2019 - Ongoing
on February 22nd 2019, Algerian people launched demonstrations to protest the current political situation, this is what became known later as “Hirak”. Every Friday since that day, millions of people take to the streets all over the country. Cities are condensed with protesting voices. Men and women from different ages walk side-by-side to express their censure to the current situation, demanding political change. When the government declared a health emergency due to Covid-19 in March 2020, the protests stopped. People had suddenly lost the right to gather and protest, a right they had finally gained back in 2019. Even after Bouteflika’s resignation, the protests had continued against the corrupt elite that control the country, but suddenly the crowds were gone. Since the lockdown, many activists have been sent to jail. Under this new reality, I can see our newfound freedom and space for possibilities shrinking every day. I keep wondering, how will this popular movement persist?
These are personal questions indeed that I believe are asked by many Algerians. I needed to share these questions with people who walked the streets protesting for a year, how they see the future ? Do they believe in their fight ? Confinement is a long period of time when our life is at hold, a space where we are lonely with our thoughts. Perhaps a time to evaluate own self or regroup and reorganize ideas, thoughts and maybe the future. In this time when your government seem to be wining over you because you are no longer a wight in the streets, you are no longer a voice on the streets, you are alone and shut off from your fellow citizens with whom for a year you joined forces to say NO. Now after four months of confinement and as life is opening up and getting back to “normal”, what is the conclusion ? Evaluation ? How the individual will continue to fight for the change without the group ? Or maybe the group came up with a new strategy?
Someone said “Hirak’s role is to liberate energy not to organize or to lead society”. In my opinion governments, systems, regimes or whatever names you give them, they know exactly how to react in case they are facing a popular movement. Tear gas, rubber bullets, control tactics, use of social media to divide a movement by focusing on differences and now the COVID-19 has set a new reality, where being in a large group is deemed irresponsible. I think under such context it is high time for The People to reinvent a way to force or introduce the change aspired. Maybe the mass lost its power? Maybe it is the time to move to smaller groups like in gorilla wars to achieve small and impactful goals?
During the past months I have met different people from different cities, all of them are working from their side to change things in their line of work or where they live or for the things they believe in, it was in the city of Annaba 500 km east of Algiers, that I began to think that perhaps the protest or Hirak is shifting to an enduring working force? A mass that broke into smaller working cells, as a soft power with a long reach. In Bejaia in a friend’s flat I met Karim, who is an activist for environmental issues in his city, “19th February 2019 We were 20 to hold a picket in front of the town house to protest against the mayor decision to give a land that is located in a natural reserve to an entrepreneur. Just across the street a bus packed up with people passing by, they were looking at us as if they were aliens. I thought what am I doing here?” He said. His question was soon answered “a few days later on February 22nd people took to the street, and so did I. My relation to the other changed, their relation to me changed. Now we are hundreds of volunteers working for the same goals” Karim said.
Amirouche who is a lawyer defending opinion detainees in Algeria, said to me “the Algerian government is not scared of a protest without images”. I think in a deeply digitized world where governments have the ability to control over the flow of information, that too, the image I mean is subjected to a regulation or normalization to be more precise. We see everywhere images of masses, flags, happy faces and sometimes violence, the same elements and building blocks we see when we read or watch the news over social media regarding any protest in the world, an image that is superficial in my opinion, as if a protest is only defined by the number of people in the streets and once the protest is done, the power of the people is gone and the individual’s dreams and aspiration is soon to be forgotten. “I worked in a news website during the uprising, all we did was desk journalism only breaking news, I left the website because I wanted to go to meet people to tell their story I needed to take time to do slow journalism and tell stories that matters” Salah who is a writer and a Journalist, his writings become widely shared after the article he wrote about the first day of the uprising in Algeria, Salah created a journalism website with a group of journalists who as many Algerians wanted to see things done differently and more effectively in their line of work.
I am not a journalist, I am an artist and thus I am an observer who sometimes have to take parts to make a statement. In this story I can only take part with the people, with their diversity, their hopes and even frustrations. This project will keep reshaping itself in response to the people I will be meeting and the reality on the ground. 2020 is a year that none of us has predicted. Hence, an open end is mandatory.
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