'The only hero is the people': Algerians in Paris celebrate

Thousands mark the end of former President Bouteflika's rule, demand that his close associates also step down.

    Algerians in France have been protesting for more than a month against Bouteflika's government [Omar Havana/Al Jazeera]
    Algerians in France have been protesting for more than a month against Bouteflika's government [Omar Havana/Al Jazeera]

    Paris, France - For a few hours on Sunday, the Place de la Republique was a sea of Algerian and indigenous Amazigh flags.

    Thousands of protesters gathered here for the seventh consecutive week, this time demanding the departure of key allies of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned in early April after weeks of massive popular demonstrations across Algeria.

    "We first gathered here as a sign of support for our fellow compatriots back home," said Amira Hodeidi, one of the Paris protest organisers.

    "Now it's different. We want the system to go away, and the movement and its ideology is beginning to structure itself day by day. Claims are clearer. For example, we want equality between men and women and basic social claims," said the 26-year-old, who left Algeria two years ago.

    Hodeidi said she protested against Bouteflika in Algeria in 2014 when he won elections for the fourth time. Many of her friends were arrested, and she felt she had no future in Algeria.

    For Hodeidi, the euphoria of Bouteflika's resignation is dimmed by the fact that his inner circle, collectively known as "the pouvoir", remained in place.

    Hodeidi said people should be more focused on the transition than elections [Omar Havana/Al Jazeera] 

    "The army, and mostly its chief Gaïd Salah, is trying to steal the movement away from us," she said. "But people still showed up because they're not stupid. We don't want the military force to be the hero of this revolution.

    "The only hero here is the people," she added, repeating a popular chant.

    'Algeria will rise and bloom'

    Protesters in Paris celebrated in the square with that message, singing a popular Algerian football song that became the anthem for the demonstrations, La Casa del Mouradiya, and carrying signs that read "Degagez tous" (remove all of them).

    Nadjib Hadjb, who lives in Paris and visits Algeria frequently, said people are demonstrating for the right to live, not just survive.

    "This system has to go away, and we'll fight for this until our last breath," he told Al Jazeera.

    "We had nothing, despite our country being wealthy," the 30-year-old said. "Politicians have ruined it for years. I'll do everything I possibly can for Algeria to be greater."

    Hadjb and his mother said the system had to be removed [Omar Havana/Al Jazeera] 

    His mother Fatima, who last visited Algeria in January, beamed widely.

    "When the people rise up, nothing can stop us!" she said, adding she never thought she would witness a day like this. "Algeria will rise and bloom like a rose. I truly believe the best days are coming."

    Rebuilding civil society

    The magnitude of what comes next for Algeria is not lost on Sofia Djama, an Algerian filmmaker.

    "This is only the beginning," she told Al Jazeera. "Now, we need to address how to move our society forward."

    Djama admits the technicalities of the transition remain unclear, but ultimately the objective is to build a new system without enabling the former president's formidable decision-makers, "the pouvoir", to maintain their grip on power.

    "It takes time to rebuild a fair democracy and a fair civil society where different parties can discuss," she said. "Algeria has been ripped apart for decades. Bouteflika put a lot of effort in dismantling civil society."

    Thousands turned up to the protest organised by the Algerian diaspora in Paris [Omar Havana/Al Jazeera] 

    There is already an air of optimism regarding the near future, according to Hodeidi.

    Protest organisers held citizen debates in the square, attended by people from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, that she said was both uplifting and constructive.

    "By simply talking and saying what we want, it was like we discovered ourselves through the finding of common causes," she said.

    For protesters and observers alike, there is little trepidation regarding a counter-revolutionary process, such as those witnessed in other Arab states in the aftermath of the 2011 uprisings.

    "I've heard a lot of people comparing our movement to Egypt or Syria's uprisings but let's talk about Tunisia for instance," Djama argued. "They made huge improvements, and we should learn from them."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News