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Algeria activists sharpen tools with make-do law classes

Sitting in a living room transformed into a makeshift classroom, Algerians from across the social spectrum gather for a course on constitutional law — and two hours in, not a single one appears bored.

Algerian protestors have vowed to keep up the pressure on the ruling elite since veteran leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned this month.

As they look to the future, students, doctors and labourers have filled parks and cultural venues in the capital to sharpen their tools, bringing intellectual clout to their demands.

Imene, an Algerian flag still under her arm, came directly from a rally near the capital’s emblematic post office headquarters, the heart of the protest movement.

“Here, we open our eyes and start to understand, for example, why this presidential election is a trap,” she said.

Interim leader Abdelkader Bensalah on Wednesday announced that Algeria would hold presidential polls in July.

But for many protestors, no election run by Bouteflika-era officials and institutions can be free or transparent.

“If we held an election as things stand, it would only succeed in electing another dictator,” said law and social sciences teacher Massensen Cherbi.

He explained to his students that Algeria’s head of state is the supreme chief of the armed forces and defence minister, enjoys a veto over parliament, is not criminally liable and has sole power to change the constitution.

“What would you call such a president?” he asked.

“A despot! Reading the constitution is enough to know that.”

– ‘Seize’ the opportunity –

He bemoaned the state of social sciences and law in Algerian schools, saying this was driven by a desire to “leave people ignorant and freely enjoy power”.

“Most Algerians know almost nothing about what is written in the constitution,” he said.

“That’s why in Algeria, people struggle to get into the political debate.”

Farida, a 60-year-old archaeologist, agreed.

“Debate in Algeria has always been muzzled,” she said.

Leaders have done their best “to keep us uninterested in politics”, she added.

Bouteflika was first elected with 73 percent of the vote in 1999 then won his second to fourth terms with over four-fifths of the vote.

Hamsa, 29, said elections had “never amounted to anything” in Algeria, dismissing the idea of heading to the ballot box in July.

Fella, also attending the class, came to a similar conclusion.

“Algeria’s not ready for another presidential election,” she said.

“Civil society isn’t ready, it doesn’t have the knowledge, it’s not at all politicised.”

But, she added: “This popular movement is a wonderful opportunity. It must be seized!”

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