Algeria is full of surprises: Bouteflika has nominated the general who wanted to sack him as a minister... just before announcing his own resignation, set for 28 April (the legal end date of his term in office). Kamel Aïssat, an activist with the Algerian Parti Socialiste des Travailleurs [Socialist Workers' Party or PST], was at a Paris meeting of the NPA [New Anti-Capitalist Party] and explained the situation and the people's reactions.
[Army chief] Gaïd Salah announced on [30 March] that he was asking for Articles 102, 7 and 8 of the Constitution.
Articles 7 and 8 don't fit with article 102: Article 102 stipulates that the president of the Senate is next in the line of succession to the Presidency and will organise elections. Articles 7 and 8 refer to popular sovereignty, to a different situation.
So what that means is that Salah is threatening the President with an offensive if he doesn't resign. He wants to accelerate the announcement of article 102. It has to be seen politically and not legalistically, because at the legal level, the three articles Salah has invoked are contradictory.
The political reading is: we don't want Bensalah (president of Bouteflika's Senate), who is seen as a possible President: on the contrary, they want to find an interim President for a provisional period
In the night, groups came out in Algiers with new banners, to say "Yes to Gaïd Salah and people like him" but they were a minority, and the next day a group of young people who had come out with placards were run off the demo in front of the Grande Poste.
The weekend's demonstrations [30-31 March] have shown that the mobilisation hasn't gone away, although it hasn't grown in some sectors. During the week, there were many marches from branches of the economy, bringing in all manner of workers; every day there was a new demonstration. So we can say that the first response to Gaïd Salah's statement was a continuation of the mobilisation.
Bouteflika announced a new government with Gaïd Salah as Vice-Minister of Defence, the day after Gaïd Salah had threatened Bouteflika in order to get him to resign. So the basis of these nocturnal knife-fights is that they have tried to make a compromise in order to preserve what's essential. This compromise is based on Bouteflika's resignation and the nomination of a government during the transitional period.
This morning, they started to sacrifice a few big billionaires who resemble Haddad and Kouninef, who certainly did hurt the public purse, but they're just a little sample of figures who got rich on ill-gotten gains under Bouteflika's reign. These sacrifices are all a response to the demands of a people who are asking for the prosecution of all those who made their money on the back of national sovereignty.
The fights at the top of the Algerian state between different factions are very violent but the solutions they come up with are absolutely not popular in the mass movement. The movement is more radical, its slogan is "down with the system" and it rejects all those who have hurt national sovereignty, looted public property for years: this comprador bourgeoisie which today is being thrown to the wolves.
But those wolves – the people – are asking for much more. The first reactions to the nominations of this government, to say nothing of the compromise between Gaïd Salah and Bouteflika, are discontent and anger in the streets. This Monday [1 April] there have been big marches in Béjaïa, for example by higher education workers...
A communiqué from the President was read out on Monday night [1 April] on TV, saying that Bouteflika was announcing that he would resign on 28 April and that then he would take major steps that he would announce later. No measure in particular was described.
Gaïd Salah said as much as a month ago that he would guarantee elections and support a 5th term for his excellency Bouteflika. He has found that the balance of power in society has changed, and so sacrifices must be made. It started with the first climbdown over Bouteflika's candidacy, and then the nomination of a new government, sacrificing Ramtame Lamamra, the Foreign Minister who had been the government's Number Two. Lamamra had made too many trips to European countries...
But you must understand that we are faced with a power that's made up of many factions which are in crisis; so they are looking for a compromise which will allow them to maintain their interests over the long term, and they have started with the first sacrifices: Bouteflika will not have a 5th term; they are arresting a lot of powerful businessmen in Algeria; they are making some concessions under the pressure of the mass movement.
On the other hand, it wouldn't be right to say that Gaïd Salah will be a guarantor of the continuity of the system, because Gaïd Salah himself is the fundamental continuity of the system. The Algerian bourgeoisie has been partially bound up with the National People's Army apparatus since 1962: that's why we talk about state capitalism in our country and why we call Bouteflika a Bonapartist.
What is the PST saying in this situation?
Next Friday [5 April], the PST will mobilise with all its forces to try to broadcast our ideas, in particular about a Constituent Assembly, which is in the interests of the majority of the Algerian people, that is, workers, the unemployed, women, all those excluded by the capitalist system, whose demands must be worked into the new constitution.
The mobilisation will be very big, perhaps bigger than other mobilisations. In associations, in discussions, people are saying they're not just going to come with their families but with their domestic animals as well, to show that people want the government to go, and not just organise some transition!
Our idea of a Constituent Assembly based on the interests of the popular masses is taking root in many sectors. It's not an end in itself but a step in the process that's underway in Algeria, trying to seize as much space as possible for social and democratic rights in the new Algerian constitution.
The PST is trying to unte with all the forces on the side of the workers, the side of the shut-out, to carrry our voice on all the marches we go on, and to give meaning to the people's deeply-held slogans, which are "down with the system" and "we want to try all the people who stole the public wealth", which we interpret in terms of opening the books on Algeria's wealth; and "down with the system" as meaning the system based on the bazaar economy, the market, which has ruined the Algerian economy.
How do you view the Constituent process?
It has to be achieved through mobilisations; otherwise the forces of money will imose another constitution which represents their interests, the interests of a minority which is pillaging Algeria's wealth. The fact that the mobilisation is continuing and deepening and being self-organised is the only guarantee that we have as workers, oppressed women, young people, unemployed people, excluded people; the only way to impose our hopes on this Constituent.
We are looking at a spontaneous popular movement which has started to organise itself, but not according to the classical forms that we have seen in the past. There is no social force which emerged in particular at the outset, but rather civil society in general, the population that demonstrated on Fridays (the "Algerian Sunday", the day of rest). The population decided to raise slogans on little placards, which grew into banners. The banners carried certain demands which are still quite vague, but the interpretation given them by forces like ours are taking the movement in a profoundly radical direction.
Self organisation is not just an idea from history books: it is the tool that the masses take up at a certain point, depending on their consciousness, their traditions of struggle, or their traditions full stop, as they face down an adversary. Today, the populations sees itself as organising in a context of broad freedom of expression on demonstrations that are making demands, of a regime that is responding with letters from Bouteflika or Salah. The people respond in turn with demonstrations on Fridays, and some sectors of workers marching in the week.
This is a maximal mobilisation, with good discipline, symbolised by young people from working-class districts who clean up after the marches! But the spokespeople who have tried to come forward, driven on by privately-owned TV channels, and bosses' newspapers in particular, have almost all been rejected.
The establishment wants to have personalities chosen by the media, but that isn't what's happening at the moment. Self-organisation has made great strides in several sectors.
It has started to come about in the universities. We are helping autonomous committees to emerge there. That's what explains the haste with which the Higher Education Minister closed Algeria's universities for a month, two weeks before the holidays.
The second aspect is that now all the neighbourhoods are coming to the demonstrations, organised behind their own banner; villages are coming in an organised way; workers are active in various trade unions[...] This is the case in SONACOM or in the industrial steel port of Annaba, where there are general assemblies and demonstrations in the streets. Indeed, this is now happening in many sectors.
Every day we see a new piece of self-organising springing up. Are these "soviets"? No, but it is the start of a debate between workers; of organisation of workers; of workers expressing themselves autonomously, even, autonomously of trade union apparatuses and their bureaucratic leaderships.
Kamel Aïssat spoke with Sam Wahch and Antoine Larrache of the NPA
Titi Haddad is a feminist activist in Algeria
How are women getting involved in these events?
Since the mass movement began, women get involved right away in the various demonstrations. We saw a major involvement of women following calls by women's collectives, in particular in Algiers, Béjaïa and Bouira, for International Women's Day on 8 March.
After that, many other women saw the use of organising and setting up collectives to demand their rights, and by the same token to demand the fall of the system, alongside Algerian men, as was the case during the national liberation war.
And remember that it was thanks to women's effective and glorious participation that they were able to win considerable gains, in particular the rejection of the 1966 laws inspired by Sharia, as well as other democratic and social victories, such as education and the right to work.
On the other hand, can you explain about the attack that took place during a demonstration, and reactions?
On the morning of the 29 March protest in Algiers, women from a newly-set-up collective were attacked by several male demonstrators. Other feminists (who were flyposting regulations taken from the Family Code to educate society on women's situation) faced the same aggression. They were insulted and sexually assaulted, while the security services stood and watched without even reacting to this disgraceful act.
This inspired many reactions. Some condemned the attacks, others rejoiced at what had happened. This shows up the worrying state of play for women in Algeria, which is the product of a hardening of conservative, reactionary ideas, and the discontinuity of progressive struggles.
Can you explain the weight of the "Black Decade" and tradition on women's struggles?
With the rise of Islamism in the early 1980s, we saw a serious deterioration of the situation for women in Algeria, although they stood up to fundamentalist terrorism with extraordinary mobilisations like that of 8 March 1989. But the women's movement continued to fall back. The tidal wave of the Islamic Salvation Front [FIS] in the 12 June 1990 local elections put a stop to this dynamic: an immense reactionary wave surfaced, which was followed by a series of brutal attacks, misogynistic terror and assassinations.
The women's movement was build on demands like the repeal of the Family Code and equality of the sexes, but it took a turn towards resisting and surviving against terrorism. In this way, the women's struggle was robbed of its living forces. Some left the country; others preferred to remain quiet out of fear of suffering the same fate as befell the late activist Nabila Djahnine, or Katia Ben Gana, who refused to follow the fundamentalists' dress code. But in spite of all these difficulties, women cannot abandon their fight; we still have a right to hope. Our country is living through a real revolution which aims to overthrow the system in place and move towards a sovereign Constituent Assembly, which will represent the aspirations of workers, students, the unemployed, pensioners: but also of women. That's why all these parts of society must organise themselves and link up their struggles in order to win a just and egalitarian society.
Titi Haddad spoke with Antoine Larrache of the NPA