Le Monde sat down with Said Salhi less than a month since the formation of Hirak, the popular movement that has brought tens of thousands of Algerians to the streets every weekend to rally against corruption and authoritarian political leadership, with the stated goal of transitioning Algeria into a proper democratic republic. Salhi is the vice-president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights and a member of the Civil Society Coalition, an organization comprised of trade unions, academics, and civil servants.
Beginning with Algeria’s most recently appointed president Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who succeeded Abdelaziz Bouteflika following months of protests against his rule, Salhi holds little optimism that Tebboune intends to open up the political field. “He is the system’s representative, the polite facade of the true power,” he says. Tebboune released a few hundred political prisoners last month in an effort to placate Hirak. This, in Salhi’s view, is nothing more than an attempt to address Hirak’s concerns without engaging with the organization directly.
Algeria’s ruling coalition has said it wants to reform the Algerian constitution, presenting a suite of proposed amendments to Tebboune within the next two months. In principle, it’s a fine suggestion. To the Civil Society Coalition, it is “an authoritarian process, still controlled by those in power, and once again excluding the people”. Salhi went on to say that Hirak desires a peaceful, transparent, and open reformation process, with a new constitution as the cornerstone. However, the movement wishes to avoid a repeat of the new constitution signed in 2016, which has remained ineffectively enforced. A proposed constitutional court never saw the light of day, a lesson Hirak has taken to mean that their demands must be a change of the system, not within it.
“We hope that February 22, the anniversary of Hirak’s formation, will be an opportunity to initiate a new process. Monsieur Tebboune can still catch, still seize this historic chance for the country and open this awaited transition towards a new Republic,” Salhi said to Le Monde.
For Hirak, whichever choice Tebboune makes matters little, as the organization still has its roadmap laid out in front of it. In addition to maintaining public pressure and mass demonstrations, the movement must present its own path to democracy as an alternative to the official government one. Ultimately, this would be hashed out at a national convention.