notes, however, that there may be blockages within Algeria that are not detectable outside the country.