Blog by Kirsty Tobin. Audio by Tina Charon
When President Mubarak stepped down on Friday, everyone knew that this would mean big changes for Egypt. What people didn’t necessarily expect was the knock-on effect this victory for democracy would have. The Egyptians are now in the process of nation-building, with calls coming for the country’s military rulers to provide better pay and conditions. Yet, even without a resounding conclusion, the successes of Cairo seem to be inspiring similar scenes of protest in the Algerian capital. The Algiers protests kicked off hours after demonstrators in Tahrir Square achieved what they had been fighting for over the past two weeks – Mubarak’s resignation, a new government and a new chance at democracy. The Egyptian demonstrations, teamed with the on-going Tunisian protests, can most certainly be seen as a direct influence on those which have just begun in Algiers.
The cycle of inspiration is becoming more and more clear. Just as the Egyptian protesters showed their support for their neighbours by waving Tunisian flags in early demonstrations, many parallels can be drawn between the protests in Egypt and those in Algeria. Perhaps, though, the influence is even stronger in this case. Mustapha Benfodil, an Algerian writer and journalist, has said that it is hoped that the these demonstrations will turn Place du 1er Mai (1st of May Square) into an Algerian Tahrir Square.
The similarities are already becoming glaringly obvious. 1st of May Square has become the focal point for the protests, and is set to continue as such, truly becoming the Algerian Tahrir Square. The protests themselves are eerily similar to those which were taking place in Cairo just a few short days ago. Protesters were vastly outnumbered by police with estimates in France’s Le Monde newspaper placing 2,000 to 3,000 civilians facing down up to 30,000 members of the police force. According to eyewitness accounts, the police, like those in Cairo, seemed bent on disrupting the demonstration. Dressed in full riot-gear they acted as an oppressive force, a force that, arguably, is still acting as the unthinking hand of a government the people have long-since lost faith in: violent supporters of President Boutefilka entered into the square with the cooperation of the police. All of this almost mirrors the manner in which events in Cairo proceeded, the situation before the worst of the violence broke out. And yet the protesters remained unfazed, risking beatings and arrests to stay and shout slogans. “A free and democratic Algeria.” “Government out.” And most tellingly, “Yesterday Egypt, today Algeria.”
It would appear that the concept of democratic rule is infectious. Opposition groups are pledging to continue demonstrations until changes are made, until the state of emergency that the country has been under since 1992 is lifted. It seems as though the successes in Cairo have shown the Algerian people that they should not take no as an answer. Democracy is proving to still be the inspirational, driving force that it’s always been. It’s easy to forget, sometimes, that there are still countries fighting for the basic civil freedoms and rights which we take for granted. Easy to forget that there are still countries where democracy is less than a pipe-dream, where it is in fact widely frowned upon. But seeing the passion with which those in Tunisia, Egypt, and now Algeria, are fighting for it, and inspiring it, it’s obvious that the call of democracy is alive and well. But who will be next to answer?