Photography

Phone Photos from the Anti-Government Revolt in Algeria

The protests have successfully ousted the country's 82-year-old leader. Sort of.

by Louis Dabir
24 March 2019, 6:50pm

A protester seeks refuge on a street adjacent to the Algiers Fine Arts School, during the 1st of March protests. All photos: Fethi Sahraoui  / Collective22

This article originally appeared on VICE France

Over the past few months, tens of thousands of young people in Algeria have taken to the streets to peacefully demand that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika step down. The 82-year-old has been in power for 20 years, but hasn't spoken publicly since suffering a stroke in 2013 – only communicating through statements that many people suspect are written by a committee of his friends and family as he desperately hangs on to power.

The good news is that the protests have worked. Last Monday, Bouteflika announced that he would not be seeking a new term when his current tenure finishes next month. The bad news is that the presidential election scheduled for the 18th of April has now been postponed, while a series of constitutional reforms are being implemented. These reforms have no specific end date, which means Bouteflika could remain president indefinitely.

Photographer Fethi Sahraoui has been documenting the protests from the beginning. "I've been focusing on young people, because they're the ones who have something to say right now," Sahraoui explains over the phone. His work has mainly centred on the capital, Algiers, as well as his hometown of Mascara, a city in northwestern Algeria. "The Algiers protests carry a certain weight," the 25-year-old adds. "Walking the streets of the capital definitely has its charm. But Friday's march in Mascara was also really something. Two weeks before that, only a few people were protesting – and now the streets are filled."


WATCH: Inside the youth-led protests that forced Algeria president to not run for a fifth term


Sahraoui is a member of the Algerian photography group Collective 220. He sometimes works with a traditional digital camera and sometimes with film, but his camera of choice is his iPhone, which he likes for its "poetic" square format. "It's not that I want to be labeled as 'the iPhone photographer' – it's just a tool I feel comfortable with," he tells me. "In certain situations, the phone has allowed me to slip by unnoticed, but people aren't stupid – we photographers have a certain posture; our movements give us away."

Before the anti-Bouteflika movement started growing, Sahraoui was working on a photo series called Stadiumphilia, centred on young supporters of various football teams in the Mascara region. "At my first protest, I noticed there was a connection between the young people in the football stadiums and the ones in the streets," Sahraoui recalls. "For football fans, stadiums offer a space where they can express themselves at the top of their lungs – they're not just there to see a match."

This link becomes all the more significant when you consider that many of the songs fans sing at matches have also been sung in the streets these last few weeks. As for the peaceful nature of the protests, Sahraoui explains that Algerians have come to an important realisation: "We know that the violence that we've been living with for the past ten years of civil war hasn't really led to much of anything."

Scroll down to see more of Fethi Sahraoui's photos from the recent anti-government protests.

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In central Algiers, following prayers on the 1st of March, anti-riot police block the capital's busiest road.
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During the 8th of March protest in Mascara, young people gather beneath a giant Algerian flag.
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Near the Algiers Fine Arts School, a protester lost consciousness from tear gas. Here, people form a circle around him, allowing him to come to.
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By the Presidential Palace, a protester stuck five empty tear gas cartridges onto his fingers – a reference to the fifth term that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was hoping for.
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A giant flag blankets the streets of Mascara.
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Protesters gather in central Algiers.
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Riot police in Algiers prevent protesters from gathering.
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Protesters pass through a working-class neighbourhood in Mascara.
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The crowd watches a man climb the statue of the Emir Abdelkader in Mascara.
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Following some skirmishes, young people find refuge on a wall surrounding the Algiers Fine Arts School.
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Protesters wait inside the Algiers Fine Arts School.

This article originally appeared on VICE FR.