The Stream

Is Algeria about to become a ‘New Republic’?

On Thursday, October 29 at 19:30 GMT:
Algeria’s government is pledging a “New Republic” if people vote in favour of constitutional amendments in a forthcoming referendum – but opponents in parliament and on the streets are expressing alarm.

The public vote will go ahead on November 1, the anniversary of the start of Algeria’s 1954-1962 war of independence from France. The draft constitution is spearheaded by Abdelmajid Tebboune, a military-backed president who has held power since being elected in a December 2019 vote widely boycotted by the popular Hirak movement that ended the two-decade rule of Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Tebboune says the draft constitution will boost the office of the prime minister and parliament while checking the powers held by the president. But while he also contends that the draft “responds to the demands” of the Hirak, protesters and opposition politicians say it will instead consolidate Tebboune’s rule and ensure he can control who serves as prime minister as well as select and dismiss judges. Critics also say that parliament is already dominated by Tebboune’s National Liberation Front (FLN) and its ally, the Democratic National Rally (RND).

Activists point to the recent imprisonment of independent journalists and protesters as evidence that the changes mooted by the government are largely cosmetic, and that civil society groups must be heard when considering how to take the country forward. Defying a ban on gatherings imposed by the government to limit the spread of coronavirus, hundreds of people joined a recent demonstration that sought to re-energise the protest movement, while urging authorities to release jailed activists and media workers.

But with the Hirak movement eschewing a leadership structure, protesters also wonder if they can effectively challenge the government and win root-and-branch political reform – particularly as the twin impacts of an economic recession and COVID-19 occupy the day-to-day thoughts of many Algerians. Tebboune is now receiving treatment in Germany for an unspecified illness, days after he went into self-isolation from a coronavirus outbreak that has infected some of his aides.

As referendum day draws near, The Stream will look at what people in Algeria think about the proposed changes to the constitution and what lies ahead for the country. Join the conversation.

In this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Zine Labidine Ghebouli, @GheZinou
Independent analyst

Brahim Rouabah, @rouabah_brahim
Political analyst

Yasmina Allouche, @animsche
Journalist and researcher