Algeria swore in Abdelmadjid Tebboune as president on Thursday as the Hirak protest movement debated its response to his offer of dialogue to end a months-long political crisis.
Mounted guards in traditional red tunics, white turbans and hooded cloaks lined the way into the Palais des Nations as Tebboune entered, Algeria’s flag fluttering overhead.
Tebboune, a former prime minister who casts himself as a reformer, was elected last week in a vote the opposition regarded as a charade intended to keep the ruling elite in power.
The army saw Thursday’s election as the best way to end 10 months of weekly mass protests that helped oust Tebboune’s predecessor, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in April, and restore a political order in which it holds sway.
The protesters refer to themselves simply as “Hirak”, or “the movement”.
Official figures showed 40 percent of voters took part on Thursday as protests and strikes paralysed some cities and towns, with Tebboune winning 58 percent of votes.
State media presented even that low level of turnout as vindicating the decision to hold the election, though with no outside observers monitoring the vote, many Hirak supporters regarded the figures as suspect.
“Tebboune is not my president. He doesn’t represent Hirak and has no legitimacy. Protests must go on until the people become the decision-makers,” said Slimane Hachoud, 24, who has been protesting since February.
Since the election, the weekly Friday and Tuesday protests have gone ahead as usual, though there were widespread reports of police arresting many demonstrators in the western city of Oran.
Former PM elected Algeria president as thousands prepare to march
Among the leaderless protest movement, where debate over goals and strategy takes place on social media or during demonstrations, there were mixed reactions to the offer of dialogue and a new constitution that Tebboune made last week.
“We are not against dialogue and negotiations to end the crisis, but we cannot shake Tebboune’s hand if he doesn’t first free the detainees,” said Abdeljabar, a student protester.
Scores of protesters and opposition figures have been detained or jailed since the start of the protests in February on charges including “undermining national unity” and “weakening army morale”.
However, some prominent Hirak supporters urged talks.
“Now that the generals have a civilian representative in the person of Abdelmadjid Tebboune, we must negotiate the transition to a rule of law with him,” said Lahouari Addi, a political science professor.
“Hirak must initiate and offer names with a list of demands,” said Lies Merabet, a labour union leader, on Facebook.
Reuters news agency