Algeria Faces the Unknown—Finally

An Election’s Failure Will Be a Democratic Success

A protest rejecting the December presidential election in Algiers, November 2019 Ramzi Boudina / Reuters

What if an election is held and no one votes? This question now confronts Algeria, where the government of interim President Abdelkader Bensalah has scheduled a presidential election for December 12. Yet the election risks ending as an exercise in absurdity: nearly all Algerian political and civil organizations have refused to endorse the five official candidates and have called upon Algerians to refrain from voting. The failure of this election will, paradoxically, mark the success of the country’s democratic aspirations, as expressed through a phenomenon that has dominated the Algerian political landscape since late February: le hirak.

Among the protest movements that have recently erupted across the globe, Algeria’s hirak, the Arabic word for “movement,” stands apart. As persistent as the protests in Hong Kong, the hirak remains resolutely peaceful; as insistent as Catalonian separatists in their call for independence, the hirak nevertheless swears by the Algerian nation; as resistant as France’s yellow vests to anointing leaders, the hirak nonetheless accepts the necessity of political alliances and organization. Algeria’s future will be determined by the hirak’s ability to sustain these tensions while managing the nation’s transition to democracy.

For the millions of Algerians who filled the country’s streets and squares on November 1, the date held particular meaning. The protest fell on the 65th anniversary of the official start to Algeria’s war of independence. But whereas France was the oppressor 65 years ago, that role has since been assumed by le pouvoir, or power, the popular term for the military-industrial interests that have ruled Algeria for the past half-century, hand-in-hand with the state and its security apparatus.

Nearly all Algerian political and civil organizations have refused to endorse the five official candidates.

The significance of the anniversary was too great to ignore. The crowd of more than a million men, women, and children joyously riffed on the theme of independence. In their chants (“Algeria is retaking its independence” and “The people demand their independence”) and their

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