Long demanded by the opposition, the abrogation of the 19-year old emergency decree in Algeria was published on February 24 in the north African country’s Journal Officiel. Nonetheless, political freedom still remains a no-go territory in a country where the army retains an overbearing control in the area of counter-terrorism. So what has really changed since the lifting of the emergency decree in Algeria?
A demonstration called for by La Coordination nationale pour le changement et la démocratie (CNCD: National Coordination for Change and Democracy) on February 26, two days after the abrogation of the state of emergency decree (in force since 1992), was brutally repressed by police.
“Marches are not banned, they are subject to authorization. To be authorized, marches should provide maximum guarantees as to the risks. It does not seem like the right time to allow marches in Algiers,” said Interior Minister, Dahou Ould Kablia, on Algerian radio.
Calling for a systemic change, the CNCD organized protest marches on February 12 and 19. Both were heavily repressed by the authorities.
No to new political parties
The lifting of the emergency decree lacks an opening in terms of a wider political involvement as the licensing of new political parties remain conspicuously absent from reform the agenda.
“This does not mean they will not appear when the opportune time presents itself. No approval has been granted for the time being,” continued the Minister of Interior.
Recent news reports had mentioned that several political parties were soon to receive their legal status. Those parties include, Parti de la liberté et de la justice (PLJ) headed by Mohamed Saïd, Front démocratique (FD) led by Sid Ahmed Ghozali, a former head of government, and Union pour la démocratie et la république (UDR) whose torchbearer is Amara Benyounes.
Records of license applications for these political parties have been gathering dust on the Interior Ministry’s shelves for nearly ten years.
Early February, President Bouteflika promised, in his first media address following the January riots, that both state television and radio will “ensure equal coverage for all legal parties and national organizations”.
But apart from parties that form the presidential alliance (FLN, RND and MSP) and political movements that favor them, such as Le Parti des Travailleurs (PT, Workers’ Party) under the leadership of Louisa Hanoune, no opposition party has so far appeared on television to discuss the present political situation in the country.
Moreover, in spite of unrelenting demands from the opposition, spanning several years, for the opening of the audiovisual sector to private operators, the authorities have not displayed any will to effect a change. No concessions have been made in that area.
Nonetheless, exceptional procedures granted to the Interior Ministry under the emergency decree have been repealed. And the 12-day Police custody has now been reduced to 48 hours, renewable only by the prosecutor.
Similarly, arrests, searches and wiretapping are henceforth to be done under the supervision of a magistrate.
The Algerian military, a political and economic powerhouse with extensive police powers under the state of emergency, remains in charge of counter-terrorism.
Several opposition parties believe that the lifting of the state of emergency decree in Algeria is in reality intended to re-brand the political image of Algeria and also to please superpowers at a time when an unprecedented wind of revolt and call for change is shaking the foundations of the Arab-speaking world.