Weeks of mass protests across Algeria ended in victory for thousands of demonstrators who had been urging the gravely ill President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down.
This week President Bouteflika appeared to give in to their demands. He canceled the April 18 presidential elections and said he will not seek another term in office.
“There will be no fifth term,” Bouteflika was quoted to say. “There was never any question of it for me. Given my state of health and age, my last duty toward the Algerian people was always contributing to the foundation of a new Republic.”
The leader of Algeria for the past 20 years, he has rarely been seen in public since suffering a paralyzing stroke in 2013.
Last week he pledged to step down early if re-elected—but the guarantee failed to satisfy the thousands of demonstrators.
Strikes by teachers and students, as well as shops closing and train services being suspended, had been gaining the support of ever larger crowds since the protests began about a month ago.
Then Monday, March 11, more than 1,000 judges said they would refuse to oversee the planned general election were he a candidate.
The military’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gaed Salah, said the military and the people had a united vision of the future—the strongest indication so far that the armed forces were sympathetic to the protests.
On Monday night, hundreds of youths waving flags celebrated Bouteflika’s decision in Algiers. Cars horns honked and families poured out into the streets.
Though unrest was limited at a national level, there were many local protests, often sparked by a failure of the state to provide basic services and aggravated by high unemployment and an acute housing shortage.
“It’s one small battle won,” said Yasmine Bouchene of the collective Les Jeunes Engagés (Activist Youth). “Bouteflika asked for another year and he got his way. But we are willing to keep on fighting,” she said.