"Apologies for the delay; we were waiting for the permit", read a banner raised in Algerian protests condemning the Israeli massacres in Gaza. In this banner, an Algerian citizen apologizes for the delay in participating in demonstrations in support of Palestine, more than 12 days into the Israeli aggression.
Many says the Algerian people's anger at the delayed display of public solidarity with Gaza shouldn't be underestimated. It was provoked by the authorities' ban on public marches, amid unannounced concerns of a resurgence in protests against the state. Security forces had previously suppressed marches organized by the popular movement in May 2022, and punished those participating with charges of assembly and undermining national security.
Algerian authorities eventually granted permission to hold solidarity marches with Gaza on Thursday, October 19th, following calls from various political parties, organizations, and online campaigns. Algerians took to the streets, united in their anger and unwavering support for Palestine, irrespective of their diverse political and ideological affiliations.
"Apologies for the delay; we were waiting for the permit", read a banner hoisted high during Algerian protests denouncing the Israeli atrocities in Gaza, more than 12 days into the Israeli aggression
The arrest of Abderrazak Makri
"The Algerian stance should be in harmony between its official and popular aspects," says Abderrazak Makri, former leader of the Social Movement for Peace (MSP), who was arrested after taking part in protests against Israel's shelling of the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza. He was later released and tweeted: "When we took to the streets on the night of the hospital bombing, our aim was to defend our honor and that of all Algerians. Why is Algeria the exception when it comes to allowing its citizens to protest? Claims of a challenging situation and fears of exploiting the Palestinian cause are nothing more than flimsy excuses."
A march that fell short of Algeria?
Algeria has long supported the Palestinian cause, and it is very obvious that the Algerian people would stand in solidarity with Gaza and Palestine. Algerians, who have endured the oppressive rule of French colonialism, share a historical connection with the struggles of the Palestinian people. This solidarity is not a recent development; it traces its origins back to the early days of the Israeli occupation.
The phrase "With Palestine, oppressor or oppressed," is attributed to the late Algerian President Houari Boumediene. Furthermore, the declaration of the Palestinian state in 1988 took place on Algerian soil. In addition, Palestine's admission to UNESCO in 2012 came after a request submitted by Algeria in 2011. Let us not forget the peace reconciliation meeting held between Fatah and Hamas in October 2022, which took place in Algeria, as well as the consistent financial support provided to Palestine and various forms of assistance, including scholarships for Palestinian students. Recently, Algeria welcomed 635 Palestinian students.
"When we took to the streets on the night of the hospital bombing, our aim was defending the honor of all Algerians. Why is Algeria not allowing its citizens to protest? Claims and concerns of exploiting the Palestinian cause are nothing more than flimsy excuses"
Opinions varied in the aftermath of the march, with activists in the media and human rights field believing that it was not up to the required level. Lawyer Toufik Belali, in a media statement, characterized it as lacking substance and spirit, stating, "The marches were hollow and empty, lacking spirit. It was the authorities that dictated the timing, the route, and even the slogans."
Protesters also voiced their frustration. "Today's march and our participation came much too late, and ideally, we should have been among the first, from the outset of the Gaza bombardment. Our presence in this march is the least we can do for our brothers and sisters in Palestine. It is important that we are here today. How can Morocco, which has normalized relations with Israel, can allow its citizens to protest daily while we are waiting for permission from the authorities?" asked Maryam, an Algerian demonstrator.
Regarding the organization of the solidarity march, journalist Kenza Khattou believes that the Algerian authorities preferred to take the lead in organizing the solidarity march and took their time in doing so. She explained, "I believe this stems, according to the prevailing narrative, from a concern that the demonstrations might be exploited by certain political or ideological factions. This is especially relevant since it's no secret that Algeria, having experienced nearly five years of popular protests, is in a unique political situation."
As for the possibility of continuing protests in support of Palestine in the current situation, Khattou does not know if the marches will continue, but she believes that the solidarity marches "must be held and continued, because of the role that solidarity between peoples plays in resolving crises. It's imperative for the Algerian authorities to facilitate the organization of such marches."
The unexpected arrest of Abderrazak Makri, former leader of the Social Movement for Peace (MSP) sent shockwaves through the Algerian community. Makri was arrested for his participation in protests against the Israeli bombing of Gaza's Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital
Some see it as the right timing for protesting
But on another note, Abdulrahman Saleh, a member of the Union of Democratic and Social Forces, believes that the protests were not late, but rather came at the right time. He said, "We do not believe that the demonstrations were delayed, but they came in response to Israeli massacres. In the early days, the Palestinian resistance initiated the attacks and armed operations, so the initiative was in the hands of the Palestinian side. However, after the massacres committed against the Palestinians, we had to intervene and express our solidarity with Palestine against Israeli aggression. As for continuing to protest in support of the people of Gaza as long as the aggression continues, there are many steps that Algerian political parties will take, and for this purpose, a coordination meeting will be held between the parties to agree on the next steps to support the Palestinian people."
Different issues separated us, and the Palestinian cause united us
The march that took place last Thursday in 58 Algerian provinces was the first large demonstration since the suspension of the popular movement marches in 2022. This event brought together numerous political parties, organizations, unions, women's associations, and civil society activists in Algeria. Women's rights activist Amal Hajjaj believes, "There is a framework that makes it difficult for us to participate in these marches. There is fear from the streets, which has resulted in a significant delay that cannot be ignored. However, the Algerian government's stance on the situation aligns with the same anger as the outraged people witnessing the genocides and ethnic cleansing in Gaza."
Why are the Algerian authorities afraid of marches in solidarity with Gaza?
Amal further adds that mobilization was important, especially the involvement of university students. "The march was organized through the concerted efforts of several parties. For instance, women like us participated in an organized fashion, bearing slogans that firmly opposed the occupation. This march was marked by a lack of political rhetoric or manipulation of words. We saw various orientations and ideologies coming together for one cause. Several issues could not bring us together in the streets, but the Palestinian cause did, a cause for every person who respects our shared humanity. The machinery of violence and oppression remains in operation, and one march is not enough.It falls upon the authorities to facilitate and support these solidarity marches, as the voice of the people should never be stifled."
The Algerian government had taken several steps and measures in solidarity with Gaza, such as canceling cultural and artistic events, the postponement of commemorative events related to the War of Liberation, and the rescheduling of football matches. Additionally, President Abdelmajid Tebboune announced the launch of an air bridge to Egypt, which will be used to send humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people through the Rafah border crossing.
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