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Restrictions on free speech continued, tensions with Morocco remained high over Western Sahara, and diplomatic engagement with Mali and France continued.
Crackdown on dissent continued. Court in capital Algiers 15 Jan extended pre-trial detention of prominent journalist Ihsane El Kadi – arrested in Dec and charged with “receiving foreign funds” and “harming the security of the state” – in absence of journalist’s lawyers as court failed to inform them that appeal hearing initially scheduled for 18 Jan had been moved to earlier date. Ruling of administrative court dissolving NGO Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights leaked online 20 Jan; league 22 Jan confirmed document’s authenticity, while also saying it had never been notified of procedure.
Relations between Algiers and Rabat remained tense over Western Sahara. Authorities refused to grant Moroccan football team authorisation to fly directly to Algeria for African Nations Championship (CHAN) held 13 Jan-4 Feb, resulting in team’s absence from competition; airspace has remained closed to all Moroccan flights since Sept 2021. At CHAN’s opening ceremony, Nelson Mandela’s grandson Mandla Mandela 13 Jan called for liberation of “the last colony of Africa, Western Sahara”; Morocco’s football federation next day condemned “provocative” speech.
Authorities discussed regional security with Mali and France. Malian FM Abdoulaye Diop 15-16 Jan visited Algiers, discussed issues related to 2015 Algiers peace agreement between Bamako and northern armed groups with President Tebboune and FM Ramtane Lamamra (see Mali). Army chief of staff Gen. Saïd Chengriha 24 Jan visited France, met with French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu reportedly to discuss security situation in Sahel after Tebboune late Dec criticised presence of Russian private military company Wagner Group in Mali.
In other important developments. Tebboune 19 Jan said foreign exchange reserves were exceeding $60bn and economic growth was expected to reach 5% in 2023.
Algiers gave indications of downgrading relationship with Russia; court sentenced former senior state officials to prison as part of govt’s anti-corruption drive.
Algiers seemed to distance itself from Russia. Defence ministry late Nov said joint military manoeuvres with Russia scheduled to take place 16-28 Nov on Algerian territory had been cancelled. Several media outlets, including The New Arab 1 Dec, alleged Algeria was downgrading military cooperation with Russia due to U.S. pressure, including sanction threat. President Tebboune’s visit to Russia to discuss deepening strategic partnership, initially scheduled for late Dec, did not take place. Meanwhile, U.S. National Security Council coordinator for North Africa, Brett McGurk, 6 Dec met with Tebboune in capital Algiers to discuss Algiers’ relationship with Moscow, among other topics. Energy Minister Mohamed Arkab 3 Dec announced govt’s willingness to revive GALSI gas pipeline project connecting Algeria to Italy; 18 Dec suggested exporting country’s spare electricity capacity to Europe.
France lifted visa restrictions for Algerian nationals. French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin 18 Dec visited Algiers, announced return to “normal consular relations” with Algeria, suggesting that Paris will no longer limit number of visas delivered to Algerians; France in Sept 2021 reduced visa quotas for Algerians and other North Africans in bid to pressure govts to step up cooperation against irregular migration. In interview with French daily Le Figaro, Tebboune 29 Dec welcomed new “relationships of trust” between France and Algeria.
In other important developments. Algiers court 1 Dec sentenced former President Bouteflika-era PMs, Ahmed Ouyahia, Abdelmalek Sellal and Noureddine Bedoui, to ten to 12 years in prison for corruption. Army 11 Dec killed three suspected jihadist militants and detained another one during operation at Mount Gouraya in Tipaza region. Authorities overnight 23-24 Dec detained prominent journalist Ihsane El-Kadi, 29 Dec placed him in pre-trial detention on charges of “receiving foreign funding”.
Algiers doubled its defence budget amid growing military ties with Russia; Moroccan King Mohammed VI did not attend Arab League summit held in Algeria.
Repression of dissent continued. Algiers court 14 Nov sentenced in absentia leader of outlawed Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylia, Ferhat Mehenni, to life imprisonment on charges of “establishing and running a terrorist organisation” and “undermining territorial integrity and national unity”.
Govt launched joint military exercises with Russia near Moroccan border. Army chief of staff, Gen. Saïd Chengriha, 10 Nov met with Russian head of military cooperation, Dimitri Evguenievitch Chougaev, in capital Algiers. Russia and Algeria 16-28 Nov conducted first joint military exercises on Algerian territory in Bechar region near Moroccan border. President Tebboune, who is due to visit Russia in Dec, reportedly close to signing military equipment contract worth around $12bn with Moscow as part of effort to modernise Algerian army. Meanwhile, parliament’s lower house 22 Nov approved 2023 finance law increasing military budget to $23bn from $10bn in 2022.
Tensions with Morocco remained high. Hours before Arab League summit kicked off in Algiers, Rabat 1 Nov announced that Moroccan King Mohammed VI would not attend event, prompting Algiers and Rabat to blame each other for missed opportunity. Moroccan FM Nasser Bourita, who represented kingdom at summit, 2 Nov said Mohammed VI had invited Tebboune to visit Morocco; Algiers rejected invitation as “deceitful marketing”.
Govt poised to significantly increase military budget as Algiers seeks to enhance regional influence.
Govt submitted plans to double defence spending in 2023. Govt mid-Oct reportedly submitted 2023 draft finance law to parliament’s finance committee, seeking to push military budget to $23bn from $10bn this year; increase comes amid tensions with Morocco over disputed Western Sahara, jihadist violence in Sahel region and unrest in Libya; parliament expected to endorse law in Nov.
Algiers continued to reassert its position on international scene. Army chief of staff Gen. Saïd Chengriha 13 Oct gathered his counterparts from Mauritania, Mali and Niger in capital Algiers to discuss revival of joint military operations centre known as CEMOC. After Algiers in Sept took part in Vostok military exercises in Russia’s far east, Algeria and Russia around 20 Oct conducted four-day joint naval exercise in Mediterranean. In first visit by Moroccan state official since Algiers cut diplomatic ties with Morocco in August 2021, Moroccan FM Nasser Bourita 29 Oct arrived in Algiers to take part in preparations for 1 Nov Arab League summit.
Silencing of dissent continued. Authorities 11 Oct arrested journalist Nadir Kerri on undisclosed charges after he published article on govt’s car import policy; 13 Oct released him under judicial control. NGO Committee to Protect Journalists 18 Oct said it had submitted report to UN Human Rights Council warning that “journalists in Algeria have increasingly faced pretrial detention and judicial harassment”.
President Tebboune conducted partial cabinet reshuffle, while Algiers continued to seek enhanced role on international scene.Interior minister replaced in partial cabinet reshuffle. Tebboune 8 Sept appointed new interior minister as part of govt reshuffle affecting seven ministerial portfolios; energy and foreign affairs ministers remained in office. Bigger reshuffle could follow Arab League summit to be held in capital Algiers 1-2 Nov. Meanwhile, Tebboune 1 Sept appointed as head of foreign intelligence service Maj. Gen. M’henna Djebbar, previously head of intelligence service monitoring political movements; 7 Sept appointed Gen. Abdelaziz Nouwat Choueiter as head of army’s central security directorate. Both Djebbar and Choueiter are close to Gen. Mohamed Mediène “Toufik”, who ran intelligence agency from 1990 to 2015.Repression of dissent continued. Authorities 8 Sept arrested independent daily newspaper Echorouk journalist, Belkacem Houam, in Algiers on charges of “illegal speculation” over his coverage of trade issues. Govt reportedly postponed visit by UN special rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly, Clément Nyaletsossi Vould, planned for 12 Sept; NGO Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights 7 Sept alleged govt “feared” rapporteur could “uncover the reality of an implacable repression”.Flurry of diplomatic engagements. FM Ramtane Lamamra 1 Sept co-chaired 18th Algerian-Malian Strategic Bilateral Committee session with Malian counterpart Abdoulaye Diop in Mali; leaders reportedly discussed reviving joint military operations centre known as CEMOC – created in 2010 with view to conducting joint military patrols and cross-border operations among Malian, Mauritanian, Nigerien and Algerian security forces. Amid efforts to ensure Europe’s energy security, European Council President Charles Michel 5 Sept visited Algiers, described country as “reliable” partner in energy cooperation. Newspaper Jeune Afrique 12 Sept reported Moroccan King Mohammed VI planned to attend upcoming Arab League summit despite persistent diplomatic tensions between Algeria and Morocco.
Govt ruled out reconciliation with Morocco, while French President Macron visited country in bid to mend strained relations. On occasion of newly-instituted National Army Day, army chief of staff, Gen Saïd Chengriha, 4 Aug extolled unity and cohesion between armed forces and Algerians against external threats; new public holiday epitomizes military institution’s growing influence on country’s politics. Authorities 23 Aug detained former interim PM Noureddine Bedoui on corruption charges, making him third ex-premier to face jail on corruption charges since late President Bouteflika resigned in 2019. Govt in August edition of its defence magazine El Djeich said there will be “no peace with Morocco”, citing neighbouring country’s “occupation” of Western Sahara; statement comes after Moroccan King Mohammed VI late July called for Algeria to engage in dialogue to restore “normal [bilateral] relations” one year after Algiers severed diplomatic ties with Rabat. Amid tense relations with European countries, President Tebboune early Aug suggested Algeria may apply to join BRICS bloc of emerging economies that includes Russia, Brazil, China, India and South Africa. French President Macron 25-27 Aug visited Algeria for first time since 2017 and met with Tebboune; leaders signed joint declaration calling for “new and irreversible dynamic” in bilateral relationship. In following days, several media outlets reported French energy group Engie and Algerian public oil and gas group Sonatrach nearing agreement for Algeria to increase natural gas exports to France by 50%.
Authorities continued to promote initiatives for political inclusion and national dialogue, but repression of local activists and independent media outlets continued unabated. On occasion of Independence Day, President Tebboune 4 July granted amnesty to thousands of prisoners, including some incarcerated Hirak protest movement activists. Meanwhile, Algiers appeals court 3 July sentenced former presidential candidate Rachid Nekkaz to five-year imprisonment for allegedly inciting unarmed gathering and preventing citizens from exercising voting rights in 2019. Pressure remained high on local media to fall in line with authorities’ position. Journalists at largest French-language daily newspaper El Watan 13-14 July went on strike to protest “non-payment of salaries” for several months, accusing authorities of pressuring public and private companies not to buy advertising space in newspaper, thus jeopardising its existence. Parliament 13 July approved new investment law removing some bureaucratic obstacles to investment and reinforcing guarantees for investors as part of Tebboune’s plan to relaunch and diversify economy away from oil and gas dependence. Israel’s Chief of Staff Aviva Kochavi 18-20 July visited Morocco to strengthen bilateral military cooperation, which Algiers sees as direct threat to its national security. Amid diplomatic crisis about Spanish support of Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara, Association of Banks and Financial Institutions 28 July announced end of banking restrictions on trade with Spain; Algiers 30 July however denied reversal of trade blockade. Authorities 15 July reopened land border with Tunisia after two-year closure (see Tunisia); 21 July arrested former Tunisian intelligence chief Lazhar Longo – who was sacked by Tunisian President Saïed and placed under house arrest in 2021 – and handed him over to Tunisia.
Relations with Spain continued to deteriorate over Western Sahara, and army conducted exercise near Moroccan border; harassment of journalists persisted. After Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez 8 June confirmed his country’s support for Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara before parliament, Algiers same day announced suspension of 2002 friendship and cooperation treaty with Madrid, and 9 June cut off bilateral trade. Spanish govt immediately expressed “regret” at Algiers’ decisions, while EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 10 June warned suspension of bilateral trade might violate EU-Algeria partnership agreement and lead to “retaliatory measures”. Army early June conducted live-ammunition night-time exercises in southern Tindouf area near border with Morocco, likely in show of force ahead of U.S.-Morocco annual joint military exercise launched 20 June. Authorities continued to curtail free speech. Algiers courts 7 June sentenced prominent journalist Ihsane El Kadi to six months in prison on charges of “spreading false information”; 13 June sentenced head of Ennahar media group, Mohamed Mokadem, to ten years’ imprisonment on fraud charges. Meanwhile, Algerian, Nigerian and Nigerien energy ministers around 20 June met in Nigeria’s capital Abuja in effort to revive trans-Saharan pipeline project to link Nigeria to Europe through Niger and Algeria.
Govt continued to face accusations of infringing fundamental rights despite appeasement policy toward political opposition. Wave of indignation followed late-April death in prison of Hirak protest movement activist Hakim Debbazi. Debbazi’s family 4 May said they had filed complaint against state for “manslaughter” and “failing to help a person in danger” and were seeking €1bn in compensation. Justice Minister Abderrachid Tabi 17 May said Debbazi had died of “natural causes”. Around 40 Algerian and international NGOs 19 May launched social media campaign against stifling of dissent, urging authorities to cease criminalising free speech and peaceful assembly. President Tebboune 3 May announced plan to hold “inclusive conference” gathering main political parties to find way out of political and social crisis; around 9 May held preliminary talks with several political party leaders. Marginalisation of inner circle of ex-army chief of staff, late Gen Ahmed Gaïd Salah, continued; military appeals court of Blida 12 May confirmed death sentence of Gaïd Salah’s former private secretary Guermit Bounouira on several charges, including “divulgation of confidential information harming the interest of the army and the state”; Bounouira in Jan had accused current army chief of staff, Gen Saïd Chengriha, of drug and arms trafficking. Meanwhile, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov 9 May visited Algiers, praised Algeria’s “neutral” and “objective position” on Ukraine war; also announced reinforcement of bilateral “strategic partnership” and increase in Russian investments in Algeria. General Director of NATO international military staff, Lt Gen Hans-Werner Wiermann, 11-13 May visited Algeria, met with Chengriha, who reaffirmed Algeria’s “neutral policy” on international affairs.
President Tebboune pursued appeasement policy toward political opponents, and tensions continued to run high with Morocco over Western Sahara. Presidency 3 April said Tebboune had pardoned over 1,000 convicts on occasion of Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and ordered provisional release of 70 people detained for links to Hirak protest movement. Political activist and Hirak member Hakim Debbazi 24 April died while in pre-trial detention at Kolea prison in capital Algiers; cause of death unclear. Authorities 29 April arrested leading opposition figure Karim Tabbou on undisclosed charges. Trials of former President Bouteflika-era politicians and businessmen continued. Court 13 April sentenced former PMs Abdelmalek Sellal and Ahmed Ouyahia to five and four years in prison respectively for “squandering of public funds” and “abuse of office for the purpose of granting undue advantages”. Govt 12 April accused Morocco of killing three civilians in 10 April drone strikes in disputed Western Sahara near Mauritanian border; Algerian special envoy for Western Sahara and Maghreb countries, Amar Belani, 14 April denounced “targeted assassinations” and “repeated acts of state terrorism”, warned “possible spillover” of Moroccan “warmongering” into Algerian territory will be considered casus belli (see Western Sahara). Amid deteriorating relations with Spain over Western Sahara, Algiers offered new energy partnership to Italy: state-owned oil and gas company Sonatrach and Italian energy company ENI 11 April signed cooperation agreement in Algiers to increase amount of gas exported from Algeria to Italy. Govt 27 April threatened to suspend gas exports to Spain if Madrid transferred it onward to “a third destination” as latter reportedly set to help Rabat to “guarantee its energy security”. Algiers 7 April voted against resolution suspending Russia from UN Human Rights Council over reports of “gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights” in Ukraine, arguing UN mechanisms need to inquire on site in Ukraine.
Tensions with Spain ran high over Western Sahara; several encounters reported between military and suspected jihadists. In major policy shift, Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez 18 March publicly supported Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara. Algiers next day recalled ambassador to Spain for consultations, condemning Madrid’s “abrupt U-turn”; late March said govt will review all agreements with Spain (see Western Sahara). Spain 24 March extradited former soldier and Hirak protest movement militant Mohamed Benhalima to Algeria; Algerian court last year sentenced Benhalima in absentia to ten years in prison on charges of “publishing false information”. Algiers 2 March abstained from voting on UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russian invasion of Ukraine and urging Moscow to withdraw troops. U.S. Deputy Sec State Wendy Sherman 10 March met with President Tebboune in capital Algiers; officials reportedly discussed possible U.S. sanctions against Algeria should country continue to buy Russian weapons and possible U.S. investment in Algerian gas sector; U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 30 March met with Tebboune and FM Ramtane Lamamra in Algiers, urged govt to reconsider ties with Moscow and improve relations with Morocco. Meanwhile in Skikda province (north east), army 16 March captured seven al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) combatants and 19 March killed seven other AQIM militants in security operations in Collo district. Suspected jihadist group 20 March killed three soldiers in Bordj Baji Mokhtar province (south west near Malian border).
Senate elections confirmed dominance of ruling party; dismissal of top presidential aides reflected jockeying for power among state institutions; silencing of dissent continued. Indirect elections for Council of the Nation (Senate) 5 Feb confirmed dominance of ruling party National Liberation Front (FLN) with 62 seats and FLN’s traditional ally National Democratic Rally with 21 seats. Meanwhile, power game between presidency, army and intelligence services intensified. Under pressure from Army Chief of Staff Saïd Chengriha, President Tebboune 8 Feb dismissed close adviser and former intelligence officer Boualem Boualem, who had reportedly been leading anti-Chengriha clan within govt. After at least 40 members of Hirak protest movement imprisoned in capital Algiers’ El-Harrach prison 28 Jan went on hunger strike to denounce “false accusations” against them and “unjustified extensions of pretrial detention”, authorities early Feb transferred prisoners to different prisons; NGO Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights 4 Feb denounced “illegal and arbitrary” transfers aiming to break hunger strike. Authorities 18 Feb arrested Hirak activist Zaki Hannache, 24 Feb charged him with “praising terrorism” and “spreading false news”; 19 Feb arrested rights activist Faleh Hammoudi, next day sentenced him to three years on several charges including “spreading false news”. On occasion of third anniversary of Hirak protest movement, 21 local and international NGOs 22 Feb denounced “escalating repression” threatening “survival of Algerian civil society”. Tebboune 13 Feb froze new taxes introduced by 2022 finance law citing need to “save the people from famine linked to higher prices and food shortages”. Diplomatic tensions with France continued to subside: authorities 17 Feb reopened Algerian airspace to French military planes after four-month closure.
Accusations toward army chief of alleged criminal activities exposed divisions within military, and space for civil society remained restricted. Guermit Bounouira, former private secretary of late Army Chief of Staff Gen Ahmed Gaïd Salah, in videos released from 9 Jan, made series of allegations against military figures, notably accusing current Army Chief of Staff Gen Saïd Chengriha of drug and arms trafficking; military court in Blida province next day sentenced Bounouira, who has been in prison since 2020, to death on several charges including “high treason”. Meanwhile, hundreds of human rights groups, civil society activists and journalists 8 Jan jointly denounced govt’s crackdown on citizen’s constitutional rights, said repression had intensified in recent days with detention of youth movement Rassemblement Actions Jeunesse (RAJ) leaders Nasser Eddine Hamitouche 2 Jan and Hicham Khiat 6 Jan. Court in capital Algiers 9 Jan sentenced opposition party Democratic and Social Movement leader and figure of Hirak protest movement Fethi Ghares to two years in prison on charges of insulting president, disseminating information endangering national unity and state security. NGO National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees 23 Jan recorded 247 “prisoners of conscience” across country. President Tebboune 5 Jan said Algerian ambassador to Paris would return to his post next day, possibly ending three-month diplomatic row. Algeria 11 Jan criticised West Africa’s regional bloc ECOWAS sanctions on Mali, asked Malian junta to complete transition within 16 months and offered to mediate between both sides.
Ruling party narrowly won regional and local elections, and tensions continued to brew with Morocco over Western Sahara. National Election Authority 22 Dec announced final results of 27 Nov local and regional elections, which President Tebboune framed as final step in renewing politics after former President Bouteflika’s ouster in 2019: ruling party, National Liberation Front, arrived in first position but lost absolute majority in most municipal councils it previously controlled; also narrowly dominated regional assemblies elections; independents achieved good results, while support for Islamist parties lessened. Selection of mayors still pending in several municipalities by month’s end, allegedly due to tensions between local politicians and security forces, who had presented their own candidates in municipal elections. For first time since 2014, trade balance positive with $1bn surplus, though inflation continued to rise. Sahel Intelligence publication, which many Algerians consider close to Moroccan intelligence, 14 Dec alleged Algerian Army Chief of Staff Saïd Chengriha asked for Iranian troop support around Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf area, near border with Western Sahara; Algeria’s Special Envoy for Western Sahara and Maghreb Amar Belani next day denied allegation. League of Arab States late Dec advised all bodies and organisations under its banner to adopt map of Morocco including Western Sahara in official events, prompting Algiers’ ire. Mauritanian President Ould Ghazouani 27-29 Dec visited Algeria in first Mauritanian state visit to neighbouring country for over ten years; Tebboune and Ould Ghazouani 28 Dec signed several cooperation agreements. In bid to “relaunch relationship” after months of tensions, French FM Jean-Yves Le Drian 8 Dec met with Tebboune in capital Algiers, said Algeria was “essential partner for France”.
Tensions with Morocco over Western Sahara conflict continued to run high; parliament voted end of generous state subsidies on basic goods. President Tebboune 3 Nov accused Moroccan forces of killing three Algerian truck drivers in Polisario Front independence movement-controlled Western Sahara 1 Nov; said possible drone attacks “will not go unpunished”. In official letters to inter-national organisations including African Union and UN, Algiers 4 Nov condemned “terrorist act”, stressed Algeria’s “willingness and ability to assume its responsibilities in protecting its citizens and their property in all circumstances”. Morocco did not comment. Meanwhile, around 40 civil society activists 13 Nov met in capital Algiers in bid to relaunch Hirak protest movement, called for liberation of 235 prisoners of conscience. In accordance with 2020 constitutional revision, Tebboune 17 Nov appointed members of new Constitutional Court, notably naming magistrate and former member of parliament’s Upper House Omar Belhadj as president. Campaign for 27 Nov early local elections sparked little public interest, illustrating break between citizens and politicians; turnout low at 35.97%. Meanwhile, lawmakers 17 Nov adopted 2022 Finance Law including direct handouts to eligible families in lieu of state subsidies for basic goods; measure aimed at alleviating state budget deficits in context of historically low oil and gas revenues could, if applied, fuel social tensions and riots.
Authorities continued to curtail space for civil society activism; tensions ran high between Algiers and Paris. Amid celebrations marking anniversary of Oct 1988 riots, authorities 5 Oct reportedly arrested 70 individuals in 11 provinces for allegedly defying ban on protests; some subsequently released. Series of court decisions sent chilling message to civil society activists throughout Oct. Notably, authorities 11 Oct upheld two-year prison sentence for “hate speech” and “inciting an unarmed gathering” against prominent leader of Hirak protest movement, Chems Eddine Laalami; 17 Oct sentenced Hirak figure Mohad Gasmi to five-year imprisonment on “terrorism” charges; and 18 Oct upheld two-year jail term for “contempt” against prominent civil society leader Amira Bouraoui. Administrative court of Algiers 13 Oct dissolved lead civil society group Rassemblement Actions Jeunesse (RAJ), over alleged violation of law on associations; RAJ leaders denied accusation, alleged association targeted because of its support for Hirak movement. Algiers court 12 Oct sentenced younger brother of late President Bouteflika, Saïd, to two years in prison for “obstructing the course of justice”; several former govt officials also sentenced to prison on various charges. Security services 13 Oct claimed to have foiled planned attacks by outlawed Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylie and arrested 17 people in relation to case in Kabylia region; also accused a country “in North Africa” and Israel of involvement in alleged plot amid persistent diplomatic tensions with Rabat over Western Sahara. Algerian media outlets mid-Oct accused Rabat of involvement in 13 Oct bomb blast that killed Algerian soldier in Tlemcen province near border with Morocco. President Tebboune 31 Oct ordered halt to gas exports to Spain via Morocco. Meanwhile, diplomatic row erupted between Algiers and Paris: Algiers 2 Oct recalled ambassador to France, citing “inadmissible interference in [Algeria’s] internal affairs” following French President Macron’s controversial statements notably on colonial past in Sept, and France next day said Algiers had closed its airspace to French military.
Authorities continued to restrict civil society and closed airspace to Moroccan planes in ongoing dispute with Rabat. Coalition of political par-ties and civil society organisations Democratic Alternative Forces Pact, born during 2019 Hirak protest movement, 1 Sept denounced govt’s “rising repression and authoritarian drift” and “war against public liberties”. Police next day blocked march in support of political prisoners, arrested several demonstrators in Kherrata town, Kabylia region (north). In ongoing crackdown on outlawed Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylie (MAK), authorities 6 Sept reportedly arrested 27 suspected MAK members in Kherrata and Beni Ourtilane towns, both Kabylia. Authorities also detained several journalists over their alleged links to MAK, including Hassan Bouras 6 Sept and Mohamed Mouloudj 12 Sept; later charged them with terrorism-related offences. Amid heightened tensions with Morocco since worsening of Western Sahara conflict in late 2020, Supreme Security Council 22 Sept closed country’s airspace to all Moroccan civil and military aircraft citing “provocations and hostile practices” by Rabat; senior diplomat Amar Belani 24 Sept said “adoption of additional measures cannot be ruled out”. Former President Bouteflika, who resigned in 2019 amid outcry over his plan to seek fifth term, 17 Sept died aged 84.
Political tensions ran high as deadly wildfires sparked violence in Kabylia and govt cut diplomatic relations with Morocco. Angry mob 11 Aug lynched man to death in Kabylia region’s Tizi Ouzou province, accusing him of sparking deadly wildfires which devastated region starting 9 Aug; victim, Djamel Bensmail, had reportedly travelled to help fight fires and assist in rescue operations; wildfires, deadliest in country’s history, had killed at least 90, including 57 civilians and 33 soldiers, by mid-Aug. Prosecutor 12 Aug ordered investigation into killing, and authorities in following days reportedly arrested around 90 people for suspected involvement. After video calling for Kabylia to be wiped off Algeria’s map circulated on social media, NGO Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights 17 Aug filed legal complaint for “incitement to hatred and violence”. President Tebboune’s office next day blamed wildfires on recently outlawed Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylie (MAK) and Islamist movement Rachad, said MAK receives support from neighbouring Morocco. Govt 24 Aug cut diplomatic ties with Morocco, citing “hostile actions”; relationship between Algiers and Rabat has long been strained, notably over Western Sahara conflict. UN, Arab League, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and others next day called for dialogue between Algiers and Rabat to avoid escalation. Algiers prosecutor 26 Aug issued international arrest warrant against MAK leader Ferhat Mehenni for movement’s alleged involvement in lynching of Bensmail. Meanwhile, court in Tamanrasset town (south) 12 Aug sentenced journalist Rabah Karèche to eight months in prison on charges of “publishing false information endangering national unity and state security”, after he reported on protest movement by ethnic Tuareg minority in Ahaggar area earlier this year. Tebboune 28 Aug set early municipal and provincial elections for 27 Nov.
President Tebboune formed new govt, space for civil society activism continued to be restricted, and tensions ran high with Morocco. Following legislative elections and appointment of new PM in June, Tebboune 7 July unveiled new govt, renewing half of outgoing ministers; return of Ramtane Lamamra, top diplomat under former President Bouteflika in 2013-2017, as FM could presage Algeria’s international re-engagement. Independent MP Brahim Boughali elected parliament’s new speaker 8 July. Security forces throughout month prevented most bi-weekly marches of Hirak protest movement in capital Algiers; marches however took place in Bejaia and Tizi-Ouzou cities, both Kabylia province. As part of traditional appeasement gestures around Independence Day and Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha, Tebboune 4 July pardoned 18 incarcerated Hirak activists and 14 July granted amnesty to another 101. NGO National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees 19 July still recorded 197 “prisoners of conscience” across country. Meanwhile, harassment of civil society continued; police 15 July briefly arrested journalist Zoheïr Aberkane as he was documenting release of pardoned activists in front of El Harrach prison (Algiers); next day detained Hirak activists Guettache Aness Elwoudjoud and Saïd Niya during unauthorised Hirak protest in Algiers, before releasing them 19 July. Tensions ran high between Algeria and Morocco over Western Sahara. In virtual Non-Aligned Movement meeting, FM Lamamra 14 July called on UN to accelerate appointment of UN envoy for Western Sahara; in response, Morocco’s Permanent Representative to UN Omar Hilale same day called for Algeria’s Amazigh-speaking Kabylia region “to fully enjoy their right to self-determination”, prompting Algiers 18 July to recall its ambassador to Morocco.
Legislative elections marred by repression and lowest voter turnout since country’s independence. Legislative elections called by President Tebboune with view to bolstering his legitimacy and extinguishing long-running Hirak protest movement held 12 June amid calls for boycott; voter turnout lowest since country’s independence at 23%. Constitutional Council 23 June announced final results, with ruling party National Liberation Front (FLN) winning 98 out of 407 seats in parliament’s lower house followed by independent candidates (84 seats), Islamist party Movement of Society for Peace (65 seats) and FLN’s traditional ally National Democratic Rally (58 seats). Violent incidents reported on election day in several localities of Kabylia province, including clashes between youth and police in Bejaïa and Bouïra cities. Tebboune 30 June named Finance Minister Ayman Benabderrahmane as new PM, asking him to form new govt. Ahead of vote, authorities continued to step up repression, notably preventing 4 and 11 June Hirak protests in capital Algiers. Hirak 4 June launched online campaign to call for liberation of political prisoners, and NGO National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees 21 June recorded 261 “prisoners of conscience” across country, up from around 200 late May and 66 mid-April. Presidential decree 10 June widened Penal Code’s definition of acts of terrorism to include any acts “undermining the integrity of the national territory”, opening new avenue for prosecution of Hirak activists. Authorities same day arrested prominent Hirak figure Karim Tabbou and journalists Ihsane El Kadi and Khaled Drareni, released them after 24 hours. Authorities 13 June cancelled France-based TV channel France 24’s accreditation citing “clear and repeated hostility toward our country and its institutions”. Govt 7 June scheduled local elections for Sept.
Authorities stepped up repression against Hirak protest movement ahead of 12 June legislative elections, quashing demonstrations and arresting scores. In joint statement, 300 public figures, civil society activists and NGOs 1 May said authorities had declared “war against the Algerian people”, citing recent wave of arrests of Hirak protesters demanding wholesale political change. Interior ministry 9 May said all protests would now be subject to administrative authorisation; Algerian Human Rights League’s President Noureddine Benissad 11 May said move aimed to “undermine all forms of peaceful expression”. Police 14 May arrested several journalists covering Hirak protest in capital Algiers, and for first time prevented leaders of opposition parties from joining march; dozens of detentions reported nationwide. NGO Amnesty International 17 May said 15 Hirak activists faced death penalty or lengthy prison sentences for alleged “participation in a terrorist organisation” and “conspiracy against the state”, and called on authorities to drop charges. High Security Council under supervision of President Tebboune 18 May added Rachad movement, which gathers former Islamic Salvation Front party officials, and Movement for the Self-determination of Kabylie (MAK) to list of domestic terrorist organisations; move came after defence ministry late April announced dismantling of cell allegedly planning terrorist attacks during Hirak marches and composed of MAK activists. Security forces 21 May suppressed Hirak protest in Algiers, and NGO National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees 31 May recorded around 200 “prisoners of conscience” across country, up from 66 mid-April. Meanwhile, labour strikes and social movements continued. Notably, education sector 9 May went on three-day strike to protest plummeting purchasing power.
Authorities continued to respond to resurgence of Hirak protest movement with combination of repression and co-optation. Thousands took to streets throughout month in capital Algiers and other cities to reject early legislative elections scheduled for June and demand release of imprisoned Hirak activists. Police 3 April arrested over 20 demonstrators during Hirak protest in Algiers; several rights organisations including Amnesty International next day alleged 15-year-old subjected to sexual violence while in custody and called for investigation. Meanwhile, President Tebboune 6 April accused “separatist circles and illegal movements close to terrorism” of committing “subversive activities” to manipulate Hirak movement. Tebboune 8 April held new round of consultations with civil society representatives, 12 April created new consultative body National Observatory of Civil Society in alleged attempt to “promote civil society”. Authorities 18 April detained journalist Rabah Kareche in southern city of Tamanrasset, next day charged him with spreading “false news harmful to the public order” and “undermining national security and unity”; move comes after Kareche published articles on land-use protests by members of Tuareg community. Court in Oran city 21 April sentenced Noureddine Tounsi to one year in prison for allegedly “insulting the president of the Republic”, after he reported on alleged corruption in state-owned company. Authorities 28 April detained opposition activist Karim Tabbou on charges of “slander”, released him on probation next day. NGO National Committee for Liberation of Detainees 20 April recorded 66 “prisoners of conscience” across country and called for their release. Series of strikes from public health care, postal and education employees held throughout month amid deteriorating economic and social situation. Notably, demonstrations 6 April erupted in Bouira town after publication of social housing beneficiaries’ list; protesters 8-9 April set up roadblocks and police fired tear gas, with several injured on both sides.
Pro-democracy Hirak movement continued to gain momentum as it restarted protests after months of online activism. After Hirak late Feb resumed Friday protests despite COVID-19-related ban on gatherings, thousands 5, 12, 19 and 26 March took to streets in capital Algiers and other cities against political and military elites, early elections and repression; several journalists assaulted while covering protest in Algiers 12 March, reportedly by group of individuals operating on behalf of security forces. President Tebboune 11 March scheduled early legislative elections for 12 June. Students also resumed Tuesday marches in Algiers to demand “free and democratic Algeria” and an end to military’s domination. Authorities responded to resurgence of protest movement with combination of repression and co-optation. UN human rights office 5 March expressed concern over “increasing crackdown” on Hirak activists and “deteriorating human rights situation” in country; also alleged hundreds have been detained since street protests resumed in Feb. Tebboune 4 March called on Hirak activists to participate in elected institutions and throughout month continued consultations with political parties and Hirak militants favourable to building consensus with authorities. In alleged attempt to take wind out of Hirak, Tebboune’s adviser in charge of relations with civil society and diaspora 6 March announced creation of “National Initiative” (Nidaa al Watan), gathering a hundred associations and trade unions, to “create a force of proposal to promote reforms”. Authorities also played up political and identity divisions within protest movement, notably by agitating spectre of Islamist violence. Court in Algiers 21 Marchissued international arrest warrants against four activists close to Hirak on terrorism charges, notably accusing former diplomat Mohamed Larbi Zitout – prominent leader of outlawed Rachad movement gathering former Islamic Salvation Front’s officials – of seeking to turn Hirak into violent movement. Authorities 30 March announced arrest of five people on suspicion of planning “terrorist” acts against Hirak protests in north. Amid growing tensions with Morocco over Western Sahara, authorities mid-March reportedly ordered Moroccan farmers to leave El Arja border area in south by 18 March.
Protesters took to streets on two-year anniversary of pro-democracy Hirak movement, and President Tebboune announced early legislative elections. Despite COVID-19 ban on protests, around 5,000 people 16 Feb demonstrated in Kheratta town, Bejaia province, site of first protest against former President Bouteflika in 2019; thousands 22 Feb took to streets in capital Algiers and other cities to mark two-year anniversary of first Hirak nationwide protest; in apparent resumption of nationwide Friday protests, thousands 26 Feb gathered across country, security forces fired tear gas to disperse protesters in Algiers. In address to nation, Tebboune – who 12 Feb returned home from Germany after month-long medical treatment of COVID-19 complication – 18 Feb announced dissolution of lower house of parliament and early legislative elections within six months; also said he was offering pardon to around 55 jailed Hirak movement activists. Tebboune 21 Feb partially reshuffled govt, keeping key figures – including PM Abdelaziz Djerad and Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati, symbol of judicial repression against opposition and Hirak activists – in place. Earlier in month, govt 13 Feb accused Bouteflika-era officials of banking on resumption of protests to regain influence. State-owned media 17 Feb broadcast confession of jihadist known as Abu Dahdah who claimed he used social media in collaboration with Hirak activists to encourage protests. Meanwhile, student and Hirak activist Walid Nekiche 1 Feb claimed during his trial that security forces physically and sexually abused him when he was in detention following his Nov 2019 arrest; public prosecutor 7 Feb ordered preliminary investigation into Nekiche’s claims. Local NGOs National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees, National Coordination of Algerian Academics for Change and Collective of Lawyers for the Defence of Prisoners of Conscience 13 Feb launched joint committee to combat abuse of prisoners. Court 18 Feb sentenced to death main suspect in 2014 kidnapping and beheading of French citizen Hervé Gourdel; Islamic State affiliate had claimed responsibility for killing.
Authorities continued to use legal means to stifle peaceful activism, and army held large-scale military exercise at border with Morocco. Crackdown on pro-democracy Hirak protest movement activists continued. Court 4 Jan sentenced 25-year-old activist Walid Kechida to three years in prison for “offending president and precepts of Islam”; Kechida 31 Jan released after jail term reduced to one year in appeal trial same day. Court 18 Jan handed eighteen-month sentence to 45-year-old activist Dalila Touat, close to Hirak, on charges of “insulting a state body, slander, and circulating publications affecting public order”. Meanwhile, Algiers courts sentenced several Bouteflika-era officials to prison on corruption charges. Notably, Algiers court 4 Jan handed former PM Ahmed Ouyahia, who has been imprisoned since June 2019 for other offenses, additional seven-year jail term; and Court of Cassation 28 Jan confirmed Ouyahia and other former PM Abdelmalek Sellal’s 15- and 12-year prison sentences, first handed in 2019. Military appeals court in Blida city 2 Jan acquitted former military intelligence chief Gen Mohamed “Toufik” Mediène, former President Bouteflika’s brother and adviser Saïd, and two others; all four had been sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2019 for plotting to “damage state’s and army’s authority”. President Tebboune 1 Jan signed into law new constitution, approved by referendum in Nov 2020, paving way for revision of electoral law and early legislative elections. Tebboune 10 Jan returned to Germany for medical treatment of foot complication after COVID-19 infection previously kept him abroad for two months in late 2020. In Tipaza region, west of Algiers, army early Jan reportedly killed at least six suspected al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb combatants. In Tebessa region in east, roadside bomb 14 Jan killed five civilians. Amid simmering tensions between Morocco and Polisario Front independence movement in Western Sahara, army 17-18 Jan held large-scale military exercise in Tindouf area near border with Morocco and Western Sahara territory, in apparent warning to Rabat not to pursue Polisario combatants into Algerian territory (see Morocco, Western Sahara).
President Tebboune returned to Algeria, and authorities condemned Morocco’s normalisation agreement with Israel in exchange for U.S. recognition of its sovereignty over Western Sahara. Tebboune 13 Dec announced that he would direct revision of electoral law, confirming his intention to speed up promulgation of new constitution and organise early legislative and local elections; video published online was his first public appearance since he left for Germany late Oct to receive COVID-19 treatment. Several opposition parties, including those close to pro-democracy Hirak protest movement, declared anew their opposition to current govt and any election. Tebboune 29 Dec returned to Algeria and same day briefly appeared on television. After U.S. 10 Dec recognised Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara and announced normalisation of diplomatic relations between Morocco and Israel, PM Abdelaziz Djerad 12 Dec condemned “foreign manoeuvres which aim to destabilise Algeria” and complained of “a desire to bring the Israeli and Zionist entity to our borders”, while FM same day said U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over disputed territory undermined efforts to end decades-long conflict. Meanwhile, army increasingly resorted to warlike tone. In army’s monthly magazine El Djeich, military leadership 7 Dec called on Algerians to get ready to face national security threats. In El Ancer area, north-eastern Jijel province, army 1 Dec reportedly killed three al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) combatants, including a regional commander and a member of AQIM’s consultative council; more clashes next day reportedly killed soldier; army 16 Dec alleged capturing another AQIM figure. Army 28 Dec said it had retrieved “slice of the ransom” cash – nearly $100,000 – allegedly paid out in Oct to free hostages held by jihadist groups in neighbouring Mali, during recent operation in Jijel province.
Record low voter turnout in constitutional referendum highlighted widespread scepticism over President Tebboune’s commitment to democratic reforms. In 1 Nov referendum, 66.8% of voters approved constitutional amendments, which set two-term limit for president and MPs, make it easier to create political parties, hand over some presidential powers to PM and enhance powers of parliament and judiciary; pro-democracy Hirak movement however boycotted vote, decrying revised constitution as superficial change, while turnout was lowest since 1962 independence at 23.7%. Demonstrators opposing referendum 1 Nov destroyed ballot boxes and clashed with police notably in Bejaia city, Kabylia province. Meanwhile, Army Chief of Staff Saïd Chengriha became more visible as Tebboune remained hospitalised in Germany after he was infected with COVID-19 in late Oct; number of Chengriha’s TV appearances dramatically increased throughout month. Appeals court in Kenchela city 25 Nov reduced Hirak activist and figure of Amazigh community Yacine Mebarki’s prison sentence on charges of “inciting atheism” and “offending the precepts of Islam” from ten years to one. Amid deteriorating socio-economic situation, Energy Minister Abdelmajid Attar, who holds Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ rotating presidency, 11 Nov said producer group and allies may consider deepening oil production cuts in 2021 to shore up market; Attar late Oct said state-owned oil and gas company Sonatrach had suffered $10bn losses between Jan and Sept due to COVID-19 pandemic, and gas exports decreased by 41% during same period. Govt 8 Nov added new restrictions to limit spread of COVID-19, notably forbidding public transportation between provinces; night curfew remained in place in 29 out of 48 provinces.
Amid persistent repression of dissent, civil society renewed calls for political change. On anniversary of 1988 pro-democracy riots, hundreds 5 Oct took to streets in capital Algiers despite COVID-19 ban on protests; demonstrators called for release of members of Hirak anti-govt protest movement, denounced army’s extensive role in country’s politics and demanded genuine democracy; police reportedly arrested over 20. Small-scale demonstrations took place same day in other cities and towns. Repression of civil society and opposition continued. Court in Khenchela city (east) 8 Oct sentenced Hirak activist and figure of Amazigh community Yacine Mebarki to ten years in prison for “inciting atheism” and “offending the precepts of Islam”; sentence is longest ever given to Hirak activist. Constitutional referendum set for 1 Nov continued to spark tensions. Main opposition parties and Hirak activists continued to reject draft constitution, saying it fails to ensure separation of powers and end concentration of powers in president’s hands, and called for boycott of referendum. Campaigning kicked off 7 Oct, with all parties and individuals calling for boycott banned access to public media. Islamist parties and religious bodies late Sept-early Oct stepped up campaign against additional protections provided to Tamazight language in draft constitution in alleged attempt to gain popularity among non-Amazigh and conservative voters. Notably, Association of Algerian Ulemas 6 Oct said “certain articles of the proposed constitution are time bombs threatening national identity and the place of Islam”. Economic situation continued to deteriorate amid COVID-19 pandemic. Credit insurance company Euler Hermès mid-Oct projected GDP would contract by 6.7% in 2020 and budget deficit would reach 18% of GDP by end of year. President Tebboune was admitted into “specialized care unit” in Algiers military hospital 27 Oct and transferred to Germany next day, after he went into self-isolation 24 Oct due to COVID-19 cases among his close collaborators.
Series of court cases marked restricted space for media and civil society. Appeal court 15 Sept sentenced journalist Khaled Drareni to two years in prison, reducing his original three-year sentence, on charges of “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “undermining the integrity of the national territory”. NGO Reporters without Borders immediately condemned “unfair and violent repression”. Court of Ténès 17 Sept sentenced Hirak figure and former policeman Toufik Hassani to two years in prison on charges of “threatening police agents” and “divulging professional secrets on Facebook”. Govt 21 Sept banned French TV M6 from operating in Algeria after it broadcast documentary on Hirak protest movement. Court in Akbou 27 Sept sentenced former opposition politician Khaled Tazaghart to one year in prison on charges of “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “disrupting public order”; thousands 29 Sept reportedly took to streets in neighbouring Tazmalt town, Bejaia province, to call for his release. Court in Bordj Bou Arreridj 27 Sept sentenced Hirak figure Brahim Laalami to three years in prison on unclear charges; Laalami was arrested 9 Sept after he was released from prison 30 Aug. Dozens of lawyers 27 Sept held sit-in in capital Algiers to demand independent judiciary and right to counsel. Bar association 30 Sept started nationwide two-day strike to demand “respect for the right to a defence”. Amid major economic downturn, President Tebboune 20 Sept said oil rent was over.
Harassment of journalists and civil society activists continued, while authorities announced referendum on new constitution. Court in capital Algiers 10 Aug sentenced journalist Khaled Drareni to three years in prison on charges of “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “undermining the integrity of the national territory”. Court in Constantine city 24 Aug sentenced journalist Abdelkrim Zeghileche to two years in prison on charges of “endangering national unity” and “insulting the head of state”. NGOs Reporters Without Borders 26 Aug said Algeria “must stop violating press freedom” and Amnesty International next day called on authorities to “immediately end escalating campaign of media harassment”. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, authorities 15 Aug reopened some mosques and most public places, but land, air and sea borders remained closed; 31 Aug relaxed movement restrictions with only 18 provinces still under curfew. During 18-20 Aug National Conference on the Economic and Social Recovery Plan, President Tebboune unveiled plan to revive economy and reduce dependence on oil and gas as source of foreign currencies by end of 2021; also ruled out turning to International Monetary Fund for support despite major economic downturn amid COVID-19 pandemic. Presidency 24 Aug set 1 Nov as date for referendum on new constitution that would give parliament and PM more powers.
Despite presidential amnesty granting release to several anti-govt protest movement (Hirak) supporters, courts continued to impose jail sentences on activists. Ahead of Independence Day 5 July, President Tebboune 1 July granted amnesty to several imprisoned Hirak activists and 4 July issued decree pardoning or reducing sentences of about 4,700 prisoners. Algiers court 2 July provisionally released high-profile Hirak figures Karim Tabbou, Amira Bouraoui, Samir Benlarbi and Slimane Hamitouche. Appeals court in Mascara city 14 July reduced journalist Ali Djamel Toubal’s prison sentence from two years to 15 months; Toubal was sentenced in June on charges of insulting state institutions and distributing publications harmful to national unity. In latter part of month, courts imposed jail sentences on several activists accused of having criticised govt and other officials. Court in Timimoun city 22 July handed Hirak activists Ahmed Sidi Moussa and Yasser Kadiri six-month prison sentence, including three-month suspended sentence, for “attacking the person of the president”, “attacking the integrity of the national territory” and “publishing leaflets likely to harm the national interest”. Bordj Bou Arreridj court 23 July sentenced Hirak activist Brahim Laami to 18 months’ imprisonment on charges of “insulting a regular body and employees”. Tizi Ouzou court 28 July sentenced Hirak activists Zakaria Belkacemi and Mohamed Hamali to one-year imprisonment for “contempt of a regular body” and “social media posts undermining national unity” and “attacking the person of the President”. Amid rising number of COVID-19 cases, authorities upheld movement restrictions throughout country. Notably, local authorities in Setif and Ouargla provinces 9-10 July reinforced partial lockdown measures. Govt 26 July also announced two-week extension of lockdown in 29 provinces.
Anti-govt protests erupted throughout month as govt eased COVID-19 restrictions on movement, while crackdown on journalists and civil society activists continued unabated. Hundreds 11 June protested in village of Tigzirt in north following 8 June arrest of civil society activist Amrani Mohamed Arezki on charges of undermining national interests. In Ouargla city in south, protesters 14 June denounced economic marginalisation and unregulated gold mining by state-owned companies. Clashes between local youths and security forces next day killed man in Tin Zaouatine village in south near border with Mali; violence erupted following construction of wall to prevent smugglers from crossing border. Govt 14 June eased partial lockdown for 29 provinces, including Algiers, and lifted all COVID-19 lockdown measures elsewhere, prompting anti-govt protest movement (hirak) to consider restarting weekly protests 19 June; influential lawyer Mustapha Bouchachi and human rights organisation Rassemblement Action Jeunesse 17-18 June urged activists to wait, citing persistent risk of COVID-19 contagion; several demonstrations however took place in various regions 19 June, gathering hundreds, with protesters reportedly clashing with police in city of Bejaia in north. Court in city of Mascara 17 June sentenced journalist Ali Djamel Toubal to two years in prison on charges of insulting state institutions and distributing publications harmful to national unity. Algiers court 21 June sentenced figure of protest movement Amira Bouraoui to one-year imprisonment on charges of insulting Islam and President Tebboune, and incitement to violate COVID-19 lockdown. Algiers court 24 June sentenced several former ministers under former President Bouteflika for corruption; notably, former PM Ahmed Ouyahia received 12-year sentence and former Industry Minister Abdeslam Bouchouareb received 20 years. Military 21 June said soldier was killed previous day in military operation against jihadists in Ain Defla province, south west of capital Algiers. Homemade explosives 27 June reportedly killed two soldiers in Medea province south of Algiers.
Crackdown on civil society and activists continued, while govt announced major budget cuts amid falling oil prices. Police continued to arrest protest supporters for social media posts on charges including “attack on the integrity of the national territory” and “inciting illegal demonstrations”, which carry prison sentences of up to eighteen months. Notably, Algiers court 20 May sentenced activist to one year imprisonment for Facebook post; El Bayadh court 20 May sentenced two activists to eighteen months imprisonment for Facebook posts; Chlef court 20 May sentenced twelve activists to prison terms ranging from six to eighteen months imprisonment; Ain Temouchent court 27 May sentenced activist to six months imprisonment. Algiers court 17 May released Abdelwahab Fersaoui, leader of youth group involved in Hirak movement, arrested during demonstration in Oct 2019 and sentenced in April to one year imprisonment. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, President Tebboune 3 May announced plan to halve budget expenditures due to falling oil prices. Presidency 7 May published proposed revisions to constitution; activists welcomed amendment to relax regulations governing associations but voiced concern that amendment to enshrine armed forces’ participation in foreign peacekeeping operations could increase military’s influence over domestic affairs.
Amid fears of COVID-19 spread, authorities took steps potentially restricting rights and space of opposition movement, including through law criminalising dissemination of false information. Following halt to opposition protests due to COVID-19 fears, judiciary 9 April blocked online media websites Maghreb Emergent and Radio M that cover anti-govt protest movement; authorities 19 April blocked Interlignes website. Council of ministers 19 April adopted new law criminalising dissemination of false information; lower and upper houses of parliament 22-23 April ratified new law, fuelling fears that imprecise wording in law could be used to target peaceful critics. Meanwhile, military intelligence Central Directorate of Army Security (DCSA) 13 April arrested General Wassini Bouazza, head of civil intelligence Central Directorate of Internal Security (DCSI, formerly DRS), on charges of “high treason, illicit enrichment and influence peddling”. Media 17 April reported DCSA also arrested central communications manager General Abdelkader Lachkhem and former DCSA director General Othmane “Kamel” Belmiloud; Defence Ministry 18 April however denied arrests. Presidency 18 April extended all COVID-19 lockdown measures until 14 May.
COVID-19 crisis put halt to one-year-old protest movement. Govt 17 March imposed bans on rallies and gatherings to slow spread of coronavirus. Protest movement’s leaders called for “pause” for public health reasons and no-one took to streets Friday 20 March for first time since protest movement began Feb 2019. Student leaders 16 March announced pause of weekly demonstrations on Tuesdays. Algiers appeals court 24 March sentenced Karim Tabbou, leading figure of opposition group Democratic and Social Union, to one year in prison sentence and fined him 50,000 Algerian dinars on charges of “incitement to violence” and “harming national security” through videos on social media. Algiers appeals court 25 March upheld fifteen-year and twelve-year sentences for former PMs Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal respectively, for corruption charges linked to car assembly industry and illegal financing of former President Bouteflika’s election campaign.
Protesters repeated calls for President Tebboune and PM Djerad to make good on promised democratic reforms. Tebboune 5 Feb pardoned some 6,000 prisoners with minor sentences. Algiers court 28 Feb acquitted Tebboune’s son, Khaled Tebboune, of corruption charges, while main suspect Kamel Chikhi was sentenced to eight years. Senate 18 Feb adopted govt action plan that reflects protesters’ demands to enhance democratic norms, transparency in public life, rule of law and separation of powers. Tebboune 19 Feb told media that govt would discuss new constitution with political actors and civil society before holding referendum mid-2020. Protesters 21 Feb marked one-year anniversary of peaceful protests. PM Djerad 14 Feb hinted Algeria will finance govt action plan with loans from African Development Bank and Arab investment funds. Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated suicide bomber 11 Feb detonated explosives at military base in Bordj Badji Mokhtar on Mali border, killing one soldier.
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.
Former PM Abdelmadjid Tebboune won presidential election 12 Dec with 58% of votes as protests against regime continued. Electoral commission said turnout was 39.9% but independent observers put it at 15%. In first speech after elections, Tebboune 13 Dec offered dialogue with protest movement against ruling elite. Tebboune sworn in 19 Dec. Demonstrations continued before and after elections. Thousands protested against poll in capital Algiers 11 Dec. Security forces cracked down on protests in second largest city Oran 11-13 Dec, reportedly arresting 450. Thousands of students and teachers demonstrated in Algiers 17 Dec against new president, rejecting his offer of dialogue. Army chief of staff Gaïd Salah died of heart attack in Algiers 23 Dec aged 79. Tebboune 28 Dec named former diplomat Abdelaziz Djerad as new PM. Thousands protested 27 Dec in Algiers and students gathered 24 Dec despite day of mourning for Salah. Court in Algiers 10 Dec convicted former PMs Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal to fifteen and twelve years in prison respectively for corruption.
Protesters intensified calls on govt to cancel presidential election planned for 12 Dec, and security forces hardened crackdown. Protests against ruling elite and planned poll continued in capital Algiers twice a week. Number of protesters rose markedly 1 Nov, marking 65th anniversary of beginning of independence war against France; hundreds of thousands gathered in Algiers from across country calling for “new independence” and removal of army chief of staff Gaïd Salah. Hundreds marched in Algiers night of 20-21 Nov against election; security forces arrested dozens and magistrate 21 Nov charged 29 people for holding unauthorised gathering. Security forces 29 Nov arrested at least 25 in Algiers shortly before new demonstration against presidential election. Campaign started officially 17 Nov; protesters heckled several gatherings. In Tlemcen in north, security forces 17 Nov arrested 37 people trying to disrupt rally organised by presidential candidate and former PM Ali Benflis; court next day sentenced four to eighteen months in prison. In Tiaret in west, security forces 21 Nov arrested 25 people disrupting another of Benflis’s rallies. As political instability continued to harm economy, parliament 14 Nov passed bill intended to facilitate foreign investment in oil sector despite protests against it in Oct.