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Algerian security forces at a coronavirus curfew checkpoint in Algiers Security forces at a checkpoint to enforce a curfew aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus in Algiers, Algeria, April 8, 2020 (AP photo by Toufik Doudou).

In Algeria, Protests Pause for COVID-19 as the Regime Steps Up Repression

Monday, Aug. 31, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is challenging Algeria’s aging health care system, as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 approach 45,000, with some 1,500 deaths. Yet rather than the virus itself, it is the Algerian regime’s use of the pandemic to quell popular dissent that is pushing the country deeper into crisis. The authorities have seized on the public health emergency to arrest activists and clamp down on the flow of information, actions that will likely only worsen Algeria’s long-running political stalemate.

Anti-government demonstrators calling themselves Hirak, or “movement” in Arabic, had been taking to the streets on a weekly basis since February 2019—initially to protest ailing, octogenarian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s attempt to run for a fifth term, and, following Bouteflika’s resignation months later, to demand reforms to the entire entrenched political system. But due to the pandemic, they have not held a protest since March 13. A few days after that final demonstration, the regime sealed Algeria’s borders, closed down schools, mosques and cafes, and banned social gatherings. Stricter measures, such as temporary lockdowns and curfews, were later implemented in the worst-affected parts of the country. These moves mirrored the actions taken by governments across the globe. ...

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