In addition to a looming succession crisis, Algeria faces multiple political, economic and social challenges. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has ruled the country without contest since 1999 but has been gravely ill since a stroke in 2014. With no clear heir, his succession could be troubled and worsen Algeria’s ability to tackle mounting economic challenges as oil income dwindles. This would deprive the wider region – particularly the Sahel – of an important stabilising presence. Through fieldwork in Algeria and engagement with senior officials, Crisis Group works to increase the likelihood of peaceful political transition and enhance Algeria’s contribution to stability and conflict resolution in a troubled neighbourhood.
Les retombées économiques et sociales de la crise de Covid-19 et les mesures de confinement risquent de multiplier les défis auxquels l’Algérie est confrontée. Les autorités devraient desserrer leur étau sur la contestation populaire et établir un dialogue économique avec le hirak.
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.
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.
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.
[...] here we have three crises -- economic, political and the virus -- potentially converging at a time when the population is still highly mobilized and trust in the [Algerian] state is low.
The [Algerian] protest movement could be made more determined in the future due to the economic and social consequences of the [COVID-19] restrictions, as well as the repression.
[The fall in oil prices] may not be so bad, if it is only for a month or two, but if it is for longer, [Algeria] will have to speed up its adoption of austerity measures.
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