Algerians fought colonialism for the more than 132 years, now they're fighting to build a better country.
As Algeria’s independence day looms, what should be a day of festivities will in fact be one of great tensions and contradictions.
July 5, 1962 was a historic moment for the millions of Algerians who had lived under the colonial rule of France.
Unlike its neighbouring countries, Algeria had been integrated as an extension of France, with generations of French settlers having settled on the territory.
Algerians, otherwise known as “les indigenes” (the indigenous) or “the Muslims,” were systematically deprived of every benefit to the so-called French state.
The theft of land, natural resources, and wealth; the bastardisation of indigenous languages and practices; the exploitation; racism; and routine torture of Algerian political opponents went on for over 130 years.
Whilst resistance was certainly not absent throughout this period, it was the guerrilla warfare, launched against the colonisers on November 1, 1954, that finally delivered Algerians their land, freedom and justice.
However, in the aftermath of independence, the Algerian regime dealt a blow to the liberatory legacy of the War of Independence as it quickly sealed its power through military rule, taking out critics and opponents along the way.
Nevertheless, throughout the decades, Algerians honoured the million and a half martyrs who fought and sacrificed their lives for freedom by continuing to challenge both international and internal oppressive power structures.
From taking on the regime over the weaponising of ethnic divides, to marching against press and political censorship, and fighting for the rights of women by opposing the family code laws, Algerians have shown, time and time again during the 58 years of independence, that they will not be silenced.
In so many ways, the spirit of the Algerian struggle against oppression and repression continues to this day.
Since February 2019, when Algerians took to the streets to oppose the then president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s attempts of running for a fifth mandate, millions continued to march each week, against government corruption, repression and the military state.
Whilst the global Covid-19 pandemic forced the Hirak (the movement) to halt what has otherwise been a year-long sustained protest movement, the masses have made their continued commitment to the struggle clear throughout social media and independent news outlets.
In some cases, small demonstrations have been organised in towns like Bejaia and Tizi Ouzou, despite the state-enforced lockdown.
During this uncertain period there has been increased police and military presence on the streets “monitoring” the population in case of lockdown violations. It has also been a time of heightened political repression.
The new president, Abdelmajdid Tebboune, who the Hirak does not officially recognise because of the mass boycott that it waged against the general election back in December 2019, has used the coronavirus crisis to attack grassroots dissidents.
Arrests of activists and journalists have been taking place since Tebboune’s announcement of national measures including the banning of public gatherings, the shutting down of schools, and the introduction of a forced curfew.
The regime has been ruthlessly whipping up repressive violence against the people in the name of public safety. Whilst at the same time, providing practically no solutions to the plummeting poverty of much of its population, their poor living conditions as well as sanitation facilities, and the lack of adequate healthcare.
A crisis that, although intensified by the international collapse of oil prices, has in reality been worsening for a very long time.
The levels of corruption that have led to the dwindling of unimaginable wealth from the country’s oil and gas reserves have meant the slow suffocation of any remnants of the welfare state.
Instead of focusing on the deep social problems plaguing the people, which have provided the perfect breeding ground for the virus to spread, Tebboune is more interested in locking up political prisoners in dire conditions.
It matters little to the regime that Algeria is the worst hit in the region, with over 15,000 recorded Covid-19 cases at the time of writing. In fact, the pandemic has provided it with the perfect distraction from international attention and critique.
It is unsurprising then, that a date which commemorated an uprising that inspired so many around the world to take on their oppressors by any means necessary, is not an entirely pleasant occasion for the Algerian regime.
As it did this time last year, and during other notable dates linked to the country’s anti-colonialist history, the period is likely to inspire many to reorganise and fight.
The presence and celebration amongst the Hirak of former revolutionaries – many of whom are women – had been written out of the official state-controlled history books because of their opposition to the totalitarianism that started to creep in since 1962, which demonstrates the disconnect between reality, the people, and official commemoration.
Former National Liberation Front (FLN) militants Djamila Bouhired and Louisette Ighilahriz are amongst the many who were discarded by the regime, and who attended weekly demonstrations all year. They repeatedly warned those in power that they had come to finish the job of truly liberating the people.
Despite the revisionism of the regime, for whom a whitewashed and hero-worshipping version of national liberation remains key for its claims to authority, figures like Bouhired, but also those killed and exiled throughout the years, are the most likely of names to be mentioned by millions during the demonstrations.
One of the striking aspects of the recent mobilisations has in fact been the way in which older demonstrators, some who still remember the struggle against the French, have reclaimed a different, collective, history of the War of Independence and its heroes.
The regime has maintained the arrogance of its French colonisers, forgetting the power and strength of the people’s collective memory. The depths of their intolerance to injustice goes back generations.
It has been formed through the education that great-grandparents, grandparents and parents have passed on, despite the illiteracy of many.
The fire that so many Algerians are often accused of having, doesn’t come from the revised, stale and ill-resourced curriculum hand-picked by the state. It comes from the promises that the revolutionary war carried, which were denied but never forgotten.
The regime has ignored that, much like in 1954 when the French started to feel the heat of the Algerian revolution, it cannot lull its people to sleep, through a false national pride, while it continues to starve them.
Especially as the lockdown eases, the government will have few excuses left to prevent collective gatherings. Some argue, that despite the dangers of infection, it is better to die fighting on the streets than continue being taken from the isolation of their homes into a prison cell, where they are likely to face a worse fate and contract the disease anyway.
As Frantz Fanon wrote so beautifully in The Wretched of the Earth: “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it, in relative opacity.”
Algerians understand what that mission is today. Since last February, the Hirak has made clear that this time, they will continue to fight until they achieve full, uncompromised freedom for all.
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