afrol News, 14 February - Algeria is not Egypt, and the government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika could still find peaceful ways to avoid mass protests. Some positive steps are taken.
On Saturday, the first day of the announced mass protests in Algeria kicked off, defying a government ban to marches in the streets of Algiers. Up to 3,000 protesters managed to overcome police barricades and enter the capital's May First Square. On Sunday, even greater masses were seen protesting in Algiers.
The demands were parallel to those in Egypt, with mainly young people calling for democratic and social reforms. At the same time, students are upholding a strike that is being politicised, while parts of the Algerian health sector are at an "indefinite" strike.
As in Egypt, Algeria's other cities, mainly Annaba and Constantine, also saw major demonstrations. Protesters all over the country had been strongly encouraged by the victory of the Egyptian revolution.
But there were many more aspects of this weekend's protests in Algeria that were not similar to the earlier events in Egypt.
Notably, Algeria's main newspaper, independent 'El Watan', reported extensively about the protests, strikes and international reactions.
And despite Western media reports that Facebook - or even internet in general - had been shut down in Algeria during the protests, information has been flowing freely. Sources in Algiers have confirmed to afrol News that, while internet has been slow in Algeria for the past few days, which happens occasionally, no sites had been blocked. Algeria has no traditions for internet censorship.
President Bouteflika is not comparable to Egypt's ex-President Hosni Mubarak. In 1991, Algeria held its first multi-party elections, but coups, military rule and civil war have prevented a truly democratic development. Mr Boutaflika, in power since 1999, has won power in more or less credible elections.
Political opposition, except the Islamist forces, are allowed, although not given credible possibilities to win an election. Along with propaganda-style state media, independent media thrive and report relatively freely. Civil society is well organised and independent, with trade unions striking regularly and human rights groups able to do their job.
Another key difference to Egypt and Tunisia is the positive socio-economic development in Algeria during the last decade. While still at around 20 percent, youth unemployment has been reduced to around half during this time.
d nepotism as other Arab states, enraging the large masses that still are seeing little of the social and economic development. Limits to freedom of speech and assembly exist. Democracy is an illusion at elections.
The most annoying factor for ordinary Algerians wanting more freedom has been the 19-year-old state of emergency, allowing government and the armed forces to disregard some basic human rights and to legitimise their abuse of power.
Already before this weekend's protests, President Bouteflika said he had ordered government to seek to lift the emergency as soon as possible, finding "another judiciary basis" for the continued fight against terrorism.
Today, Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci could announce that the emergency laws would be lifted "within days". This would remove the most unpopular means of state repression and inevitably lead to greater freedoms for Algerians.
President Bouteflika, already following the unrest in Tunisia, was quick to subsidise basic food staples to avoid social unrest. He has also ordered government to develop new plans to further reduce youth unemployment and increase social spending.
According to Algerian press reports, there may be plans for bolder reforms and a complete change of government, reportedly to be announced within short.
These remedies could not save President Mubarak. But could they save the Algerian regime? The protests are still small, with Saturday's protesters in Algiers being largely outnumbered by police forces, but organisers have called for marches to be organised each Saturday from now on. And they could grow.
But in Algiers, the protesters are divided. Major parts of the protesters belonged to the country's two old opposition movements, which stood at opposite sides in the civil war. The disillusioned youth - which had led protests in Tunisia and Egypt and dominated in the Annaba and Constantine protests - does not want to be led by these "old opposition" forces.
So far, Foreign Minister Medelci is right when saying that the protests represent "minority movements" and that "Algeria is not Tunisia, Algeria is not Egypt."
But as the Bouteflika regime is far from popular, Algeria could indeed follow the path of Tunisia and Egypt if bolder reforms are not presented and if the disillusioned groups are given a way to directly influence these reforms.
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