Algerian regime shuts down critical voices | International

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The Algerian newspaper Liberté, one of the most critical voices not only in Algeria but in the Arab world, with 30 years of history behind it, will stop publishing this Thursday, April 14, if the announcement made two weeks ago by its owner, magnate Issad Rebrab, is consummated. 77 years old, owner of the Cevital agri-food emporium and the seventh fortune in Africa.

A sample of the degree of autonomy that it maintained I freed regarding power is that it has published thousands of drawings by the internationally renowned cartoonist Dilem. The week of May 2021 in which the Moroccan authorities encouraged the entry of 10,000 irregular migrants, Dilem drew the king of Morocco lighting the fuse of a cannon full of migrants with a cigar, heading for Spain. But the same irreverence used Dilem with the civil and military power of his country. When Abdelmayid Tebún won the disputed presidential elections of December 2019, the cartoonist published a devastating vignette where it could be read: “Tebún officially exercises his new functions.” In it, a general very similar to the then head of the Army, Gaid Salah, is seen leaning back in a chair, his feet on the table, ordering the new president: “A coffee with two sugar cubes.”

The other great Algerian critical newspaper, the watanconsecrated an article to him this Wednesday where he said that I freed will disappear accompanied by a “sigh of relief” from the owner of the publication, “who could no longer bear the repeated recriminations of the public powers about the content of the newspaper.” the watan He lamented the silence with which the political authorities have welcomed the end of the newspaper. “Not even a message of gratitude to a newspaper that has played an important role in the life of the country, especially during the nineties.” In that decade there was a civil war between the regime and the Islamists. And two of the newspaper’s employees were killed by terrorists.

The vice president of the Algerian League for the Defense of the Rights of Man (Laddh), Said Salhi, told EL PAÍS that the excuse of financial difficulties, alleged before the newsroom by a son of the owner, does not stand up, since the Rebrab’s fortune can afford to finance the newspaper. Salhi believes the real reason is that the tycoon can no longer handle the pressure. “Rebrab”, explains Salhi, “has been under the eye of the hurricane of power for a long time. But he is mistaken if he thinks that by sacrificing I freedthrowing a hundred journalists into the streets, is going to save their businesses”.

The newspaper columnist Mustapha Hammouche wrote this Sunday that I freed is going to die just three years after the Hirak (movement in Arabic) broke out, the great protests that began on February 22, 2019. Millions of people, with young people at the forefront, protested against the intention of the octogenarian Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run for a fifth term as president. They not only wanted to throw him out —and they succeeded in the sixth week of protests—, they also wanted to change the regime. They were fighting for a true democracy where civil power was not subordinated to the military. But the regime ended up ruthlessly imposing itself.

Last February 22nd it was three years since the birth of Hirak. And the regime managed to quell the demonstrations in the streets. Days before the anniversary, dozens of activists were arrested. Columnist Hammouche recalls that I freed accompanied the Hirak with a “natural compromise” and assumes that the movement failed. And now, the country lives under the sign of “political and cultural regression”.

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The regime has used the old carrot and stick tactic with the Hirak. Although the carrot was never bought by the activists, the sticks did work. The president, Abdelmayid Tebun, delivered a conciliatory speech as soon as he was elected leader in December 2019. He declared that “the blessed Hirak” had saved Algeria and added: “I extend my hand to him for a frank dialogue for the good of Algeria” . Tebún promised to grant a presidential grace to 50 or 60 prisoners of this movement. And he kept his word.

Some get out of jail, but others get in

But Said Salhi points out that deep down, nothing has changed: “Some activists get out of jail, but others get in. This March 30 there was a presidential grace and some 70 detainees of opinion were provisionally released. But that same day other activists were arrested.”

The distance between the authorities and the street has been widening in the last three years. All the elections organized by the power since Bouteflika’s death have been boycotted by the Hirak. And they have all ended with abstention records: from the 2019 presidential elections, in which Abdelmayid Tebún won with a 41.14% turnout, to the legislative elections last June, where only 30% of voters participated.

As the ballot boxes were emptied of votes, the boats have been filled. In 2020, while 23,000 arrivals were registered in the Canary Islands, a record was broken in the Mediterranean with the landing of more than 11,500 Algerians in the ports of Almería, Murcia, Alicante and the Balearic Islands. Such a number had never been reached.

The activist and journalist Imad Boubekri describes from Algiers a scenario in which “power has dissolved political parties and associations” and “the press finds itself at an “unprecedented authoritarian crossroads”. “Not even in the period of Bouteflika’s reign was there such an attack on freedoms and rights,” he concludes.

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