The Hirak protest movement in Algeria, launched in February 2019 to demand greater democratic freedoms and government accountability, has suspended its demonstrations in the capital Algiers and elsewhere in the country. This follows President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s televised address on Tuesday, March 16, in which he declared that all marches and rallies, regardless of their nature, had been banned. Hirak members initially resisted, but prominent voices in the movement started to urge protesters to stay home and find other ways of demonstrating against the government. Adapting to the new circumstances, Hirakists have moved to online platforms to express their views, and some in urban centers have organized protests on balconies.
Why It Matters
For activists, organizers, and protest movements, the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted one of the most effective means of addressing government authority: taking to the streets for visibility and solidarity. In Algeria in particular, Hirak has maintained constant pressure on government through mass protests since the movement started about a year ago. The movement was instrumental in forcing former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign after weeks of mass protests over issues like the lack of basic healthcare and the high cost of living. Restricting large gatherings in the interest of public safety is vital during such an unprecedented pandemic, but attention must be paid to how these lockdowns are being implemented, as state authorities can easily transform a public health initiative into a tool to suppress political dissent.