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.
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.
Interim govt and security forces responded to weekly nationwide protests demanding regime change with repression and some concessions; in July country could enter constitutional void when interim president’s term ends possibly triggering more intense protests and repression. Hundreds of thousands continued to protest in major cities each Friday demanding dismantling of regime; authorities tried to discourage protests with intimidation including arrests of journalists, civil society and political opposition members. Authorities 30 June arrested independence war veteran and founder of opposition party Front for Socialist Forces (FFS) Lakhdar Bouregaa for comments made against military, prompting outcry among opposition. Constitutional Council 2 June cancelled 4 July presidential elections on grounds they were “impossible to organise” in time, setting no new date and paving way for possible constitutional void when interim President Ben Salah’s mandate ends early July. Military 7 June reiterated calls for presidential elections as soon as possible, but accepted need to have inclusive dialogue ahead of vote. Army Chief of Staff Gaid Salah 18 June accused opposition parties of being “enemies of Algeria” and favouring constitutional void. In capital Algiers, 400 leading opposition figures and 70 civil society organisations 15 June proposed roadmap for political transition, including creation of presidential committee and independent electoral commission and national dialogue; seven opposition parties 18 June formalised alliance to work toward democratic transition. Govt intensified anti-corruption purge: authorities 10 June arrested businessmen Tahkout brothers on corruption charges; 12 and 13 June jailed former PMs Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal for embezzlement of public funds and abuse of power; justice ministry 18 June requested waiver of twenty MPs’ parliamentary immunity.
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.
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