Statement of the National Committee for the Defense of Unemployed Rights on the Algerian ‘Hirak’

The first large-scale demonstration of the Comité national pour la défense des droits des chômeurs (CNDDC) occurred in June 2011 in Ouargla, the capital of the eponymous easterly region. Two years after, ‘their most spectacular action’ involved 10,000 people chanting ‘the People Want the Downfall of Corruption’, again in Ouargla town.

A 2016 Crisis Group report on politics in southern Algerian portrayed the CNDDC in the following way:

“Its leaders transcend the party lines that typically pit Islamists against secular activists. Its most visible leader, Taher Belabbes, a ten-year veteran activist, recruited Yacine Zaid, a trade union and human rights activist in his 40s, and Khencha Belqacem, an Islamist dedicated to broad-based social organising. The group sought, with fair success, to build a peaceful and inclusive movement, with wide support among liberals, Islamists and students. They united around shared beliefs that unemployment was driving southerners toward fatalism, religious radicalism and extreme acts; handouts might temporarily assuage but not eliminate grievances; the state’s economic mismanagement had created dependency for southerners, not opportunities; and the south was a ‘disgraced territory’ due to extreme neglect in comparison with the north.”

For their activism, CNDDC members were ‘followed, surveilled, wire-tapped’, as Belabbes told El-Watan in early 2014. CNDDC activists including Belabbes and their trade unionist supporters were arrested throughout 2015 and ’16.

The CNDDC appear to be the largest self-organisation of the workless in Algeria over the last period, where as much as 50% of younger cohorts are unemployed in rural areas. The lack of analysis in either in English or French is therefore surprising; especially the group’s relationship to anti-fracking protests across the south deserves far greater attention (though see Hamza Hamouchene’s 2016 report, The Struggle for Energy Democracy in the Maghreb).

The following is group’s major statement on the current uprisings, posted on their Facebook page on 26 February.

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Statement

The Algerian people are free, and are determined to remain free.

Article 6 of the Constitution read: ‘The people are the source of all authority. National sovereignty belongs only to the people’.

Over the last few days the country witnessed a historic break, in which the Algerian people from all walks of life have peacefully protested throughout the country, breaking the barriers of silence, hesitation, and fear.

Going out, to express their opinion on what has created – and still creates – the appalling situation in the country.

Going out, to express their rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Going out, to affirm the principle of power through the people, for the people.

Going out, to affirm the fact that the state is not the private property of a bunch of plunderers.

And going out, to reject the nomination of a sick man, itself only the continuation of previous eras’ systematic corruption.

A march against injustice and despotism, and against a regime that has proved its failure across numerous fields.

Before all all else, the events reflect a thirst for the basic freedoms that have been for years denied, during which the Committee was trying to break the stifling silence, and demanding the end of all attacks on our democratic freedoms, especially our freedoms of expression, of organisation, to demonstrate, and our right to strike.

Unlike the propaganda of those wielding power, these demonstrations reflect the popular rejection of the 5th mandate. They also reveal the profound social weaknesses of the popular masses, as a result of liberal austerity policies.

For the National Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Unemployed, the protests are primarily about of our freedoms and our democratic rights — freedoms of expression, of organisation, to demonstrate, and the right to strike.

It is also a matter of halting the social disaster caused by the liberal policies of the regime, which have created widespread unemployment and destroyed our institutions, and imposing in their place policies in the service of social needs: The creation of jobs, an increases to the minimum national wage and purchasing power.

In the midst of these events, the Committee denounces the arbitrary detention of their activist Hadj Ghermoul, who was put in a military prison for no other reason than his rejection of the 5th mandate. The Committee holds the regime entirely responsible for the consequences of his arbitrary and unjust detention; it also calls upon all human-rights advocates and activists to assume their moral responsibilities and defend him.

The Committee also affirms the need for every section of the people — students, the employed, and the unemployed — to go out to the squares in peaceful demonstration on Friday 1 March 2019 and after, to voice and express their opinions in a democratic way.

The Committee also calls on and appeals to unemployed persons; the people on precarious work contracts; those in independent unions; and even those affiliated with the General Federation of Algerian Workers [UGTA], to co-ordinate and organise their participation in the framing [of the Movement], to develop slogans, and to transfer their years of experience, in order to make a success of this popular carnival – to choose the side of the people as they reject the appropriation of their wealth, and make the free choice for democracy.

Lastly, it is also a matter of preserving national sovereignty against submission to foreign powers that support the regime and benefit from our national wealth.

Long Live the National Committee for the Defense of the Rights of the Unemployed

Long Live Popular Mobilisation

Long Live the People

Long Live Algeria

#Freedom_to_Hadj_Ghermoul

Algiers, 26 February 2019

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