Arabs finally know “Berlin time.” Their wall of fear is collapsing. The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are fragile. Libya can tip into chaos. But, one might ask, who cares? The long-awaited time of freedom has come. The Arab world is entering a new phase of the end of the post-colonial period, a crucial one in which the regimes can no longer control their populations with an iron fist. Algeria cannot remain impervious to the huge expectations.
What do we want for Algeria? The country has always taken the worst route in the delicate moments of its history. A few days after the riots of October 1988, when police arrested and tortured the youth, a senior government official made these remarks in my presence: “The next time it will be a hundred thousand deaths.” Stunned, I asked him why he showed such pessimism. “The regime does not understand that it should change dramatically,” he replied. Indeed, the 1990s were terrible: 150,000 dead and $20 billion in destruction. The civil war officially ended and the country’s coffers are full. The hoard, however, does not serve to reduce unemployment or to diversify the economy or otherwise give Algerians a better life.
Today, the contagion is there and the expectations are huge. Tomorrow, in a few weeks or months, Algerians will also try to take their destiny. It’s an inevitable development that would be dangerous and criminal to ignore and, more importantly, to deny. The question is what kind of revolution should we expect in the country. Several scenarios are possible, but not all are desirable.
There is the way of a total revolution, where the people commit to a showdown with the system. That may be the option most anticipated, most brutal and most romantic. Sure, it will satisfy those who can no longer live with the hogra, the regime’s contempt for the people, and misery. This is the path where the street’s anger does not calm unless it gets justice and the representatives of the regime are imprisoned. Yet, it is a course where a vacuum appears and leads to new abuses. A clean sweep of the past is satisfying but it’s not how you build a nation. Algerians need to remember that violence can comes from the manipulations of hidden hands.
The current political crisis will worsen if it leads to further violence. Yet, it seems that the country is moving in that direction, like in a Hollywood western, where you can guess from the beginning that a bloody duel is inevitable. The question is whether our leaders are willing to accept the idea of a system change and prepare–smartly–their own exit.
That is what Algerians want. Let’s face the reality: it is regime change that Algeria needs, along with the emergence of a new republic that respects the rights of human persons and the rules of political change. Algerians need a country where freedom of expression is guaranteed.
Algeria’s leaders and policy makers, the masters of this pyramid that represents Le Pouvoir, understand that the status quo is untenable. They must accept that it is time for them to pass the baton. They can be stubborn, but that would only lead to their own demise and that of the country as well. Conversely, they can also organize the handover of the most peaceful way possible. Algeria and the Algerians, long known worldwide for their propensity to settle disputes in a violent manner, would re-write history.
Algerian society is tired after the civil war of the 1990s, and reluctant to engage in a new showdown with the government. Every Saturday, part of opposition attempts to organize a protest march, but the population remains reluctant to follow. Some opposition leaders including Hocine Ait Ahmed advocate a peaceful transition. So thus far, little has changed in Algeria since the start of the Arab revolutions in Tunisa last December. While Tunisia and Egypt launched their revolution and Libya has been set ablaze, Le Pouvoir has not budged. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika promised political reforms and decided to lift state of emergency. That won’t be enough.
Akram Belkaïd is a columnist for Le Quotidien d’Oran and also writes for Le Monde Diplomatique and Slate.