Hundreds of thousands of Algerians took to the streets of the capital and other cities on Friday, demanding a democratic transition following this week’s resignation of the country’s ailing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Algeria’s armed forces, the most powerful institution in the gas-rich North African country, delivered the final push to dislodge Mr Bouteflika on Tuesday after six weeks of mass protests against his rule.
But demonstrators say the 82-year-old’s departure was only a first step, and are demanding a complete overhaul of the country’s political system. They are desperate to be rid of a political class they consider autocratic and corrupt, and who they believe are unable to address the country’s social and economic problems.
However, their fear is that having managed to get rid of Mr Bouteflika, they will end up with exactly the same opaque and unaccountable system, but under a new president. They are concerned that the transition, if it follows the constitution, will deliver exactly that outcome.
Many protesters on Friday — the seventh week in a row that Algerians have taken to the streets — carried placards denouncing the “3 Bs”, the trio of regime insiders who are expected to lead the transition under the country’s constitutional rules.
These are Abdelkader Bensalah, speaker of parliament who will serve as interim president; Noureddine Bedoui, prime minister and a Bouteflika appointee; and Tayeb Belaiz, head of the constitutional council, which plays a role in managing elections.
While some demonstrators chanted “the army and the people are brothers,” others voiced concern about the role of the army and said it should not interfere in politics.
Hamid, a businessman, said: “The army has imposed all previous presidents, including Bouteflika. They should now go back to their barracks and leave politics to civilians.”
Another protester, university lecturer Youcef, said the armed forces were now “the main political party in the country”.
“The military made Bouteflika resign. What are they going to do now? Are they going to get rid of the entire system, or just give it a new look?” he asked.
One woman carried a placard that read: “Danger, Gaid Salah is giving the system a facelift,” a reference to General Ahmed Gaid Salah, the army chief of staff.
Analysts say continued public pressure is likely to wrest some concessions, but they also warned that dismantling the regime with its entrenched networks of patronage and vested interest was not something the army, itself part of the system, would want to do.
But the large turnout in Friday’s rally in the capital suggests the pressure will continue to mount.
Additional reporting by an FT correspondent in Algiers
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