On February 22, 2019, millions of young people took to the streets of Algeria’s largest cities. They came together to denounce the masquerade of the fifth term of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Their slogan was “enough is enough!”
An important political aspect of these peaceful nine-month protests against the former president’s oligarchic system is the presence of the youth, who have played a major role in the socio-political mobility of the Hirak movement.
Three quarters of the Algerian population is under 35 years old. The majority of the nation belongs to the category of young people; however, the circumstances created by the government are to the detriment of young people in Algeria to some extent, such as high unemployment or hampered rights to participate in political, social and economic activities, despite new initiatives by President Abdelmadjid. Tebboune.
Chronologically, youth as a vital force in Algerian society has been making itself heard for decades, either as an intermediary socio-political voice used by the regime, or by the opposition. In this position, the first was through the organizations of the National Liberation Front (FLN) party such as the Algerian National Union of Youth (UNJA) in the 1970s and early 1960s called “Chabiba” (Youth ).
The UNJA, a satellite party of the FLN, was a strong channel promoting the regime’s policies in universities, local towns and medium-sized towns. The very young activists were active in universities, theater, music and religious activities.
The movement itself led to years of religious awakening in Algeria and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. It was the rise of youth, who espoused “the doctrine of the brethren” following a new wave of change in the late 1980s.
Sociologically, the perception of young people in Algeria is very complex. Following the political turmoil of the 1990s, Algerian youth suffered greatly from terrorism and anti-terrorist tragedies. They have been the victims of hot wars and intra-regime fighting.
Between 1992 and 1999, the famous war left Algerian youth perplexed and lost. Demoralization has severely affected them and society as a whole. They sort of dismantled all the social codes established by the regime since 1962.
A glimmer of hope
In such an environment, Hirak appeared as a collective manifestation of anger and radical change. The movement challenged the political establishment and the elite, which had diminished the political consciousness and status of young people in society for decades, calling them “losers”.
With Hirak, new positions emerged in Algerian society such as “Harraga” (men who participate in the illegal migration to Europe on boats) and “hitists” (wall holders – unemployed people who do nothing but chatter all the time. neighborhood day).
However, the Hitists and Harraga astonished the elite and the leaders of the political parties when they declared their opposition to the regime and its oligarchs from the stands of the Olympic stadium in Algiers, chanting: “Y’en a marre, y’en a marre, yina mine had al-power ”(“ Enough is enough, we are fed up with this regime ”).
This anger was the result of three decades of frustration, marginalization and humiliation. Unlike universities, the bleachers’ voices wanted their message heard across the country. In these peaceful Friday and Tuesday marches, young people have proven they have the consistency to shape the nature of the new socio-political imperative.
The heterogeneous youth movement played a major role in Hirak’s slogans and liveliness. The Hirak denounced the bad governance of Algeria, a position fundamental to the spirit of the movement. The youth of this North African country rich in natural resources are suffering in the Mediterranean and looking for a better life elsewhere.
However, the youth movement in Algeria is divided like any serious element in the equation of change and stability in the country.
What didn’t go well?
The youth movement was not well organized, as was the national social and political structure as a whole due to the system of favoritism and the buyout of the “social peace” policy under Bouteflika.
During Bouteflika’s tenure, billions of Algerian dinars were spent on fictitious projects to keep youth politically silent.
Therefore, the peaceful mobilization of protesters did not fit the full spectrum of the message of change. This did not happen despite the new Tebboune administration, which tried to provide young people with a new space for better socio-political development.
To understand from a sociological point of view, the space controlled by young people is a social and political necessity, the Hirak has therefore helped young people to position themselves as a strong voice for change.
“However, in this long socio-political speech addressed to the authorities, they often had to go through a kind of game of hide and seek with the regime,” said Karima Megtef, sociologist and youth expert at the University of Algiers.
Once the demand for free speech was articulated with precision from the bleachers of football stadiums before the Hirak spark, it unleashed sweeping, moving and audible change.
Many Algerians were already mobilized at the grassroots level and were ready to take back political and public spaces, opposing the imperative of law and order imposed by the military.
Thus, Algerian youth protested against the main problems that lie behind social disorder and economic turmoil: irresponsibility, corruption and the lack of different perspectives.
They did this not only by protesting, but also by proposing an alternative model emphasizing the promotion of social solidarity and political diversity.
Diversity and inconsistency
However, whether the ongoing protests are another Hirak or a temporary development, Algerians today are divided.
Young people continue to take over public spaces in times of crisis, calling for societal reform because the current system no longer reflects this generation and its social code.
A new Algeria is looming on the horizon and a new social conception is shaping its society. It is a paradigm that Tebboune is keen to put in place within civil society. This is a strategy to further monopolize conventional political parties which are losing their credibility with young voters.
Subsequently, the mobilization of youth in 2019 brought Algerian society together and temporarily put aside various stereotypes. It has undoubtedly created a new political space in which the relations between the youth and the elite can transcend.
This phenomenal movement of the country’s youth tries to keep the Hirak’s 2019 spirit alive amid the COVID-19 pandemic
* North Africa expert at the Middle East Strategic Studies Center (ORSAM)