Lawyers in Algeria protest Bouteflika's presidential bid hours before he announces withdrawal

A group of lawyers gathered in protest in front of the court house in Oran on March 11. (Photo by our Observer Nadjib B.)
A group of lawyers gathered in protest in front of the court house in Oran on March 11. (Photo by our Observer Nadjib B.)

Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika said Monday night that he would not seek a fifth term and that he would push back the planned presidential election on April 18. His announcement followed another day of mass demonstrations, including protests across the country that drew thousands of lawyers and magistrates who called for Bouteflika’s candidacy to be thrown out.

Hours before Bouteflika withdrew his bid, hundreds of lawyers gathered in front of the courthouse in Oran, the second-largest city in Algeria. Dressed in black robes, they waved Algerian flags and chanted slogans against Bouteflika and what they criticized as the “system.”

Nadjib B., a 28-year-old lawyer in Oran, sent us the footage that he filmed during the protests.

“We are sick of those in power!" the lawyers chanted in front of the courthouse in Oran. (Video by our Observer Nadjib B.)

"Get out, Ouyahia!" shouted the protesters, referring to prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia.

The protests "will continue until the farce ends”

“I am taking part in these protests because I love my country. Every day when I am in court, I fight against the injustices inflicted upon my clients. And today I am fighting against the fifth mandate, an injustice to my country.

About 600 lawyers, out of the 1,000 registered in Oran, took part in this protest.

The demonstration in Oran was made up entirely of lawyers, but in the other districts like Algiers and Skikda, magistrates also joined in.

Additionally, more than 1,000 judges declared their support for the popular movement on March 9. They announced that they would refuse to oversee elections if Bouteflika’s bid was validated by the Constitutional Council [Editor’s note: In Algeria, judges make up half of the electoral commissions].

We are demanding that the Constitutional Council refrain from violating the constitution by validating the candidacy of Bouteflika, who is extremely sick and hasn’t spoken to his people in years.

The positive thing that's come out of this is that no one is afraid anymore. In the past few weeks, millions of Algerians have taken to the streets to say 'no' to Bouteflika. If the Constitutional Council accepts his candidacy, then I am convinced that this will continue until this farce stops.

In Algeria, all eyes are on the Constitutional Council, which is set to announce the presidential candidates on March 14. Many magistrates have been calling on the Council to apply Article 102 of the constitution, which states that if the president suffers from a sustained period of serious illness, the Constitutional Council must meet and propose unanimously to parliament that it considers the president incapable of exercising his powers.

Bouteflika formally submitted his candidacy by proxy on March 3. The next day, the Constitutional Council deleted from its website the requirement that a candidate submit his application in person.

Since mid-February, hundreds of thousands of Algerians have turned out to protest the president’s bid for a fifth term. Bouteflika has been in power since 1999, but has been in poor health after he suffered a stroke in 2013. Bouteflika, whose movement and speech were impaired by the stroke, only makes very rare public appearances.

Bouteflika returned to Algeria on the evening of March 10 after spending two weeks in a hospital in Switzerland and has not appeared in public since.

This article was written by Djamel Belayachi.