In the Coming National Elections, Algerians Face a Big Dilemma

Article Summary
Algerians face a dilemma: participate in the upcoming elections and legitimize the corrupt, violent and stagnant system which has paralyzed the country, or abandon elections and resort to more radical means of change, writes Kamal Benkoussa. He believes that the Algerian Spring will take the form of a "revival of citizen rights and duties."

Apparently, we have evolved into geniuses who excel in the art of observation. Yet we remain incapable of transforming this skill into concrete actions that could guide us out of the state of economic and social stagnation that is stifling us. We have thus far been unable to free ourselves from the social constructs that render us incapable of deciding our own fate.

We are living through a multi-faceted crisis that has lasted twenty years, a crisis which casts shadows of doubt upon our future. For despite the abundance of capital we see, the twenty-first century has become synonymous in our minds with unemployment, high living costs, social vulnerability, strikes and demonstrations. We are in the midst of a major political crisis.

Our institutions have lost all legitimacy and are no longer compatible with new social conventions. Despite the great transformations throughout the Arab world, changes which have proven the magnitude of Arab desire to achieve freedom, our political system remains prisoner to a backward view of social relations. It has thus marched onward, and Algeria now seems to be an exception among nations of the Arab world, which has long suffered under the control of outdated regimes, bent on tyranny and refusing to evolve.

We might begin to understand those who think that we have become incapable of dreaming, that our only wish is simply to survive and that we will forever remain prisoners to our fears. While the people of Algeria have not yet taken to the streets to break the shackles of this regime, we must not forget one important fact: The youth comprise the majority of the Algerian people. This young generation, which has not lived through the bitterness and dark years of past, will realize, sooner or later, that its future must not become a commodity that is bought and sold. Due to the absence of opportunity for peaceful expression, it will have no choice but to resort to force to demand its essential rights. In consequence, both parties (the people and regime) are wary that a new era characterized by violence and despair will emerge unless their respective behaviors change. The more time passes, the clearer it becomes that the regime desires to maintain the status quo, and that it is incapable of radically changing the way by which our country is ruled. The people, on the other hand, especially the elite, distance themselves from responsibility and refrain from entering into politics (here I use "politics" in its noblest sense, entailing effective participation in governing the country) for fear that that might cause the nation to veer out of control, throwing it into utter chaos.

Because we’ve abstained from politics…

Refusing to participate on a political level clearly means shirking the essential responsibility of a changing society to — peacefully — satisfy everyone’s aspirations.

This, in effect, means that we have chosen to accept a social reality that has been imposed upon us. The absence of discussions relating to our rights and duties as citizens, and the inability to initiate deep and rejuvenating ideas, will never lead anyone to power — except for those described as Islamists. But what exactly is system that some want upheld? I, like the majority of my countrymen, am deeply linked to Islam and its values. However, as the late Mohamed Boudiaf would say, we must also look at the advanced nations surrounding us, those that create and manufacture the technologies and products that we content ourselves with consuming.

The rule of law, social justice, solidarity, social trust, collective ethics (especially in running public affairs) and freedom are the values and standards by which those peoples have succeeded. These are the same values which our neighboring peoples have risen up to attain. But, as has been shown in the histories of peoples that succeeded in building advanced societies, these rights and values can only be guaranteed by strong and legitimate institutions, answerable to the people. They can never come to exist as a result of the presumed virtue of some individuals. Let us beware: No one has a monopoly on virtue, and the problem of Algeria is not in its lack of Islamic virtue, but in its lack of institutional legitimacy, its rulers’ lack of accountability to the people and the absence of a strong civil society.

Collective responsibility for the current situation

We are all responsible for the current state of our country because we have failed to dedicate ourselves to the attainment of our rights, allowing our rulers to decide for us and without us. How can those rulers serve the public interest if we do not hold them accountable? Worse still, when we exhibit a lack of care for the fate of our fellow countrymen, we confirm that we are apathetic to the notion of public interest. Despite that, the notion of a ruler’s accountability to the people is essential to any society built upon justice. For, as Allah the Merciful said: “O David, we have made you trustee on the earth. So judge between men equitably.” There is no way to prevent anyone from abusing their power in society other than effective democratic institutions. Accordingly, we must, as the crisis rages on, espouse the idea of a great people ruling itself, by itself and for the benefit of the whole nation.

The myth of a savior is but a dream, for the Qur’an says that Allah the Merciful “does not change a people's lot unless they change what is in their hearts.” The road will be long and difficult, but we must dedicate all our strength, resolve and talent to build a modern society that respects our cultural and religious values. But first, we must overcome the crisis that has befallen us and is with every day increasingly threatening our existence. What can be done? Politically, we are confronted with a dilemma.

Participating in the framework of existing political parties, which have failed their responsibilities due to their servitude to the regime, means supporting that regime’s agenda aimed at maintaining the status quo through superficial and cosmetic reforms which don’t touch upon the foundations upon which our society is built. On the other hand, failure to participate dooms us to inevitably resort to violence. How can we overcome this dilemma and steer clear of this dead end? We must restore politics’ importance through the restoration of our rights and duties as citizens.

The answer lies in the very reasons that caused our failure, especially our inability to participate politically.

We are all aware that the situation is dire, and that “things must change.” However, we remain acquiescent to the same old rules of the game. Our compliance is caused by our persistent inability to define “the things that must be changed” on one hand and our lack of trust in each other on the other. Social mistrust is the cause behind our failure to collectively strive to solve our problems and merge our individual interests into a higher collective one.

The conditions for change

What must change? Change must start with our relationship with our environment, in particular that which has to do with our citizens, the state and its representatives. We must realize that when we don’t stand with an Algerian citizen who falls victim to injustice and is deprived of his rights and basic freedoms, we are, in turn, surrendering our own rights and freedoms. We must realize that our duties toward one another are in effect the source of our own rights, and that they constitute the only way for us to end the oppression of which we’ve been victims for the past fifty years. We must put an end to our suffering and strive for change. We must reject corruption on all levels, halt the abuses perpetrated by the institutions and administration and eliminate all forms of injustice. We must organize ourselves now to hold our rulers accountable for their management of public affairs. Their decisions have grave consequences upon our daily lives and the country’s future; and we, therefore, cannot afford to keep ignoring them. If political parties are not, for the time being, the proper venues for such endeavors, we must then organize ourselves into associations for employers, consumers, workers and citizens to collectively work as one, get our voices heard and secure our rights.

All of this requires that we stop waiting for a miracle cure to our problems and that we be aware that surrendering our dignities and dreams is the reason for the emergence and endurance of a social system opposed to development and freedom. This also means that we must restore our self-confidence and remain convinced that our capacity as a people is no less than any other’s in building a progressive and free society.

Mistaken is he who thinks that we should not have leaders who represent us. We are not obliged to accept mediocrity from anyone. Yes, it is our right — in fact our duty — to be more forceful in presenting our demands because we possess the capacity to fulfill the noblest and greatest of our aspirations and national dreams. To achieve this goal, we must possess courage. Not the courage to resort to violence, but the courage to unify our ranks, constantly work, act responsibly and rise to any occasion. Courage also means that we must follow the path of truth — to look for it and make it known. Lastly, courage dictates that we reject our rulers’ tyranny and lies if we want to together build a more welcoming, brotherly and fairer social system.

We must fully realize that for any of us to grow, the entire nation must develop. We must establish a new republic that looks to a future where Algerians can find their rightful place. This difficult and ambitious project is linked to our responsibilities as citizens, and the future of millions of our countrymen depends on its triumph. We will succeed where others have failed in the past, thanks to our unity and reliance on our historical heritage. We must look to the future and learn from the past so that we may avoid making the same mistakes again. The regime must not view change as an existential threat. On the contrary, it should see it as a great opportunity to unify all of the country’s forces. No one should feel threatened, because we will find it impossible to reach a peaceful solution to this growing crisis except through dialogue between all social factions (political, military and civil). We should realize that political and economic reforms to our society must be radical to live up to the challenges that we face.

As opposed to a violent revolution, our Spring will take the form of a revival of citizen rights and duties. With the advent of this season, let us loudly proclaim that we will now be cognizant and vigilant, a citizen force to be reckoned with. Together, we will take advantage — calmly, but realistically and firmly — of all the public opportunities available to hold our institutions and rulers accountable for their actions, at the same time reminding them that Algeria belongs to all Algerians, and not to certain individuals or groups at the expense of others.

Found in: islamists, human rights, communal rights, civil rights, citizenship, boudiaf, algerian elections, algerian civil war

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