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Analyst: Algerian Leader Smart to Lift State of Emergency

Riot police officers detain a protester during a demonstration in Algiers, February 19, 2011
Riot police officers detain a protester during a demonstration in Algiers, February 19, 2011

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  • Claud Salhani, an official of G-Risk, an international risk assessment organization, spoke with Clottey

Peter Clottey

An official of G-Risk, an international risk assessment organization, says Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was “smart” in lifting the 19-year-old state of emergency, a concession to opposition groups aimed at preventing a wave of uprisings sweeping the Arab world.

Claud Salhani says the government’s decision to appease opposition demands could help prevent a possible anti-government protest from toppling Bouteflika. A presidential order lifted the law Thursday when it was published in the government's official gazette.

“There is a simple explanation to that; he just has to look around him to see what’s going on. On the one side, he has Libya and Egypt, and Tunisia on the other. It’s change and adapt or face the same consequences as what is going on all around him,” said Salhani.

“I think he has learned a lesson, the easy way, let’s say, rather than wait for the uprising to come to him. He is pre-empting it, which is a very smart thing to do.”

Ending the emergency powers was one of the demands voiced by opposition groups that have been staging weekly protests in the Algerian capital.

The measure was imposed to help authorities combat Islamist rebels but, in the past few years, violence has subsided and government critics have alleged the emergency rules are being used to repress political freedoms.

Lifting the law is one change promised by Bouteflika in the aftermath of weeks of anti-government protests. Algerians have been demonstrating their objections to high unemployment and food prices in protests similar to those that led to the recent ouster of the Tunisian and Egyptian leadership.

Algeria's military-backed government first imposed the state of emergency on February 9, 1992, the date marked as the start of the country's civil war.

Salhani describes Bouteflika’s move as a victory for both the president and the opposition.

“Of course it’s a victory for the opposition and it’s a victory for democracy as well. Nineteen years of the state of emergency is more than enough. If he (Bouteflika) gives the protesters what they want, there is no reason for him to step down,” said Salhani.

“The perfect analogy is what Sultan Qaboos of Oman did in the (19)70s when he faced a rebellion. The rebels had a list of demands, which were very just; they wanted schools; they wanted roads; they wanted girls to go to school; they wanted hospitals, which they didn’t have under the old system, and he gave them all of that. And, then he said, ‘Now, what are you rebelling about?’ And the rebellion filtered out and died.”

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