Algerian “UCP” party leader Zoubida Assoul on goals and tactics of the protest movement

Translated from El-Watan, June 28, 2019

In this interview Zoubida Assoul, the head of the Union for for Change and Progress party, gave her opinion on the future of the Algerian peaceful revolution. The politician, also a lawyer and former magistrate, responds to her critics and discussed issues related to the identity and independence of the judiciary.

 Q: You have recently threatened to file a complaint against people who defame you on social networks. What is it exactly?

A: On April 27, I gave a lecture at the Literary Café of Aokas (Béjaïa) on the political and socio-economic situation of Algeria where one of my fellow citizens asked me a question about the Amazigh flag and the national flag. Individuals took some of my statements and distorted them. Yet, everyone knows that Zoubida Assoul respects the national flag which is part of the symbols of national sovereignty.

It is a cabal led by individuals that I cannot identify because they speak under pseudonyms and fake profiles. In my answer to the question of my fellow citizen in Aokas, at no time did I mention the change of the national flag by another flag, and at no time did I violate Islam, the religion of the majority Algerians. But some have gone further than that. They even said Zoubida Assoul wants to change the name of the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria.

The conference in question is recorded and anybody who wants to listen to it, will be able to realize that I never said that. I am deeply democratic, I respect people who do not share my ideas or my way of seeing things. But I will not allow anyone to touch my dignity, my honor, and my intellectual integrity. I do not allow anyone to insult or defame me, because freedom of expression does not mean insult and defamation. But if you look on social networks, I was really insulted. It is therefore my absolute right to sue for libel, even though the majority of people who slander me have not had the courage to reveal their identity.

Many demonstrators were put under arrest warrant for carrying the Amazigh flag, after a speech by the Chief of Staff of the army. Yet the magistrates, at least some of them, showed their support for the peaceful revolution. They even openly called for the independence of justice

First, I’m really sad to have to feed a false quarrel. Algerians have proven since February 22, 2019 that they are a united people. The people have proved that their demands are eminently political and calls for a break with the current system and the construction of the rule of law. The people want to come out of personal power that has led us to dictatorship, totalitarianism and exclusion. The power, unable to handle this phase of transition from one system to another, tries to divert people’s attention. And we must remember that the Amazigh flag has been brandished since February 22nd and there has never been a problem. I myself took part in marches where there was the Amazigh flag alongside the national flag. The Amazigh flag does not compete with the national flag. Amazigh is our identity and Amazigh culture and language are constitutionalized and Yennayer has become an official holiday. So today, when we wear a flag that symbolizes this identity and we are put in jail, it is something incomprehensible. And then, Article 1 of the Criminal Code stipulates that there is no offense, no punishment or security measure without law.

Q: And the independence of justice?

A: I have always said that the independence of justice is a process, it cannot be decreed by a decision, a speech or an injunction. For justice to be independent, we need to change a lot of things. The first is to change the Constitution which gives the presidency of the High Council of the Judiciary to the President of the Republic who represents the Executive while the judiciary represents the see judicial. And we must also change the status of judges and the texts that govern their careers. And we will have to change many laws and the penal policy of the Ministry of Justice. All this will take time. In addition, justice that was under the command of Bouteflika’s power for 20 years cannot become independent overnight. We were all happy and encouraged the magistrates when they came out and called for the independence of the judiciary. They expressed their refusal to continue operating under injunctions. But between claiming the independence of justice and realizing it on the ground, I think, objectively, it’s something that will take a lot more time. We will first have to have a legitimate power and change the Constitution, the practices and some people who have always been there to carry out the instructions of the ruling power.

Q: Many of Friday’s protesters say “Yetnahaw ga3” [“Out with all the rascals!”] also concerns judges …

A: There are magistrates and … magistrates. Normally, the magistrates of the seat should be independent whereas the magistrates of the parquet floor are, statutorily, dependent on the Ministry of Justice. And of course, there are honest magistrates who have the will to free themselves and who only respond to the law and their conscience.

Q: How do you see the future of this peaceful revolution (or hirak)?

A: I think that the Algerians who come out every Friday for more than four months are determined more than ever to end this system, to move towards the construction of a state of law. It cannot be done overnight, it’s also a process. The people understood that we cannot have a real transition with the same people who brought the country to this situation of political blockage and socio-economic regression. The people demand the departure of Bedoui’s government and Acting Head of State Bensalah. The latter should, from the constitutional point of view, leave on July 9th.

The people are also asking the army to serve as an escort, facilitator, in this period of transition from a failed political system to a transparent political system, to move towards a state based on the power of the institutions and not on the power of men. Moreover, we are working as politicians to unite all our forces. Tomorrow (the interview was conducted on Tuesday 25 June), there will be the meeting of the Democratic Pole, with the FFS, the RCD, the UCP and other political parties and civil society to propose together a roadmap out of crisis.

But, given the degree of deliquescence of state institutions, we will have to move towards a very deep dialogue involving all political parties, civil society and representatives of the revolution (which I never call the Hirak). All parties are called to debate the road map that will clean up the situation before going to the elections. Because we can not go to elections with the same laws, the same men and the same practices. We do not want to achieve the same results achieved in the past. Our revolution is not about changing men, but changing the system. The figures of the regime must leave, of course, but that is not enough. Because the system is a set of rules, laws and practices.