Protesters filled the streets of Algiers on Friday as the pro-democracy Hirak movement regained momentum after a year-long break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Hirak, meaning “movement” in Arabic, was formed in 2019 to oppose former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s run for a fifth term. The non-partisan movement aims for systemic change that includes judicial independence and the rule of law as well as the complete end of the old regime and of military interference in politics.
The movement gathered to protest in the Algerian capital every Friday, eventually forcing Bouteflika to resign. Members of the Hirak were unsatisfied with the resignation. The authorities, who were initially tolerant of the protests, eventually began arresting and detaining the protesters.
After several delays, Abdelmajid Tebboune won the country’s presidential elections in December 2019 without the support of the Hirak, whose members considered Tebboune to be a part of the old regime. He formerly served as prime minister under Bouteflika.
Last year the pandemic forced the Hirak to curtail its weekly protests. It began organizing online, utilizing social media to collect ideas and disperse information. Such internet organization was also met with resistance from the government, which began prosecuting people for their online posts. On February 22, the Hirak marched to honor its two-year anniversary in Kherrata, the city where its first demonstrations were held in 2019. These marches were followed by other assemblies on Friday.
Protests in Algiers were outlawed in 2001. According to Human Rights Watch, “No other ‘Arab Spring’ or ‘Arab Spring 2.0′ country experienced such a sustained mobilization of nonviolent and large-scale protests [as the Hirak], a point of pride for Algerians marked by the country’s political violence in the 1990s.”
President Tebboune had announced the release of dozens of political prisoners just ahead of the February protests. This decision followed Hirak members’ complaints that “measures to contain the Covid-19 outbreak were being used to silence dissent in an echo of how the former government treated opposition.” Many more protesters remain imprisoned. In January, Tebboune signed a decree adopting a new constitution.