From Riots to Political Crisis: The Politicization of the Mobilizations in Algeria in 1988

By Myriam Aït-Aoudia

Based on the algerian case in 1988, this paper analyses the process by which riots develop into political crisis through the politicization of multi-sector rallies. This political crisis will produce an unprecedented liberalization of the authoritarian regime. The paper focuses on the political and contentious dimension of these events, showing first that such events, in this case riots, cannot be labeled as « political », as it were “from above”, by the researcher, often on the basis of an ex post analysis. Instead, one has to be attentive to the struggles for a legitimate definition of the event, in situ, and recreate the process by which a definition tends to impose itself on all the protagonists, sweeping all competing categorizations aside. Second, this article shows that articulating a political judgment about an event is not taken for granted, and neither is this political interpretation destined for success. The rioters, a multitude of individuals who, until now, have been outside of public life, certainly open up a realm of possibility ; but it is the previously committed actors who mediatize their action and impose an contentious and political meaning on the event by basing themselves on earlier skills and networks. The very characteristics of a riot—disorganized, without any leadersphip, led by very young people who do not articulate a political speach—authorize the voicing of a sound political judgment from outside.

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