By French decree Algeria has known conspicuous cruelty. Its former masters had no mercy. Even when Algerians found refuge in their caves, the French had sabotaged these petty envelopes of safety by suffocating them with fire and smoke. Today, the streets of major cities go up in flames as Algeria fights against new power, this time their own people, who are supposed to have their best interest.
On May 24, 2019, 14th Friday of manifestations, 19th day of Ramadan, I attended a protest in Tizi Wezzu. The scorching heat, the dehydration that comes with fasting, and the claustrophobic crowd was a testing combination but it didn’t stop anyone from passionately serving the national cause. It may have, however, distracted me at times from how historic the moment was. It was certainly euphoric, but I also found it humorous that gathering and singing these chants while marching every Friday for many, it seems, has become a sort of weekly excursion perhaps more recreational than a very serious, political pursuit. It makes me wonder how this history will be written, how stoic it will sound, knowing that a lot of the silliness can’t make the final cut.
Under colonialism, grapevines replaced grain fields where hunger chronically haunted the colonized. By 1940, 400,000 hectares were devoted to wine production. Viticulture symbolized the severity of colonialism. The physical transformation of the land was a cultural affront given the country’s Islamic character. In Algeria today, many of our leaders are these grapevines. To leave their own people merely surviving in the vicissitudes of poor conditions, to appropriate the land’s resources for exclusionary wealth, we question if they fear God. The Algerian is starving for justice. But he must also be just too, in his own pocket of existence.
Algerians who protest every Friday have put an end to invisibility, but there are also issues of building upon a traditional corpus in regards to identity, making it authentic and respectably plural. There remains a population who identify with values propagated by an expired French imperial enterprise, masked by a certain nationalism. Beyond this, we are lacking in the basic tenants of quality life. Education, infrastructure, clean public spaces, prosperous economy with job opportunities, preservation of historical sites, protection of regional cultures, and the list goes on.
In Tizi Wezzu, like other wilayas, the people demanded a democratic transition in accordance with an untouchable constitution and led by personalities unanimously accepted. The beginning of the protest began with people photographing with this decked out, old school vehicle later driven down the road alongside protestors.
As the crowd began to congregate in large numbers, it was clear these people were experienced in the art of manifestation. Among one of the first signs spotted, “Gaid Salah betrays the country and protects the mafia.” There is popular consensus that Gaid Salah is the enemy of the people as seen by Algerians in the coastal region, which reveals the contradicting unfolding of Algeria’s future, seeing that it was under his order Bouteflika resigned. There is insistence across the country that all figures of power have to step down.
Algeria is in need of a makeover at the grassroots level, but it remains unclear how that can happen. Like other African countries, the systems of governance that prevailed post-independence are very similar to the ones implemented by colonial authorities. Our political fabrics remain to be influenced by this adopted framework which has been harmful in many ways.
The Algerian flag was waved as the people exclaimed to what extent they are fed up with current powers. A woman who cloaks one Algerian flag around her body like a hayek, and another draping her face like an ‘ajar, as she raises her finger in the air as if to make shahada, was one of the most powerful sights during this protest.
Of course being in Kabylia, it was also comforting to see elderly women participating in traditional taqendurt; old and new generations coming together for a more promising future.
It was entertaining to see kids who don’t even have the capacity to fully understand the events around them take part with the same intensity as their guardians. But it is telling that they are compelled to be concerned this young, even without comprehension, as children of this country.
Voices beamed “No forgiveness,” “Thieves, you swallowed the country,” throughout the afternoon. They pointed out the contrast in their sense of good conduct and the lack of it among those responsible for the State. Protestors marched past the mosque of Tizi Wezzu into the tunnel where it was temporarily not meant for cars but their unavoidable presence.
French colonialism in Algeria was certainly injurious, but its indifference made it particularly oppressive. Today, rulers are indifferent in their neglect and disingenuous in their attentiveness. It is embarrassing to ride on the back of nationalism while providing citizens little to be materially and environmentally content with. We wait for pleas, the right pleas, to be heard.