Seeing the policemen gathered in demonstrations these past days, many children in Ghardaia and Algiers might have shouted “Yemma la police!” just like the little Omar did in the excellent series “The Fire” based on Mohamed Dib‘s famous trilogy.
Police presence in demonstrations is not unusual in Algeria. I have mentioned in my previous post the many protests taking place in the country and, almost every time, the authorities made sure these protests didn’t go out of control and contained them with an important police force. The policemen presence was sometimes so overwhelming that their numbers looked bigger than the demonstrators’ (cf. last April’s Barakat demonstrations).
The policemen’s repression and sticks were always there regardless of whether the protests were small or big, violent or peaceful, political or social, etc. The police didn’t care either about who was protesting: unemployed, doctors, journalists, blue-collars, etc. Their hands weren’t even lighter when the protesters were closer to them: former members of the GLDs, communal guards, army reservists or former policemen.
So the news here is that it is the policemen themselves who are protesting this time. It started two days ago in Ghardaia with several units of the CRS stationed there (to “control” the local violent confrontations) and was followed yesterday by a CRS gathering in Algiers.
The Algiers assembly was apparently led by CRS units who were to be sent to Ghardaia as a replacement of their colleagues there. The news say these units gathered to show support to their colleagues in Ghardaia.
The Gendarmerie has apparently tried to block the policemen in Ghardaia by not letting public transportation carry them so the men in blue simply walked till they reached the Ghardaia police GQ. The protest took place while the police director, General Hamel, was visiting three policemen who had been injured in the past days.
The policemen in Algiers also walked (and blocked the highway) till they reached the Government Palace and apparently stayed there overnight despite their representatives’ meeting with the Interior minister, Tayeb Belaiz, who moved also to Ghardaia and the minister’s official message as well as the message from General Hamel who said most of the police demands had been satisfied.
The information on the protesters’ demands is not clear and the press has reported it only partially so far. They apparently range from the dismissal of General Hamel himself together with the CRS director to wage increase and access to housing privileges. Somebody tweeted a picture of 19 demands here but I don’t know if this is not fake. We can read, among other things, 100% increase of the minimum salary (would make it 70kDZD!), 10kDZD monthly to policemen’s unemployed spouses, creation of a police union, etc.
I find it quite ironic that many of these demands are similar to what many other popular/professional categories make. So the policemen prove, if need be, that they are part of the people, lead a similar life and face the same problems. This is also true for the military who, until recently, were mostly conscripts which made them liked by the people as their sons (wled echaab). They are all zawalia who want to fill their bellies, just like said in the prologue of “The Fire” series (oops!)
But saying so doesn’t mean I feel any sympathy towards them. Wikipedia says there are around 200,000 policemen in Algeria. The police, like the army, have been treated well by the authorities who relied on them to maintain and protect the system. Many young Algerians, males and females, graduates and non-graduates, see in the police and the army the best career job. They all do their best to join these forces in order to lead an easier life with a guaranteed job, a relatively high wage, many privileges, etc. And the system is aware of this and uses it quite well. Last year, after a wave of protests led in Southern Algeria by some unemployed people, the government decided to offer them 12,000 positions in the police.
In return, these unemployed men and women who accepted the job, probably turned from protesters against the system into the armed hand defending the system against the people.
So it is good that the policemen realise they are just tools of the system. They are lucky they can protest without risking to be hit, jailed and insulted by… the police. But their demands remain very personal and egoistic, just like all the other protesters. And since the system needs them, it is very likely that they will get all they request and things will be back to normal in no time.
This is why I am amused by these demonstrations. I joked on Twitter about the DRS agents joining in.
This might change if things last longer and if more information is made available. I am for example curious to know about these protests’ leaders (are they high-ranked officers?) and also about the fact it seems the intelligence services didn’t predict them. It would be bad to hear the children follow Omar’s other shout in the same series “El guirra, el guirra!“
Let’s wait and see.