After nearly a month of countrywide protests, the Algerian President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, yielded to public demands and rescinded his decision to seek a fifth term of office. On the same day, he made the announcement for the postponement of the April 18 elections. According to the Algeria Press Service, the official news agency of the country, the President had released a statement indicating his intent to establish an “inclusive and independent national conference” that could facilitate the electoral process by setting a new election date and drafting a new constitution by the end of 2019. He further appointed the former Interior Minister, Noureddine Bedoui, as the country’s new Prime Minister following the resignation of Ahmed Ouyahia. Far from being the only change, Bouteflika also promised the implementation of an interim restructuring of leadership to oversee the new vote. In his new position as Prime Minister, Bedoui and his Deputy who was also the former Foreign Minister, Ramtane Lamamra have assured the Algerian citizens that this new “technocratic” government would only be a temporary arrangement, and have urged the opposition to engage in positive dialogue. Although Mr. Bouteflika’s decision to not seek a fifth term sparked jubilation around Algeria, the indefinite postponement of elections, the appointment of a new Prime Minister, and plans to form an inclusive government have failed to placate the demonstrators who are now demanding deeper political change within the system. The movement aimed at ushering in change from political stagnancy after Bouteflika’s 20-year rule has spread across Algeria, leading emboldened protestors to view the President’s announcement as a ploy by the National Liberation Front to weaken and divide the movement and to perpetuate its hold on power by stealth. But as the protests expand to include strikes by workers, teachers and students, there have been reports of senior figures in the ruling elite turning their backs on the President. Already, the movement is drawing comparisons with the Arab Spring protests of 2011. The grassroots protest movement in Algeria was sparked by anonymous posts on social media that called on the people to rise against the ailing President’s decision. As such, the movement is handicapped by the lack of a bona fide leader who can grasp the causes of popular discontent amongst the people, and who can rally and unite protesters ahead of elections. More so, the current opposition from political parties is viewed as a sponsored effort coopted by the regime. Against this backdrop, there are no discernibly credible political figures who can translate the popular fervour taking root across the country into effective action. What is more, within Algeria’s existing political milieu, it is almost impossible for a new entrant to successfully challenge the present order. For these reasons, the movement risks losing way in the absence of a formal decision-making structure. However, awareness of this realization seems to have sunk in and spurred protestors who earlier prided in the rudderless nature of the movement to now work in collaboration with other stakeholders to give the movement a coherent leadership structure. There is no doubt that the Algerian society comprising its youth, its intelligentsia, and it’s business community has put up a brave spectacle, but history shows that a movement without a formal leader can easily fade away into oblivion. In Algeria’s present circumstances, its democracy is in crisis. A system of government that had seemed immutable just a couple of months earlier now looks as though it might come apart. “The people of Algeria have long been disillusioned with politics, but now they have grown restless, angry, and even disdainful.” And in their anger, they have pledged to take power from a self-serving and geriatric political caste to fight for a more modern, economically inclusive, and tolerant Algeria. The ruling cabal that constitutes the President’s office, military leaders, and powerful businessmen, also known as ‘le pouvoir’ (the power), have a decision to make, i.e. to either confront the protestors or to yield to the voice of the people. Either option runs the risk of invigorating the movement. In Algeria’s present circumstances, its democracy is in crisis. A system of government that had seemed immutable just a couple of months earlier now looks as though it might come apart The military of Algeria is the country’s most powerful political force, and the “only strongly organised corps,” which views itself as the defender of the nation and the guarantor of stability. In 1992, it was the Algerian army that invalidated the elections that the Islamists were poised to win, declared a state of emergency, and created a military-led ruling council. In the ensuing violence that lasted a decade, hundreds of thousands of lives were lost. As things stand, there is no indication of a direct military intervention as a way out of the current crisis, not unless the country’s security environment deteriorates dramatically. Having said that, the military leadership surely will not relinquish its traditional role of exerting influence behind the scenes, rather than governing directly. Nevertheless, the army will continue to have an important say in determining the direction the country will take in the coming days. Algeria’s protests are unprecedented. The country has not witnessed such mass mobilisation since the 1988 riots when the youth took to the streets in droves to protest rising prices, the high rate of unemployment, and the government’s austerity drive. Now, once again, the Algerian people have taken to the streets in protests that pose a direct challenge to the ruling elite, but it is unlikely that they will be able to bring down the system, at least not in the near future. Efforts to preserve the system by those in power will be unending. The withdrawal of Bouteflicka’s candidacy and the postponement of elections have failed to quieten the people, suggesting that the movement has not withered but transitioned into a new and more ominous phase that brings it into direct conflict with the ruling elite. Protestors are now calling for bold reforms to overhaul the system that they believe stifles opportunities, and is based on economic and political exploitation. However, as the movement spurs on with greater energy, there is a real fear that a heavy-handed response by the Government to squelch the movement could change the dynamics and encourage hardliners to resort to violence and confrontation with security agencies. Stability in Algeria is important for the defence and security of the Sahel region. The country, in collaboration with regional states, has played a responsible role in regional security cooperation, which includes issues such as organised crime and smuggling. Not only has Algeria concluded bilateral security arrangements with key regional states, but it has also beefed up its own border defence arrangements to cope with the unravelling security environment. In recent years, Algeria has emerged as a bulwark and an important U.S. partner in the fight against terrorism in Africa. More so, it is also an important source of energy particularly for southern Europe. Keeping in view these considerations, civil unrest in Algeria would have security implications for the whole North African and Sahel region where large swathes of land are already in turmoil. The strength and audacity of the protests have apparently taken the government by surprise. The protestors represent a broad array of Algerian society that includes intellectuals, former government and opposition party members, students, teachers, lawyers, women, men and the working class. And despite the assemblage of hundreds of thousands of protestors, the demonstrations have remained peaceful in nature. But as the movement gains momentum, the protestors are wary of unknown outcomes. Algerians do not want to see the resurgence of Islamists in the pattern of past elections, nor do they want a reenaction of the Egyptian model where the pro-democracy movement atrophied and made way for the return of authoritarianism, or even the Syrian model that descended into civil war. As it stands, the movement for change in Algeria shows no sign of fatigue or dissipation, but change cannot be brought about simply by galvanising passionate enthusiasts into action. There needs to be a clarity of purpose, and a plan of action, and finally a deeply inspiring and empowering belief in the message. The writer is a former Ambassador Published in Daily Times, March 22nd 2019.