A groundswell of popular unrest has ended Bouteflika’s twenty-year rule and brought Algeria to a fork in the road. The regime should embark on substantive reforms and enter dialogue with protest leaders in order to prevent the cycle of mass protests and repressive counter-measures spiralling out of control.
Protests demanding radical political change continued but in smaller numbers compared to previous months, while new President Tebboune, elected in Dec 2019, launched several initiatives in attempt to show good-will and rebuild trust between protesters and authorities. In capital Algiers, security forces arrested at least twenty protesters 17 Jan and at least four others 24 Jan; more protesters reportedly rallied in Algiers 31 Jan for 50th week and ahead of one-year anniversary of protest movement in Feb. Tebboune met with prominent opposition figures in late Dec and Jan; formed constitutional reform panel with aim to strengthen public liberties and judicial independence 8 Jan; and transferred power to appoint senior officials to PM Djerad 18 Jan. Authorities released several opposition and civil society leaders involved in protest movement: wealthy businessman Issad Rebrab, detained since April 2019, released 1 Jan after court same day sentenced him to six months in prison for financial crimes; dozens arrested during demonstrations in 2019, including independence war veteran and protest movement figure Lakhdar Bouregaa, released 2 Jan. Court in Biskra 18 Jan convicted university student to eighteen months in prison for “insult to a regular body” after he posted videos of police repression of protests on social media. Appeal Court of Algiers 31 Jan sentenced two members of protest movement, Toufik Kerfa and Yacine Elouareth, arrested in Nov, to three months in prison for endangering state security. During Berlin Conference on Libya 19 Jan, Tebboune offered to host dialogue between Libyan warring factions. FM Sabri Boukadoum brought together FMs of Egypt, Tunisia, Chad, Niger, Sudan, and Mali in Algiers 23 Jan to discuss political solutions to Libyan conflict.
Political paralysis in oil-dependent Algeria has blocked much-needed economic reform. To avoid a new era of instability, the government should increase transparency and accountability within state institutions and the private sector, as well as improve opportunities for the country’s burgeoning youth.
As waves of protests have hit the hydrocarbon-rich Algerian south since 2013, authorities maintained a tenuous peace through handouts, repression and policing. To calm tensions, the state needs to clarify policies, communicate with local protestors and address underlying issues of governance.
Algeria has emerged as an indispensable broker of stability in North Africa and the Sahel. But, especially as it enters a generational transition in domestic politics, it needs better strategies to deal with financial pressures, a neighbourhood in turmoil, cross-border jihadi threats, and ongoing tensions with France and Morocco. It should also resolve a presidential succession that is paralysing institutions.
This is the third of a series of briefings and reports on Islamism in North Africa. The first provided general background on the range and diversity of Islamic activism in the region, and subsequent papers examine with respect to particular states, the outlook and strategies of the main Islamist movements and organisations, their relations with the state and each other and how they have evolved. The analysis focuses on the relationship between Islamic activism and violence, especially but not only terrorism and the problem of political reform in general and democratisation in particular.
Islamism, terrorism, reform: the triangle formed by these three concepts and the complex and changeable realities to which they refer is at the centre of political debate in and about North Africa today.
The army and intelligence services [in Algeria] are still important but not as an autonomous pole of power.
Protests in Algeria are not about rule by one man but a system. One that has empowered a business class with close links to the state while progressively stifling economic and political liberties and excluding an earnest, educated youth.
A new wave of popular protests has jolted an already deeply unsettled Arab world. Nine years ago, uprisings across the region signalled a rejection of corrupt autocratic rule that failed to deliver jobs, basic services and reliable infrastructure. Yet regime repression and the protests’ lack of organisation, leadership and unified vision thwarted hopes of a new order. As suddenly as the uprisings erupted, as quickly they descended into violence. What followed was either brutal civil war or regime retrenchment. Tunisia stands as the sole, still fragile, exception.
Originally published in Valdai Club
Refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, have long been run by the Polisario movement, which seeks an independent state in Western Sahara, also claimed by Morocco. But a new generation of Sahrawi refugees is growing fractious as aid dwindles and diplomatic efforts fail to deliver a settlement.
Originally published in Slate Afrique