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Africa

Bouteflika appoints new campaign manager as Algerian protests peak on social media

media A protester confronts police, who used tear gas to disperse crowds as people marched to protest against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's plan to seek a fifth term, in Algiers, Algeria, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina

As the revolt against Bouteflika's fifth presidential bid is widely followed on social media, Algeria's octogenarian president appointed a new campaign manager on Saturday, after sacking the old one.

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika appointed Abdelghani Zaalane, a minister, to the role of campaign manager after sacking his veteran campaign manager Saturday, state media reported, following mass protests against the ailing leader's decision to stand for a fifth term in office.

A revolt 2.0. Since mid-February, tens of thousands of Algerians have been protesting in the streets against Abdelaziz Bouteflika's candidacy for a fifth consecutive term as president.

Like the Arab Spring in 2011, this protest movement can trace its origins to social media. The movement has flourished through the organizers ability to garner support online.

Football to Facebook

"The first slogans were heard in football stadiums, then they were relayed through social networks, without there being a major player behind the movement," according to political scientist Antoine Basbous.

At the beginning of February, a slogan was circulated to call in particular for a big turnout on Friday 22 February. But it is difficult to trace the origin of this initial call.

"What is incredible with this protest movement is that it is totally anonymous, we do not know where it came from," says Habib Brahmia, a member of the opposition party Mouwatana.

"The call to protest has been shared by many Algerian Facebook pages, regardless of their category (many sports pages have shared the call)," says an Algerian activist who prefers to remain anonymous.

The mobilisation is organised mainly via Facebook, because "Algerians are not that active on Twitter", adds the activist. "All that's spoken about on Facebook at the moment are these messages that are broadcast via the pages of certain influencers," says Habib Brahmia.

Algerians march with protest sings reading "peaceful", and "leave means leave" in Arabic, during a rally against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term in power, in the capital Algiers on March 1, 2019. RYAD KRAMDI / AFP

Anonymity

Politicians, journalists, and artists relay the mobilization slogans, like the rapper Lotfi Double Kanon, the political activist Fodil Boumala and the activist Amira Bouraoui, who were also at the forefront of the protest against Bouteflika's fourth term in 2014. That movement garnered more than 110,000 subscribers to its Facebook page.

This time around, some influential pages also organize online protests, such as DzWikileaks, The Algerian Youth Revolution and Bejaia City. YouTube influencers like Anes Tina and DZjoker, are also playing a significant role by publishing videos calling on Bouteflika not to run for a fifth term.

Social media enables like-minded Algerians to vent their anger. "It also helps people maintain anonymity when organizing these events," adds Habib Brahmia.

Opposition party leader Jil Jadid said the details of the organization of the protests are usually shared on private groups hosted by Facebook. "But we also use other means of communication as our phones are tapped, so we use WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram alot", explains a political avctivists who asks to remain anonymous.

Peaceful messages

A significant number of the messages being shared call on Algerians to respect the law and remain peaceful at demonstrations. A charter for a peaceful protest has been circulating for several days.

"People continue to associate the demonstration with violence because of the black decade [the civil war between 1991 and 2002], so we are very afraid that the government will embed thugs to discredit us," worries Habib Brahmia.

There have been calls on Facebook for protesters to bring a flower for each police officer, clean up after an event, or to provide bottles of water and vinegar to minimize the effect of tear gas.

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