February 1, 2011
Algerians watch Egypt with awe. An army that refuses to shoot at fellow citizens? Flashback to October 1988 when Algeria’s ossified one party state sent the army to quash riots nationwide. Five hundred young men and teens shot dead in the streets, thousands arrested and tortured. After that shock, something had to give: 1989 was Algeria’s year of democratic experiments: hundreds of new political parties, newspapers of every stripe, an artistic renaissance.
But when Islamists won the first ever free national elections in an Arab country, the army came back in force. A clique of generals cancelled elections, banned the winning party, and declared a state of emergency that is still in force today. The Islamists took to the maquis. The ensuing civil war, a dirty war by all accounts, left 200,000 dead, thousands missing, and the country in shambles.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the generals’ pick to restore peace in 1999, is now serving his third term. He’s old and ailing and out of touch. When Algerians claim the streets on February 12, how will he and the generals he fronts for, react? Facebook buzzes with preparations for “the peaceful march for change and democracy.” “Words are our weapons, facebook is our maquis,” a soldier of the newest generation writes. Don’t lay a finger on him, hear ?
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