The ailing leader's 20-year rule is facing a major challenge as protests show no sign of abating.

Hundreds of students gather in central Algiers to protest Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's decision to seek a fifth term, Tuesday, March 6, 2019. Algerian students are gathering for new protests and are calling for a general strike if he doesn't meet their demands this week.
Hundreds of students gather in central Algiers to protest Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's decision to seek a fifth term, Tuesday, March 6, 2019. Algerian students are gathering for new protests and are calling for a general strike if he doesn't meet their demands this week. (AP)

ALGIERS — The public anger in Algeria morphed into street protests as the country's ailing president confirmed his candidacy for the fifth consecutive term on Sunday. 

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is wheelchair bound receiving medical treatment in a Swiss hospital. Except for making one rare public appearance last year, he's not addressed the Algerian nation for about five years. 

After announcing his candidacy, Algerians foresaw their future in the hands of a leader who's lost the ability to govern. To turn his decision around, tens of thousands of Algerians from almost all of the 48 provinces took to the streets, asking Bouteflika to step down.

Many observers believe the octogenarian president's unwillingness to leave the presidential post is likely to fuel the protests and also trigger a deadly phase of police brutality and street violence. 

At least 20 candidates have nominated themselves for the presidential post in the April 18 polls.  

Although Bouteflika dispatched a letter addressed to the Algerian public in which he offered to leave the office within a year if re-elected, the public anger refuses to subside. 

In the letter, the embattled Algerian ruler also said that he's committed to ensure his "succession under undeniable conditions of serenity, freedom and transparency," promising to form a national conference that would be tasked with setting the date for the presidential election. 

In the 2014 national election, Bouteflika won by garnering 81.53 percent of the vote – more than 8 million voters opted for him. 

A girl marching in Algiers and holding a paper saying:
A girl marching in Algiers and holding a paper saying: "You deprived me of my childhood, don’t deprive me of my dignity". (Massinissa Benlakehal / TRTWorld)

Speaking to TRT World, Michael Ayari, senior analyst on Tunisia and Algeria at the International Crisis Group, said the protests would continue with more intensity "as Bouteflika won't renounce his candidature for a fifth mandate.” 

“The ruling establishment might be divided on how to respond to the street protests, as it is crossed above by networks that don't share the same view than the hierarchy,” Ayari said. 

According to Ayari, Bouteflika's coterie can go to any length to help the ailing politician stay in power, despite his inadequacies “Everything should depend on the strength of the next mobilisations,” he added.  

Algerian security expert Akram Kharief told TRT World that it's unlikely that the ruling establishment will deal with protests through violent means. "But the risk of manipulation and provocation is something that can’t be avoided,” he added.

A young protester in Algiers making an ironic statement to the government, holding a paper where we can read
A young protester in Algiers making an ironic statement to the government, holding a paper where we can read "Marry US". (Massinissa Benlakehal / TRTWorld)

Algeria's economy is struggling to cope up as oil revenues have declined with falling oil prices. With the unemployment rate of 12 percent, Bouteflika’s government is unable to reverse the financial downturn, creating deep resentment in the population, half of which is under the age of 25.  

"We’ll continue protesting until the day the regime leaves the country’s power,” says Messaoud, a 32-year-old resident of Guelma city in the east of Algeria. “We know it won’t be an easy thing to do as we’re aware there will be provocations and some hard reactions so we will remain calm and not fall into their trap because chaos only helps the regime.” 

Hakim Addad is a member of the February 22 support committee that was set up by local activists to oversee the protests.

“We’re here to follow and show our support to protesters and help by informing the international community about what’s really happening on the ground,” Addad said in a forum held by the Young and Action Gathering (RAJ) on Friday. 

Addad said the protests must remain peaceful as they are fully aware of violent reprisals by the government.  

Protestors at the Grande Poste in Algiers. We can read:
Protestors at the Grande Poste in Algiers. We can read: "The Presidency is at the service of its Excellency the People". (Massinissa Benlakehal / TRTWorld)

Sofian Djilali is the leader of Jil Jadid (New Generation), a political party created in 2012. He defines himself as an opposition figure leading the country's civil society. 

“The regime has to leave and a new fresh government has to emerge so we can have our country back on track again,” Djilali said.

Until recently it was highly unexpected to see Algerians rising up against President Bouteflika. The dissent is not only confined to the president but also against the ruling establishment. 

“There weren’t enough streets to contain all the protesters,” a young Algerian-French protester told TRT World as she described last Friday’s march.

Source: TRT World