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As more and more students and academics are demonstrating in various countries (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, February 2019), Algeria is now in the spotlight. Since the end of February, thousands of people have taken to the streets across Algeria to protest against president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's fifth candidacy. 82-year-old Bouteflika, who has been in power for almost 20 years now, suffered a stroke in 2013 and, since then, he has been sick and invalid and almost totally absent from the political scene. Students and university staff have actively joined what are said to be the biggest protests since the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962). Algeria, for instance, was not even affected by the 2011 Arab Spring which completely changed the situation of the MENA region.
University students seem to be the most involved in the protests and play a significant role in organising marches in different cities across the country and in maintaining an overall high level of mobilisation. That is why, it was reported, the Minister of Higher Education decided to advance the starting date of spring holidays so that campuses facilities will be closed and fewer students will join the protests, since many university students come from villages far from the capital Algiers or other major towns. Later in February, lecturers, researchers, academics and intellectuals signed a declaration in which they express their support to the protest movement and their refusal to accept the political status quo.
Following the protests’ escalation, on 11 March, the President surprisingly declared, in a written statement, that he would not run for another mandate and cancelled the April elections. Apparently, a national conference will be created together with an interim government until a new constitution will be in force following a national referendum. But protesters, including civil society activists, students and lawyers, describe his move as a "half-victory" and fear that this will create fractions within the spontaneous movement and halt the desired changes.