Articles > > THE LONG ROAD

Articles - Addostour - Date: 2019-03-16
By: Oraib Al Rantawi

As of the day before yesterday, Algeria has taken new steps down the road towards the long transition to democracy.

The scene remains undecided, and only God knows how it may develop. But today's Algeria is not the same as yesterday's and it can never go back to what it was. The street feels ecstatic at its victory, and the ruling elite can no longer rule by using the same old means. Yet the dossier has not been closed, and all sorts of surprises are possible.

The president has withdrawn his candidacy, but he has not stepped down. He and his advisors are most likely to be seeking a way out and a means of extending his term for one more year, at least. But even before he withdrew his candidacy, he only undertook to restrict his fifth term to a single year after the protests expanded and demonstrations spread to all Algerian cities and towns in a unique uprising that has won respect and admiration for its discipline, peaceful nature, and its participants' civilized actions.

The details of the decision taken by the president, however, lead us to the belief that the arms of the clock will not be turned back. A 'national forum' will be responsible for preparing a new constitution, and a referendum will be held on it. And this 'national forum' will be decide on a roadmap for political reform in which all shades of the Algerian spectrum will take part, and that will include dates for legislative and presidential elections, as well as establishing an independent electoral commission. And there is still room for other major changes and decisions.

The Algerians and their friends have generally received these dramatic developments with great delight. But this is also wrapped in caution and wariness. Many of the figures against whom the criticisms and anger were directed remain in their positions. And the probable extension of the president's term means, among other things, an extension of the terms of these figures who are responsible for the years of stagnation, corruption, and the suspension of the country's political life.

There are fears that these reformist steps will be denuded of their content and transformed into merely formal, meaningless, and valueless measures. There is a fear that the 'shadow leaders', who have made 'puppeteering' their profession, will continue to rule from behind the curtains and closed doors. All these fears remain in forcefully place, which is why we have seen calls to maintain the street's momentum and to keep up continuous pressure on the government and decision-making institutions, which is the guarantee of genuine democratic transformation, especially if we bear in mind that none of the president's reformist decisions would have been possible before February 22nd [when the protests started].

Over the past three weeks, the Algerians – in government, in opposition, and the public at large– have proven that they have taken the lessons of the 'Black Decade' [1990s civil war] to heart. The government, the army, and the security forces have opted for as much self-restraint as possible while the people chose and insisted on 'peaceful demonstrations'. But even more important is the fact that the Algerian street proved very adept in distinguishing between its legitimate and justified opposition to the authorities on the one hand, and its concern for the state, its institutions, and its army on the other. Opposition to the regime in no way means destruction of the state. This is one of the most important lessons of the failure of the 'Arab Spring' experiment.

The Algerians have manifested a degree of national pride and dignity that is worthy of respect and admiration, even if neither are surprising or strange in the 'country of a million martyrs.' As soon as the heads of ugly foreign of sedition were raised and sought to intervene in the Algeria's internal affairs, they unanimously denounced the American and French attempt to interfere in their domestic affairs. And we also saw them competing in denouncing certain Arab states' attempts to express their support for one party against the others – some in favor of the army and the military establishment, and others in favor of the Islamist currents in particular. We have seen how this was manifest in these states' media coverage and among their spokespersons, often assuming the provocative role of incitement, as if what was being sought was to ensure that Algeria meets the same fate as Libya, Yemen, and Syria.

The past few days' developments in Algeria are significant. They pave the road towards the transition to democracy, even though they do not ensure that this road will be followed to its happy and victorious end.

But all this depends on the level of awareness and responsibility among the various parties in government, the army, and the opposition, as well as on the street.