Emotion filled the voice of Mustapha Bouchachi as the Algerian veteran lawyer and human rights activist recalled the peaceful mass protests that swept aside President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The young protesters “are finishing what my generation failed to do”, said the man who became a mentor to demonstrators who have mobilised against “the system”.
Bouchachi, in his mid-60s, has been careful not to try to “seize” the youth-driven movement even as he helped formulate its demands, notably in Facebook video clips that exceeded 200,000 views.
Whether speaking in his old-fashioned Algiers office or addressing university students, he has been tireless in explaining the goals of what he calls the “revolution of smiles”.
“I am proud that many Algerians trust me, but this is the demonstration of young people,” he told AFP, refusing the status of spokesman for the activists who ended Bouteflika’s two-decade reign on April 2.
“We can accompany and give advice, but we must not steal” their movement, he said.
‘I cried with joy’
Bouchachi’s eyes filled with tears as he recalled his amazement when crowds of Algerians began to peacefully take to the streets on February 22.
“I was so afraid that there would be no-one, that we would just be a few thousand, isolated, like in 2011,” he said, referring to the Arab Spring uprisings that started in Tunisia but largely bypassed Algeria.
This time around, he admitted, “I cried with joy”, his grave face transforming into a deep smile.
He pointed to Algeria’s 1962 independence from French colonial rule and said: “I told myself that it is these young people who will finish liberating the country, because our fathers liberated the land of Algeria but the people were not free.”