This year’s debate topic, “Authoritarian status quo: What cost for Algeria?” has sparked controversy in the country as it prepares for presidential elections in 2014. Many Algerian commentators have been speculating that the country has entered a phase of “presidents for life” after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika amended the constitution to remove term limits on presidents in 2008.
On Thursday, November 7, El Watan published a statement claiming it was being prevented from holding the debate by the management of the venue where the debate was to be held. The newspaper claimed it had been asked to obtain a special permit to hold the debate from the Ministry of Culture without adequate advance notice, essentially preventing the event from going ahead as scheduled.
In the statement, El Watan condemned what it called a “serious violation of the freedom of press and expression” in Algeria, describing the situation in the North African country as one of “social unrest, growing media censorship and overall violation of freedoms.”
The French-language newspaper also stated that the reasons given by the management of the venue in asking the paper to obtain a permit were “fabricated,” as it has never been asked to obtain a permit from the authorities over the past eight years.
On Friday, the Algerian Ministry of Culture issued a statement denying that it had tried to prevent the debate from taking place, instead describing the situation as a “misunderstanding.”
In the press communiqué, the ministry also reiterated its commitment to protecting and guaranteeing the constitutional right to hold public debates.
The popular debate, held every year since 2005 in the Algiers, is promoted by the organisers as a free and transparent space for democratic dialogue about issues of interest to the Algerian people.