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‘Poetic protest’: How the photo of a ballet dancer became a symbol of Algeria's protests

RYAD KRAMDI / AFP | Algerian students demonstrate with national flags outside the Main Post Office in the centre of the capital Algiers on March 10, 2019 against ailing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term.

A photo of a 17-year-old ballerina dancing at a demonstration in Algiers has become a symbol of protesters’ defiance of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in power.

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The photo went viral. A week before International Women's Rights Day, which saw several hundred thousand Algerian women demonstrating against President Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term in power, two women made their mark with a powerful image.

On Friday, March 1, 17-year-old Melissa Ziad performed a few classical dance steps in front of a large Algerian flag at a demonstration in the country’s capital city of Algiers. The steps, like her outfit – ballet shoes with jeans and leather jacket – caught people’s attention. Rania G., the 21-year-old photographer who was with her, caught her "retiré", a classical dance step, on camera. "It's my favourite dance step," Rania, the author of the photograph she called "Poetic protest", told FRANCE 24.

"Melissa put on her pointes and started performing," said Rania. “The demonstrators were encouraging us and asking for more!"

‘This gesture symbolises freedom.’

For Rania, this photograph symbolises "poetry, freedom and lightness, with an upwards movement". The young photographer hopes that this protest movement, like the dance step, will pull Algeria "upwards".

Rania is convinced that art can be a source of political change in Algerian society. "Art is an incredible opportunity to express oneself and young people like me want nothing more than that," she adds.

Ziad shares her point of view. In the caption of the photo she shared on Instagram, she wrote: "An alternative to the dominant system can be expressed through artistic creativity, thus initiating a revolution in ways of thinking."

The Algerian population currently numbers 42.2 million -- almost half of which, 20.59 million, are women. "It is important that we all stand together, men and women," said Rania. “The more women Algerian women see participating in this movement, the more it will encourage them to participate!”

Nationwide protests

Algeria’s Bouteflika has ruled the country since 1999 but has barely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.

His February 10 announcement that he was running for a fifth term in the country’s April 18 election has been met with huge protests.

Nationwide marches have been largely led by the country’s youth who have cheerfully, and relentlessly, defied protest bans throughout the country.

On Sunday, Algerian workers began a nationwide strike, hitting the capital’s rail network, most of the country’s secondary schools and public transport. No trains, metros, trams or buses left or circulated within Algiers.

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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