Algeria: Dr Kamel Eddine Fekhar dies fasting in Custody

Sandeep Banerjee

Workers Party leader Louisa Hanoune and many other Activists under arrest by military, while Protest Continues.

Dr Kamel Eddine Fekhar was arrested on March 31 by the authority in the de facto military rule that is continuing in Algeria. He started hunger strike and became very weak. His health was already fragile and he undertook several hungers strikes in the past when he was arrested protesting government injustices. Rightly he was honoured there not only as a practising doctor but also, or more, as a human right activist. Sadly, he when his health was much deteriorated the military jail sent him to hospital and he died on May 28 at an age of 55 only; and what an irony, the hospital where he died is named after that great Dr (Psychiatrist) and Algerian Revolutionary Franz Fanon.

Louisa Hanoune, the Secretary General of Workers Party (PT, Parti des travailleurs, a party known to be Trotskyite communist) is also under military custody since May 9. And she is not alone. Nobody knows exactly how many or how many hundreds of activists and protestors are under arrest. But arresting Madame Hanoune is a signifier, it shows that the authority is not ready to spare anyone. Louisa Hanoune is the first woman in the Arab world to contest in a presidential election, that was in 2004, and in 2009 presidential election she got 4.22% vote to be the runners up, where Saïd Abdelaziz Bouteflika won for his third term with 90.24% votes, an election which many called fraudulent. She is now under arrest, the military court accused her for plotting conspiracy against the military and the state.

Protests in Algeria started in second half of February this year when the president Saïd Bouteflika announced that he would run again for presidency for his fifth term in the ensuing vote. He is already 82, he suffered serious heart disease and spent several times in hospital, lost ability of speech at least for some time and etc. – people believe he cannot manage affairs. Moreover, people are disgruntled with clientele-nepotism, coteries and corruption. And the big wasteful spending he made – to build the largest mosque of Africa (or the world?) spending allegedly $4 billion (a French doctor satirically said that the president could have built 200 hospitals with this money)!

Every time such a protest happens the media talks about ‘youth protest’, ‘leaderless protest’, and so on, like “Youth lead the movement for change” reported BBC News in mid-April. The same way they did not highlight the Egyptian and Tunisian workers’ movement during 2011 like those in Gazl Al Mahalah and Alexandria in Egypt or Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia. We shall look into some news here. But before that a general picture: Each Friday hundreds of thousands protested. Last Friday, May 24, was the fourteenth Friday of protests, and police and military were over working to diffuse perhaps the largest protest yet happened. Police even was not allowing people to have their Iftar that evening in the GPO stairs, a very usual place for many people for their fast breaking in this month of Ramjan.

UGTA (Union Générale des Travailleurs Algériens) is the biggest Trade Union in Algeria. It is informally controlled by the ruling party FLN, that is the party of Saïd Abdelaziz Bouteflika. This party is in the continuity of the force that once took a big role in the Algerian revolution. And also it was one of the forces (and the other main force was the military loyal to it) that fought against Islamist forces when the later tried to capture state after almost poised to winning ‘democratically’ a national election – the elections were not held after the first phase in fear that the very popular FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) would win the elections. (FIS won 54% votes in local body elections in 1990.) A hard-core Islamist armed group emerged in reaction to banning FIS.

But this UGTA is composed of ‘people’, in this case ordinary workers, and they were also full of dissent like their fellow toiling countrymen. The New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) of France released a material, “Algérie: de la contestation dans l’UGTA et les grèves” on April 17, 2019 written by Hocine Guernane. There were general strikes in between march 10 and 14, there were marches. There were calls included ‘the departure of the system’, ‘reorganisation of UGTA’. This was started by the provincial union of Bejaia. Provincial UGTA bodies of Bejaïa, Tizi-Ouzou, Saïda, Tlemcen met in Algiers and signed a communiqué through which they reaffirmed their involvement in the popular movement "to the satisfaction of its demands" and "the building of a new republic" and they demanded the departure of UGTA chief Sidi Said and his national secretariat. In response Sidi Said and the leadership ordered expulsion of these local leaders. This only fuelled the movement. On April 10, members of the CEN (Central Executive Committee), supreme body between two congresses, the Provinces of Algiers, Blida, Tipaza, Médéa, Brouira, Tizi-Ouzou, total 32 out of 47 members, wrote a statement in which they declared to support the popular movement and denounce secretary general Sidi Said. Afterwards Federation of Metallurgy and Federation of Electronics formally joined the workers’ protests. On April 11 at Bejaia, under a heavy rain, thousands of workers assembled and shouted slogans – Sidi Said get out – UGTA is not your property, it is ours. Later UGTA local bodies decided to make a show in front of the UGTA headquarters.

It remains to be seen what happens in Algeria in near future, and how toiling people protest in the coming Fridays. Recently in the NPA website we saw a FB post of Mahmoud Rechidi which tells (in easy translation) ‘In Algeria 70% of the working population earns less than 100 € a month. Minimum wage at Algeria is lowest in the region. But there are mad people who say this is not the time to talk social issues’. Hundreds of migrants fleeing to Europe die of boat capsize. Algeria cannot continue like this.

Vol. 51, No. 49, Jun 9 - 15, 2019

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