By Linda Bournane Engelberth
© Linda Bournane Engelberth / VII
Algiers, Algeria, 2019. The main street of Algiers center is crowded with people; it is Friday, the day Algerians have gathered to protest since February 12. Flags are waving in the wind; there are nearly as many police as protesters. The policemen are standing ready with shields, teargas and batons. Suddenly, the march begins and people are running to the main street from all directions. All groups are represented, ranging from feminists to Islamists, women and men, children and grandparents. They all have one thing in common; the desire for change, and a new government.
Several young men are being arrested. They are screaming as they are dragged across the street. The mood is heated, and many of the young people are seeking trouble. Amongst this, families push their grandmothers in wheelchairs. There are children and parents, all waving in the wind. Several of the older generation experienced the liberation from France in 1962 and believe that Algerian people once again are fighting for freedom. However, this time the anger is directed at their own government, a hated and corrupt regime.
It all started on February 22, 2019, when President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced he would be running for a fifth term as president of Algeria.
Mr. Bouteflika is 82 years old and he has been president since 1999, but since suffering a stroke in 2013, he has not spoken to the public. After massive protests from the people, Bouteflika pulled back as a candidate on March 11. However, the protests have continued. According to the BBC, the frustration and anger is also aimed at the country’s governing elite—a group of politicians, generals and business people are the people believed to actually be ruling the country. It is also believed that this group is very corrupt.
“The democracy does not work as it should; it is corrupt here. Journalists are being put into prison, the leaders are stealing, and those with education are escaping the country.”
Every Friday, the country’s population meets outside “La Grande Post”, where the protests begin outside the main square. On Tuesdays, the streets are packed with student demonstrations. They will all continue until there is change in Algeria. The election has already been postponed twice, and the people fear that Mr. Bouteflika will extend his fourth term as president.
In June 2019, Gaid Salah, the commander of the military, announced that the people were not allowed to use the Amazigh/Berber flag in the demonstrations. Large parts of Algeria’s population have Berber origins. The people started to protest, wearing traditional Berber clothes in the march.
There are many women protesting, and in the middle of the crowd is the feminist square, where the feminists meet before they start marching. The feminists are a small and marginalized group in Algeria. The focus of this article is on the interviews with feminists and women in general and what they think about the future.
“I am still an Algerian woman and I don’t need a trophy or a title for this. I just am, this is how it is supposed to be.”
You can literally feel the energy and hope from the people in the demonstrations, but they are facing limitations when protesting. The crowd is full of undercover police. The government has control, and freedom of the press in Algeria is a complicated issue. If the police think you are from another country, it gets even worse. I, the writer of this article, was arrested after taking a camera out of my bag. After being interrogated at the police station, I was released from police custody, but banned from doing any photography in Algeria.
The only thing that is similar for the different groups in the protest march is that they want change. But the groups in the protest come from different backgrounds. The Islamists are screaming at the feminists, and the feminists shout back. A lady screams, “First, we have to save the country, then we can think of the situation for women later.” But one thing is certain, women and men are fighting side by side. They have all had enough. Has Algeria’s next revolution started? Only time will show us the answer.
“…Religion by tradition is holding us back, both women and men. I think more men should be feminists, that would help.”
View more images from this project here
Linda Bournane Engelberth
Linda Bournane Engelberth is a Norwegian/Algerian artist based in Oslo and Berlin.