The first larger-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 through 2015–16.
Unemployment may be as high as 50% amongst younger cohorts in rural Algeria — and which country’s history shows more pronouncedly the varieties of the working-class’ response to worklessness? The lack of substantial analysis of the CNDDC in either English or French is therefore strongly felt, and especially the group’s relationship to anti-fracking protests across the south deserves greater attention (see though 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.
The Algerian people are a free people; and they are determined to remain free.
Article 6 of the Constitution: ‘The people are the source of all authority. National sovereignty belongs only to the people’.
Over the last few days the country has been witnessing 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 happened and still happens to the appalling situation of the country …
Going out, to enshrine their rights guaranteed by the Constitution …
Going out, to emphasise the principle of power through the people and for the people …
Going out, to emphasise the fact that the state is not the private property of a group of plunderers …
And going out, to reject the nomination of a sick man, which is only a continuation of previous eras’ systematic corruption.
A march against injustice and despotism, and against a regime that has proved its failure in various fields …
Before all, these events reflect a thirst for the basic freedoms for years denied, during which the Committee was trying to break the stifling silence, whilst demanding the end of all attacks on our democratic freedoms, especially our freedom of expression, of organisation, of demonstration, and our right to strike.
Unlike the propaganda of those holding power, these demonstrations reflect the popular rejection of the 5th mandate. They also reveal the profound social weakness 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 — freedom of expression, of organisation, of demonstration, and the right to strike.
It is also a matter of stopping the social disaster, caused by the liberal policies of the regime that have created widespread unemployment and destroyed our institutions, and imposing instead policy in the service of social needs — the creation of jobs, the increase of minimum national wage, the increase of 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 to participate in the framing [of future organising], to develop slogans, and transfer their years of experiences, in order to make a success of this popular carnival , and to choose the side of the people rejecting the appropriation of their wealth and free decision of achieving 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
Algiers, 26 February 2019