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Ahmed Benbitour: Change is the only way

Algerian presidential hopeful discusses the future of his country, and how he plans to help it shape a new reality.

A long, bloody battle against the French colonialists led to the creation of an independent Algerian state in 1962. It was a lesson not just for the French but for any other power-facing uprisings.

In fact, the movie The Battle of Algiers was reportedly studied and analysed by American military planners before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In a country like Algeria you cannot change the entire system of government without including the presidency. We live in a presidential system, and therefore in order to respond to the demanded change, you have to be the president of the country. 

– Ahmed Benbitour, presidential candidate

It illustrates the tactics of urban warfare, and the fruitless effort of trying to maintain the existing political order if the people on the streets live without justice.

Since those early days of independence, the political situation in Algeria has reached a new impasse.

Under sitting President Abdelaziz Bouteflika – who has been in office for more than 13 years now – critics say the country has failed to learn its own lessons of history.

So far, Algeria has avoided wholesale changes in the wake of the Arab Spring, and the leadership has a firm grip on power. But there is real tension under the surface.

In January, an al-Qaeda attack killed 37 refinery workers in the city of In Amenas.

Islamist groups and the Algerian army have waged a war in the country for years, ever since the government cancelled an election in 1991 in order to avoid a victory for Islamic political parties.

Bouteflika has tried to portray himself as a figure of reconciliation. But his critics point to powerful military rules that allow indefinite detention of political opponents, chronic high unemployment, and a decision to remove the two-term limit on the president, to make their case that Bouteflika has to go.

Then there is Ahmed Benbitour, a man who wants to be president. He once served as prime minister but left after a disagreement with the Bouteflika leadership.

“I was only prime minister for eight months before I resigned because of my differences with the president, mainly on cases regarding the issue of rehabilitating the Algerian economy,” he says.

Now, he believes, it is time for his country to recapture the values that once drove its fight for independence 50 years ago. 

But how will he do it?

Talk to Al Jazeera sat down with Ahmed Benbitour to discuss the future of Algeria, and how he hopes to shape a new reality for the country. 

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