Major, Minor: an interview with a Marxist Algerian student.

How changed is Algeria since the Algiers II students’ 12 March Declaration?

Abdelaziz Boutefliqa resigned as President on 3 April, replaced six days after by long-term ally and Upper Chamber leader, Abdelkader Bensalah. The same day, 9 April, both state and parastate repression increased (on which, see Malia Bouattia’s 19 April report); and against both — the regime’s cardshuffle; the police’s teargas — mass protests, still pacific, have continued across the country.

On university students’ role in this post-Boutefliqa phase, Adlène Belhmer, university student and member of the Parti socaialiste des travailleurs (PST; Algeria) was interviewed Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA; France). It was originally titled ‘Algérie: ‘Les étudiants se réapproprient leurs espaces après une longue période d’une chape de plomb autoritaire’, and published on 16 April.

What’s happening, with the mobilisation in the universities?

The university is at forefront of the popular movement. As well as their involvement in the the big Friday marches, students are marching every Tuesday, with their own slogans. There’s a dynamic of self-organisation in a number of universities, established through democratically-elected committees.

This dynamic is for sure, limited to the bigger universities, but the idea of the self-organisation of students is making is making its way [fait son bonhomme de chemin].

Discredit has been poured on certain satellite organisations, which play, through universities, the role of appendage to the pouvoir politique . The students are re-appropiating their spaces, after a long period under an authoritarian, lead weight, which has stifled the student dynamic.

Debates are regularly organised on themes related to the movement, and the students have joined the strike this week, as we saw, in huge numbers [1]. In fact, we’ve seen dialectical articulation between theory and practice, which creates a path, a conscious and radical path, towards finishing with a system which has for a long time been a bully against the collective aspirations of the popular masses.

What are the demands being made?

The students’ demands are in-step with the popular movement’s, which is to say, the departure of the system in its entirety. But, we’re also putting forward demands concerned with the reality of the university itself, and so you might read, on some banners, “For Free, High-Quality Public Universities”.

Students are calling for the departure of the system — the major demand — with more minor demands, as coming from the reality of the Algerian university.

Another thing. The call for a constituent assembly is more and more voiced by students. They’re making real, popular demands, that only a constituent assembly can present — an assembly which should have, as its basis, a society organised around popular, democratic committees, with elected and revocable representatives.

How is the [Abdelkader] Bensalah’s election being perceived?

First of all, Bensalah is not elected. He is part of the ‘presidential third’ of the Upper House designated by the president himself; he’s member of the close circle once around the former President Boutefliqa, and a loyal servant of the regime. His designation [on 9 April] as Interim President is simply comes from Article 102 [of the constitution].

From his accession to the Presidential Palace — which coincided, incidentally, with the repression of the students of Algiers — the protestors have contested the legitimacy of Bensalah, because he’s compromised within the existing system.

Already, he’s on the ‘3B’ podium, whose departure the people are demanding: Bensalah’s,[Noureddine] Bedoui’s, and [Tayeb] Belaiz’s, who’s just resigned. For the popular masses currently in movement — in their eighth week of mobilisation — the departure of all the political personages of the ancien régime is non-negotiable.

The pouvoir is maintaining the option of limiting the movement through this constitutional formalism, which the protestors have already gone beyond. They are opposed to a constitutional solution, that those in power are attempting to sell as a political solution, as expressed in the slogan for “a Sovereign Constitutional Assembly!”.

Are you being repressed?

The students of Bijayah university are marching every Friday without being disturbed by the police. In fact, except a couple of flics in civilian clothes, there’s been no sign of any police presence. In Algiers though, last week’s demonstration was strongly suppressed, which caused lot of injuries. This is perhaps understandable, given the fact that peripheral regions like Bijayah aren’t the nerve centre of the pouvoir – not like Algiers. At the moment, it seems like the regime is wanting to use repression more.

But, and this is new, in a recent speech, the Major General Ahmed Gaid Salah, the moment’s strong man, disapproved of the police’s recourse to violence — proof of the contests shaking those at the highest, decision-maker level. On the march today in Bijayah, which I took part in, the students expressed their solidarity with the Algiers comrades.

We must remember, all the same, that the repression of the Algiers students has been one of the reasons for the continuation of the strike movement in a good number of universities.

[1] University students struck nationally on 14 April.

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