In Algeria's Bordj Bou Arreridj, political art takes centre stage

Banners depicting local youth's discontent with the status quo inspires people elsewhere to 'illustrate their anger'.

In Algeria's Bordj Bou Arreridj, political art takes centre stage
Volunteers carefully place the giant banner on the building's facade [Maher Mezahi/Al Jazeera]                   



Bordj Bou Arreridj, Algeria - A new phenomenon has gripped anti-government protests in Algeria. It all started with an abandoned building in downtown Bordj Bou Arreridj, a city located 200km east of the capital, now known as "The People's Palace".

Previously considered an eyesore, the building took on the new appellation in mid-March when a group of protesters decided to hang a "tifo", or a large banner, over its facade.

Hundreds of thousands of Algerians have been protesting for more than two months against former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the country's ruling elite. 

While the ailing 82-year-old leader was forced to step down, demonstrators are sceptical of those around him, known as le pouvoir or the powers that be, being serious about effecting the change they have called for.   

In Bordj Bou Arreridj, it has become a weekly tradition to finish the Friday protest at "The People's Palace" and celebrate the march with the unfurling of a new tifo.

The unfinished building has, in fact, become a site of great pride and joy for residents of the province.

The group behind the initiative says one banner hung from the building does a better job of conveying their message than a thousand of them on the streets [Maher Mezahi/Al Jazeera] 

 

The messages displayed have varied over the weeks. One cartoon depicted a football match in which a player with "people" emblazoned on his kit is scoring a goal against the "regime".

Another portrayed the scales of justice, with a slogan in bold: "Justice is the basis of governance."

As videos of the artworks did the rounds on social media, Algerians from other cities made the journey to protest in front of Bordj Bou Arreridj on Fridays, giving the former garrison town a new name: "The Capital of the Hirak", or the capital of the popular movement.

Protesters from Djelfa, Adrar, Tissemsilt, Algiers, Skikda and Chlef were present last weekend, as the call to Friday prayers sounded in the early afternoon.

Last Friday, a white van pulled up to The People's Palace in the city centre. Several dozen volunteers crowded around the vehicle before opening the trunk and pulling out the week's banner.

'No one financing us'

One of the volunteers, sporting a yellow vest with an "Ouled El Djebasse" (Children of El Djebasse) insignia patched onto his chest, takes a moment to explain what is happening. 

"This week, our tifo is going to impress everyone," he says as he points to his vest.

"El Djebasse is the oldest neighbourhood in Bordj Bou Arreridj. It is a place that is emblematic of our city."

Another member of Ouled El Djebasse, Zahreddine, ensures the tarp is not ripped as it is pulled to the top of the building.

Ouled El Djebasse putting the finishing touches on the weekly tifo [Maher Mezahi/Al Jazeera]

 

"We all chip in to buy material for the banners. No one is financing us," he says in a terse tone as he climbs seven flights of stairs. "We don't belong to a political party or association. We don't have a political opinion. We are just organised."

Maher Mezahi

 

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