Protests in Algeria continue for the third week
Algeria was hit by a new wave of mass protests that began on 22 February and continue almost every day until now. The demonstrations erupted after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced that he will seek a fifth term in presidential elections in April.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika, now 82 years old, rules Algeria since 1999. He has severe medical issues and avoids public appearance. In 2013, he had a stroke that left him paralyzed and nearly mute.
Due to Bouteflika’s medical condition, power in the country is believed to be exercised by „le pouvoir“- a shadowy clique of politicians, high-ranking military officials, and oligarchs, which includes Bouteflika’s younger brother Said and army chief-of-staff, Ahmed Gaid Salah. Algerians believe that the ruling clique was unable to agree on Bouteflika’s successor and chose to run him again, despite his illness.
Despite the fact that Algeria was the second country affected by the Arab Spring back in December 2010, the mass demonstrations then resulted only in lifting a state of emergency which had been in place for 19 years. Bouteflika refused to step down or implement any significant reforms.
In the end, Bouteflika announced that he will not run for the fifth term and that a conference about the country’s political transition will be held. However, he also postponed the April presidential elections. So far, the protests in Algeria are peaceful, but given the fact that the ruling clique is not likely to give up power and no date for the elections or the conference were announced, violence cannot be ruled out.
Israeli election might be decided by the far-right
The Israeli Knesset was dissolved in December 2018 amidst a number of issues in, the main one being the mandatory military service for ultra-Orthodox Jews. Early elections were called for 9 April 2019.
For the last 10 years, a coalition of right-wing and religious parties with Likud in the forefront was in power in Israel. The current PM Benjamin Netanyahu is embroiled in scandals and will be indicted in three separate corruption cases
- Case 1000 – accepting illegal gifts such as champagne and cigars worth around $300,000)
- Case 2000 – advancing law that would have damaged certain newspaper, in return rival newspaper promised to cover PM positively, and
- Case 4000 – deregulating telecom giant Bezeq for positive coverage from a Bezeq’s website Walla
Even with his scandals, Netanyahu was considered the most probable winner of upcoming elections at the time of the announcement. His position has since weakened significantly. With new scandals such as Netanyahu’s remarks towards Arab citizens and his surprising coalition with Jewish Power, a far-right party often considered Jewish supremacist and ideological descendant of the Kach party, it seems that desperation is pushing him further and further to the right.
Less than three months before the election a former army chief Benny Gantz entered the race. His newly formed centrist coalition Blue and White (named after the Israeli flag) has been surging in polls and even overtaken Likud.
Divisions amongst religious, ethnic and ideological segments make Israeli society extremely diverse. This is mirrored in its proportional system of government, which grants representation to any party that clears a 3.25 percent threshold in general elections. As attaining a majority of 120 seats is basically unachievable for a single party, Israeli elections are dominated by coalitions.
Winning the most seats is not a condition for forming a government. After the election, the president asks the politician deemed to have the best chance of forming a government to begin coalition negotiations. This could fare well for Netanyahu as he enjoys the support of right-wing political spectrum, which is very strong in Israel. On the other hand, the opposition is confident Blue and White will get a chance to form the next government.
Astana has to choose between China and its own citizens
Kazakhstan is weighing in on the situation in Xinjiang, China’s westernmost region inhabited by Muslim ethnic groups such as Uighurs, Kazakhs, Tajiks, along with the Han, a Chinese majority population. The situation of Kazakhs in the region was debated in the parliament in Astana on 4 March. Last year, Kazakhstan’s government negotiated the release of 23 prisoners with dual citizenship.
Kazakhstan’s activists from the Atajurt group have been working for the release of ethnic Kazakh prisoners from China. However, a prominent activist from the Atajurt group, Serikzhan Bilash, was arrested on Sunday by Kazakhstan’s police on charges of “inciting hatred” and put under house arrest. It is believed, that China might be behind the arrest.
Kazakhstan is a major transit country in China’s Belt and Road initiative, which may be the cause of the government’s indifference to the situation of Kazakhs in China. Sixty percent of China’s land transit shipments to Europe now goes through Kazakhstan. Bejing often expects loyalty and leverage in return for transportation investments under the Belt and Road initiative.
Xinjiang has been a place of ethnic tensions for a long time. The situation escalated into the 2009 Urumqi riots, leaving about two hundred (mostly Han) dead. Since then, Beijing has been implementing strict measures to control the Muslim population in Xinjiang, including state-of-the-art surveillance technology, travel restrictions and “re-education camps” detaining up to one million prisoners, aimed at erasing their cultural identity and making them renounce religion.
Cover image source: Protesters in Blida, Algeria | Wikimedia Commons / Fethi Hamlati (CC BY-SA 4.0)
STRATPOL Memos is a project which on a bi-weekly basis provides a short overview of the most important selected moments of Euro-Atlantic security and related areas. Our goal is to provide brief and informative comments with short analysis putting news into a broader context.
Responsible editor Ondřej Zacha
Organisation: Matej Spišák
Authors: Martin Dudáš, Dominik Novosad & Daniel Kikić
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