Algerians have once again taken to the streets in protest, urging President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign. While the army seems to be shifting allegiance away from the government, it could still choose to side against the people.

Thousands of Algerians took to the streets on Friday across the country, amid heavy security, for what could prove to be decisive protests against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Wearing Algerian flags on their backs and chanting "Bouteflika, Get Out", young people filled the leafy boulevards of Algiers, converging on three public plazas that have become focal points for a month-long public uprising against the country's shadowy leadership.

Bouteflika has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013. His poor health did not keep him from winning the presidential election in 2014 however, leaving many angry with the powers that be who are seen as corrupt.

Millions struggle to make ends meet despite the country's gas wealth.

As Friday's protests began, riot police came out in full force throughout Algiers, with armoured vehicles stationed on intersections and surveillance helicopters hovering overhead.

But on the ground, the atmosphere was relaxed.

State of Emergency

Messoud Laarbi, an Algerian political analyst told TRT World in a phone call that he believes that the regime is still hedging its bets.

"They're trying to see how much they get away with. The military's only concern is stability. It's still an open question whether they will declare a state of emergency."

Currently, the military hasn't been deployed, although regiments close to Algiers are on ready alert.

"I've spoken to soldiers stationed in Algiers province, and they've been told to stand-by for immediate deployment. Everyone on leave has been ordered to return. They're citing training exercises, but with the protests going on, the intent is clear," says Laarbi. 

Will the military be deployed anytime soon? Laarbi doesn't think so. 

"This regime is remarkably effective at moving in ways that don't trigger public sentiment. In secret and out of sight. They don't need to deploy additional security, because plainclothes officers are already in the crowds. But if protestors don't take appeasement for an answer or lose their momentum, they may have no choice but to declare a state of emergency," he says.

Why?  

"Because their survival is at stake. It's self-interest. Le Pouvoir are out of the public eye and no one knows who they are, so even the curtains are changed, it's business as usual for them. The military would be the first to be purged along with the cabinet though." 

‘Le Pouvoir’ or ‘the Power’ is the name Algerians give to the political, military and business collective they believe runs the country from behind the scenes through a system of consensus.

I will run, or I will run 

Algeria's protesters want to send a bold message today that they are rejecting Bouteflika's attempt this week to defuse Algeria's political crisis.

Bouteflika’s fourth term constitutionally ends on April 28.

Bouteflika gave in to popular demand, by stating that he would abandon plans for a fifth term, and instead promised reforms that would address the concerns of Algeria's frustrated youth, who make up more than 70 percent of the country.

But in a double-edged concession, he also cancelled the April 18 presidential election and stated that he would remain in power for a year to smooth the transition, a move that critics fear could allow him to cling to power. 

Protestors have dubbed the latest ‘concession’ the 4.5th term. 

Article 102 of Algeria’s constitution states that if the president is infirm or ill, he must resign.

The ‘new’ government has also failed to appease the public, as it only recycled old names, promoting Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui to prime minister and former Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra to deputy prime minister.

Regime-managed constitutional reform is nothing new to the North African country. Algeria has already been through seven. The changes are seen as an attempt to demobilise protesters and allow the regime to live on.

Police surrounding the Algiers' central post office appeared mostly unarmed, with their plastic riot shields resting on the ground or in vans nearby. 

In itself, this is likely a policy on the part of Algerian authorities — known for their heavy-handed security posture — as they seek to avoid sparking unrest or provoking public anger.

Among protesters' chants were "gang of thieves" and "you ruined Algeria, we don't want you." Others chanted "peaceful demonstration", to ensure things don't get out of hand.

Some protesters held signs reading "Army, People, Same Fight," in an apparent appeal to the powerful army not to crack down on demonstrations.

Algeria's Kingmakers

Thus far, Algeria's military has refrained from intervening with the popular protests.

Algeria's Chief of Staff Gaid Saleh walked back comments he gave more than a week ago that seemed to indicate the military's support of the regime. 

Speaking on Wednesday, March 6, at Shirshal Military Academy, only a two-hour drive from the Algerian capital engulfed in popular protests, he told military leaders and officer cadets that the Algerian military was prepared to “meet all its responsibilities.”

Salah said that the country's success "in eradicating terrorism... displeased some parties who are upset to see Algeria stable and safe”.

"There are parties who wish to bring Algeria back to the years of violence," he said. 

"A people that defeated terrorism knows how to preserve the stability and security of its nation.”

But on Sunday, March 10, the chief of staff made an overture to protestors, ahead of looming protests.

The military and people “are partners in one destiny,” he said.

The stalemate continues, but the involvement of the Algerian army may be the difference between change and the status quo. 

It remains a matter of speculation whether the army will side with protesters or the president. 

Salah's message was more conciliatory than other speeches in which he warned that there were those who wanted to drag Algeria back to the chaos it endured during the ruinous civil war in the 1990s.

The tone of his latest statement appeared to signal an easing in the rhetoric.

So far protests have remained calm, with only a few flare-ups of violence. The spectre of violence haunts Algerians, particularly after the 'Black Decade', a civil war in the 1990s after a military coup d'etat that left nearly 200,000 dead. 

Algeria's current generation of youth didn't live through the loss of life and strife though and are less likely to hold back their frustration. 

One thing remains clear, while Bouteflika and his government are credited for bringing peace to the nation after that, they have fallen out of favour and out of touch with their citizens, and it may lead to their ousting if the momentum carries forward. 

Source: TRTWorld and agencies