ALGIERS, Algeria — Packed shoulder to shoulder, hundreds of thousands of Algerian men and women, young and old, overtook Algiers last Friday, calling for the ouster of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has held onto power for 20 years, and whose party, the FLN, has ruled for 56.
“There will be no fifth term, oh Bouteflika!” they chanted, marching hand in hand. Some broke into song and dance, others stood draped in the familiar green, red and white of their nation's flag.
Their calls were answered the next day. Last Saturday, five weeks after Bouteflika’s decision to seek a fifth term prompted the biggest protests Algeria has seen since the country gained independence from France, the 82-year-old leader announced he was dropping out of contention and postponing elections indefinitely.
The widespread protests, in which nearly half the country reportedly participated, mark an unprecedented moment of change for Algeria. Two-thirds of the country is under 30, and they are angry with their octogenarian president. They believe Bouteflika, who hasn’t spoken in public since he had a stroke in 2013, is propped up by an elite group of civilian and military leaders, referred to as the Le Pouvoir (the Power), who benefit from his enfeebled state to enact decisions that benefit them but leave Algeria’s young population at a disadvantage — with few employment opportunities.
“We have to finish with these people. The new [leaders] should be the young people. It's a country of young people,” one woman told VICE News last Friday as she marched down Rue Pasteur, “and it's inconceivable that it's managed by grey hair.”
Protesters celebrated Bouteflika’s withdrawal — but only briefly. The fact that elections, which were scheduled for April 18, have been postponed indefinitely has already stoked anxiety. Many worry the delay will simply serve as an extension of his fourth term. But protesters remain energized by the fact they’ve been able to force Le Pouvoir into changing course.
“We’re all happy, yes,” one woman told VICE News at Place Audin in Algiers about an hour after Bouteflika’s announcement. “But it’s not a victory; it’s just a step toward victory, but not the entire victory.”
This segment originally aired March 12, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.