afrol News, 11 March - Organisation errors by the protest movement and clever manoeuvres by the government are strongly challenging the pro-democracy protests in Algeria. It is unsure when new protests will be held.
Even before the Tunisian revolution, an Algerian pro-democracy protests movement was forming. In February, a newly formed National Coordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD) took charge of the protest movement, strongly inspired by the successes of protesters in Tunisia and Egypt.
One month later, the CNCD shows strong signs of weakness and fragmentation and is unable to gather large crowds to what was supposed to become weekly, or even daily, mass protests. For this weekend, different CNCD sources announced for mass protests on Saturday and for Sunday. Some sources even said this weekend's protests would be today; Friday.
The confusion arises from the various autonomous committees of the CNCD. Originally, the CNCD was shaped by several civil society groups and opposition parties in the capital, Algiers. But as government and police have managed to prohibit and stop major protests in Algiers, the CNCD committee in the city of Oran now has emerged as the most energetic.
Also, the mix of entities forming the CNCD protest movement proved unhappy. Especially the participation of old, partly unpopular opposition parties has alienated many Algerians. Youthful protesters at several occasions have rallied against the CNCD itself, urging the "old opposition" to keep out of the youth's revolution.
As a result - and because of massive police presence - protests in Algiers never have reached a critical mass. Indeed, Algeria for decades has been used to riots and manifestations from several pressure groups; with the current pro-democracy movement not able to mobilise more people than other typical rallies.
Also the government of unpopular and uncharismatic President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has plaid its cards well, meeting a potential mass protest movement. The potential social explosion causing the Tunisian riots were met
with food price subsidies already in January. Social reforms and employment-creating programmes were quickly announced.
In February, President Bouteflika addressed the principal demand of the new protest movement when he promised a lifting of the emergency laws that had been in place since 1993. Emergency rule was indeed lifted on 24 February.
But President Bouteflika at the same time ordered a continued ban on protests in Algiers, referring to special threats by "terrorist groups" in the capital. Protesters were allowed to organise their marches in any place outside the capital - a move that allowed the regime to continue to meet protesters in Algiers with massive police violence.
The Algerian government finally has managed to discredit the protest movement to a certain degree, with pro-regime media mostly referring to the protests as organised by the opposition parties being part of the CNCD. These parties are seen as sectarian by large groups of Algerians.
Consequently, pro-democracy protests have become smaller during the last few weeks. The largest protest this month was organised in Algiers and Oran on Saturday 5 March, but were all outnumbered by police forces, violently dispersing the crowds of several hundreds and arresting several protest leaders.
The protest movement - originally thought to have great potentials in an Algeria with rampant corruption an unpopular regime - still hopes to mobilise masses this weekend and in the weekends to come. But the movement risks losing its significance as it fails to find the key to ignite the masses.
In a new attempt to regain momentum, a group of Algerian youths yesterday called for a new mass protest on Saturday 19 March. It is themes the "March of the Algerian Youth" and has a clear message to the CNCD and its members: "Political parties are not invited!"
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