Algerians mobilize to mark protest movement’s first birthday

Anti-regime protesters have designated Friday and Saturday a landmark moment, mobilizing to “disqualify the system’s agenda of self-renewal, and to lay the foundations for a new republic.” (AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2020

Algerians mobilize to mark protest movement’s first birthday

ALGIERS: Algeria this weekend marks a year since the birth of an unprecedented protest movement known as “Hirak” — one that quickly forced an ailing president from power and is now looking to maintain momentum.
Anti-regime protesters have designated Friday and Saturday a landmark moment, mobilizing to “disqualify the system’s agenda of self-renewal, and to lay the foundations for a new republic.”
The epicenter of the protest movement in central Algiers remained calm on Friday morning, with a heavy police presence. Checkpoints were installed on roads into the city, according to social media, complicating access to the commemoration for Algerians outside the capital.
Protests first erupted on February 22 last year, in response to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announcing he intended a run for a fifth term — despite being debilitated by a 2013 stroke.
Less than six weeks later, he stepped down after losing the support of the then-army chief in the face of enormous weekly demonstrations.
But despite hordes — diplomats said “millions” — turning out after Bouteflika’s fall to demand an overhaul of the entire system, the military maintained a political stranglehold in the months that followed.
The election of Abdelmadjid Tebboune, once a prime minister under Bouteflika, as president in December appears to have reinforced the regime’s hand and further stalled the protest movement.
But many boycotted the poll — even the official turnout was below 40 percent — and demonstrators remain numerous.
On Thursday evening Tebboune paid homage to the protest movement in an interview with local media, promising to implement “all of its demands” after it prevented the “total collapse” of the country.
But in a manifesto published Thursday, organizations from the Hirak movement called for “continued mobilization” to force out members of the old guard, arguing that they could not oversee the process of reform.
They denounced the state taking “repressive measures” against journalists, activists and protests.
Algerians “want their country ruled and managed with transparency” by “accountable officials, an independent judiciary and a parliament that is not a rubber stamp body,” they wrote.

Dalia Ghanem, a researcher at the Carnegie Middle East Center based in Beirut, argued things in Algeria appeared much as before. “Soldiers have returned to their barracks, civilians are in power, so there is a democratic and constitutional facade,” she said.
“Tebboune is just the civilian face of a regime that remains in the hands of the military.”
But “the capacity of the regime to adapt without really changing, and its resilience, will be tested in the coming years,” she contended.
It will dole out political handouts through limited reforms, she said, but an economic crisis caused by low oil prices will limit its largesse and hence its scope to maintain social peace.
The protest movement, meanwhile, has plenty of rethinking ahead, if it is to maintain momentum.
The size of marches across the country on Friday and Saturday will represent a key test of the spontaneous, leaderless and youth-dominated movement.
Will it grasp President Tebboune’s extended hand and risk being swallowed up by the regime?
Or does it need to gear itself up for an institutional game, with the risk of exposing its own divisions and contradictions?

But whatever the challenges ahead, Hirak has already forced change on Algeria’s political order, in a context where real opposition was consistently hindered, gagged and co-opted during Bouteflika’s two decades at the helm.
And above all, in maintaining an overwhelmingly peaceful line, the movement has “succeeded in ensuring there has been no bloody confrontation or brutal repression,” said historian Karima Direche.
This marks a contrast with other countries, and also Algeria’s own past experience.
“To see Algerians congregating every Friday for the last year — women, men, Berbers... Muslim Brothers and secularists — in the streets is extraordinary,” said Ghanem.
“A wall of fear... has been destroyed by this new, heavily politicized generation, which knows what it wants,” she added.
Direche sees the coming year as allowing “stock-taking of what Algerians want collectively.”
If the movement succeeds, “Algeria could become a case study,” Direche hopes, with much resting on the coming year.


Palestinian minister claims Israeli police physically abused him

Fadi Hidmi. (Supplied)
Updated 40 min 50 sec ago

Palestinian minister claims Israeli police physically abused him

  • East Jerusalem — with a population of 350,000 — has been all but ignored by the Israeli Ministry of Health in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic

AMMAN: Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Fadi Hidmi was released by Israeli police on Friday afternoon after being arrested for the fourth time without charge.

Ministry spokesman Awad Awad told Arab News that Hidmi had been “warned” not to “move around” or “do any work in” Jerusalem in accordance with measures being taken to minimize the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Awad also claimed that Hidmi had been physically abused by the police, saying that the minister was “punched in the face and forced to wear a mask with blood on it.”

CCTV at Hidmi’s Mount of Olives house show that he was manhandled by Israeli police during his arrest in the early hours of Friday.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld confirmed the arrest.

Rosenfeld told the Israeli press that Hidmi was arrested “on suspicion of Palestinian activities in Jerusalem.”

He said police searched Hidmi’s home and confiscated documents as well as “large sums of money. Israeli media said that the police had confiscated NIS10,000 ($2,750) found in the house.

Hidmi, a Jerusalem resident, was the director of the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and Industry before accepting his current job in the Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh’s government.

Before Hidmi’s release on Friday, Shtayyeh wrote on social media: “Israel targets who work for #Jerusalem, even at such critical moments as we work to save our people's lives from #COVID19.”

East Jerusalem — with a population of 350,000 — has been all but ignored by the Israeli Ministry of Health in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Jamil Kousa, director of the St. Joseph hospital, told Palestine TV that he was only informed on March 25 that his hospital should be prepared to accept patients with COVID-19.

Ahmad Buderi, the coordinator of the Jerusalem Alliance — an organization launched to help combat COVID-19 — has said that people in the city are depending almost solely on local initiatives to deal with the pandemic.

Before his arrest, Hidmi launched the website madad.ps to coordinate the distribution of urgenly needed food and medical supplies to the city’s residents.

Walid Nammour, secretary-general of the Jerusalem Hospital Network, estimates that the city’s six hospitals need $7 million to to deal with the potential spread of COVID-19 in East Jerusalem.

Nammour told Arab News that 300-400 ventilators are needed and that only 26 are available at present.