Explainer: What we know so far on Algeria’s protests

Published: Updated:

Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his withdrawal on Monday from a bid to win another term in office and postponed an April 18 election, weeks after protests against his candidacy emerged.

Following his election 20 years ago, Bouteflika was considered the source of change in unstable Algeria.

Today, the ailing 81-year-old president is being censured to have hindered any progressive change in the country.

After over two weeks of protests on the Algerian street, demanding Bouteflika refrain from running for a 5th term, the people’s requests have finally been heard.

Bouteflika first came into power in 1999, after a deadly decade in which Algeria witnessed the killing of more than 200,000 people and the disappearance of thousands more, following a civil war between different parties in the country.

With his reign, came the stability and economic growth Algeria had missed out on since 1988.

When the Arab spring spread across the region in 2010 and 2011, Algeria only witnessed few small-scale riots and was overall spared from the ongoing protests taking place in neighboring Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. The military and civilian elites – known locally to Algerians as Le Pouvoir – were able to survive.

But by 2018, the country had faced unemployment and a financial crisis as a result of a collapse in oil revenues.

Meanwhile, Bouteflika had been unseen at public events and incapacitated for most of his fourth term.

In preparation for the April 2019 presidential elections, Le Pouvoir were unable to agree on a successor, and Bouteflika was announced to run for a 5th term to ensure the regime’s continuity.

Angered by the decision, Algerians took to the streets protesting Bouteflika’s candidacy yet again.

In response, the government shut down the country’s 3G and 4G networks, in an effort to prevent social media users from encouraging or orchestrating larger demonstrations.

Algeria’s situation leaves the rest of the world in concern, as the country is a crucial energy source for Europe, supplying one-third of its natural gas.

Taking into consideration the prolonged factional fighting in neighboring Libya, civil unrest in Algeria would leave a broad swathe of North Africa unstable, with potential population flight posing challenges to its relatively stable neighbors Tunisia and Morocco, as well as to southern Europe.