CREATIVE SLOGANS DEMANDING CHANGE IN ALGERIA
Djamila Ould Khettab / Algeria
Djamila Ould Khettab / Algeria
Since 22 February, millions of Algerians have been demonstrating against Abdelaziz Bouteflika's candidacy for a fifth term, holding up posters with a humorous twist and sometimes sarcastic tone.
For the past three weeks, millions of Algerians across the country have been demonstrating to express their opposition to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's candidacy for a fifth consecutive term, as presidential elections set on 18 April are approaching. Weeks after weeks, the ranks of the demonstrators – which include people from all generations and all types of background – are growing.
As this new, peaceful, spontaneous and self-managed movement develops, the political message of its members is getting more and more refined. On 22 February, thousands of Algerians first gathered in the streets to say "no" to what was only a potential candidacy bid. But since the confirmation of Abdelaziz Bouteflika's participation in the presidential race, the street anger no longer targets solely the head of state in office since 1999.
Demonstrators are now massively rejecting what they call the "power" or the "mafia", designating the political elite that has been governing the country for long. They target the current government, the National Liberation Front (FLN) – the historic party – as well as former ministers who make up Abdelaziz Bouteflika's campaign team. In the streets of Algiers, WAR captured these posters with strong messages and interviewed those who were holding them with equally strong claims.
Caption: Several posters are explicitly demanding the resignation of all Algerian leaders, not just Abdelaziz Bouteflika, during the 8 March demonstration in Algiers.
This evolution can be observed through the posters held by the protesters. During the first days of the mobilization, we mainly saw blank sheets of paper with the number five crossed out on them. This was the common sign of protest against a new five-year term for a president who has not spoken to his people since 2012. Three weeks later, the messages are getting more elaborated, the slogans are well thought through. On the eve of the march on Friday, 8 March, houses, offices and association headquarters were converted into a banner workshops. Both Algerian and international cultural references are used. More often than not, the humour is irresistible.
Nassim, 24, took to the streets of Algiers on Friday 8 March to denounce the rampant corruption of the Algerian state. With his neighbours in the working-class district of Belouizdad, Nassim made a sign that hijacks the popular Spanish TV series, La Casa des Papel. Abdelaziz Bouteflika's candidacy is described as "Casa del Mouradia", named after the presidential palace. Next to a Dali mask – worn by the robbers in the Spanish series – we can read the names of the various Algerian political parties that make up the presidential alliance in power: FLN, TAJ, MPA, RND.
"For us, the fifth term would be a hold-up. Also, our leaders have been looting the country for years, we know it, we are not naive," says this young Algerian student, who yet has to decide if he will vote on April 18. "It's still unclear. The situation is changing from day to day. We're not even sure there's an election anymore," he says.
The same reproach is heard again and again in the demonstration. A man, walking along Didouche Mourad Street, the main avenue of the capital, brandishes a yellow sign that reads: "Bouteflika, we don't reject you because you're sick but because you're the symbol of the corruption".
During the 8 March demonstration in Algiers, a Bab Ezzouar's faculty student denounces in a caustic tone the corruption within the Algerian state.
There is a thirst for "change" among the protestors. Even if they do not know yet what form this change could take, or who could embody it, they are sure they want to turn the page on the Bouteflika years.
On the outskirts of the Clauzel market, in downtown Algiers, a young man holds up a sign challenging President Bouteflika's longevity and calling for an political alternation.
At the entrance of the tunnel leading to the university, an architecture student expresses the same wish. Echoing Ariana Grande's hit, Thank you next, she asks Abdelaziz Bouteflika to give up his candidacy for a fifth term and leave power now.
In addition to his longevity as Algerian leader, many demonstrators blame Abdelaziz Bouteflika for wanting to run for a new term despite his considerably weakened health. The Algerian president, who has been in a wheelchair since 2013 and rarely appears in public, has established a letter-writing relationship with Algerian citizens. But many wonder about the true identity of the author writing the letters signed by Abdelaziz Bouteflika and forwarded to the public media. This poster, hung on a street lamp near the Post Office, asks this question.
On Hassiba Ben Bouali street, a young Algerian woman also drew inspiration from a very popular TV series to make her poster. Paraphrasing Walter White, Breaking Bad's main character, this young woman parades with a poster that reads: "We are not in danger, we are the danger".
Saida, in her sixties, replied in another poster. She would also like to know the "real author" behind Abdelaziz Bouteflika's letters. She highlights the peaceful nature of the mobilization while on the eve of the 8 March demonstration, a newsletter signed by Abdelaziz Bouteflika warned against "chaos". After the first demonstration on 22 February, prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia also tried to discourage opponents, citing a risk of spillover or civil war as it happened in Syria. All these attempts have failed given the growing number of demonstrators across the country. Standing in a bus shelter on Didouche Mourad Street, Saida warned the leaders: "Don't provoke the people".
In the demonstrations, several protesters were holding posters targeting the members of the presidential clan. Walid, 24, is one of those who mocked the Algerian leaders. This student, a fan of the Amazigh singer Kateb, quotes an excerpt from one of his protest songs aimed at Algerian rulers. Below, we can see the portraits of several of Abdelaziz Bouteflika's allies wearing dog ears. Ahmed Ouyahia, Said Bouteflika – the President's younger brother – as well as the businessman and president of the Algerian Employers' Union (FCE) Ali Haddad, can be recognized.
"That's how I see them. They have no dignity," says Walid, who is waiting for the electoral process to be cancelled. "Our goal is not to choose among the candidates who are running. We want a radical change. Only after a transition can we choose the rulers we deserve."
If the image of the current leaders is tarnished, that of the revolutionary heroes is glorified. Protesters summoned history in their posters, showing the portraits of those who worked for Algeria's independence.
A group, which managed to climb on the state-owned Air Algérie airlines headquarter, place Maurice Audin in downtown Algiers, has installed a banner on which we recognize Hassiba Ben Bouali, Mohamed Boudiaf – a veteran of the war of liberation and former president assassinated in 1992 – or Larbi Ben Mehdi. Their message is: "We do not let them sell Algeria with the blood of Algerian martyrs".
On a fence of a colonial house in the Telemly district, on the outskirts of Algiers city centre, another man also wants to protect the revolutionary legacy. On his poster, which brings together the portraits of some Algerian resistance fighters, we can read: "We will not betray Algeria".
For Ghada, 21, the motto of the liberation war – "One hero, the people" – is still relevant today. "The Republic must listen to its people. We must be given the floor again. We must regain our sovereignty," she says full of hope as she marches through the May Day square.