Algeria’s Recipe For Revolution – OpEd

The Bouteflika Regime’s refusal to address the suffering if the Algerian people will ultimately result in the downfall of North Africa’s last dictatorship.

By Daniel Nisman

It began as an all too common story in today’s North Africa. Last week, Algerian policemen harassed an elderly citizen on a public bus in the town of Laghouat, sparking mass riots that let to dozens of arrests and injuries in the southern city of nearly 500,000 people. The Laghouat riots took place nearly two weeks after Tunisia celebrated the anniversary of its revolution, which broke out in a strikingly similar fashion. Like in Laghouat, the riots in the rural town of Sidi Bouzid were sparked by misconduct from a government official, and fueled by the increasingly dire economic situation. While the Laghouat riots failed to spark nationwide unrest, they are part of a growing trend of dissent in the country signaling that the luck of North Africa’s last dictatorship may be running out.

As the only non-monarchic regime in the region to survive the “Arab Spring” unscathed, stability in Algeria has been somewhat of a phenomenon. Like Egypt and Tunisia, the country has long been ruled by a military backed dictatorship, whose people have become increasingly impoverished under its blatantly corrupt practices. Analysts in the West commonly attribute this phenomenon to the country’s bloody civil war, which still haunts much of the population since it subsided in the late 1990’s. That conflict, which claimed the lives of an estimated 200,000 Algerians, erupted after Islamist parties swept parliamentary elections in 1991, forcing a military backed coup which installed the current regime.

When sporadic protests began to sprout up across the country in January 2011 along with the rest of the region, it was initially believed that like Tunisia, Algeria would also succumb to the will of its long-mistreated population. Indeed, fears of civil war combined with promises for reform by the Bouteflika regime were successful in stagnating a potential revolution. Nearly one year later, this period of political calm was shattered when the Islamist Movement for Society and Peace (MSP), a moderate Islamist party, pulled out from the ruling coalition, demanding constitutional reforms before upcoming elections in April 2012.

The emboldening of the MSP has coincided with the rise to power of ideologically similar parties in Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt, while other, even more extremist parties have begun to make their voices heard as well. The country’s Prime Minister (considered a puppet of the regime) has since rejected demands to step down before parliamentary elections, while the Bouteflika regime remains adamant in its belief that MSP wields little influence over Algerian society.

In addition to renouncing opposition claims of corruption, the regime seems largely disconnected with the dire living conditions facing many of its citizens. As Algeria’s cold winter sets in, a gas shortage has left nearly 14 million people without fuel for heating, while a petrol deficit has resulted in gas station strikes across the country. Meanwhile, an ongoing drug shortage has left many Algerians without access to even basic medicines.

Across the country, dissatisfaction with the government is further highlighted by protests and strikes in nearly every public sector. Teachers, municipal workers, and labor unions have embarked on multiple campaigns to pressure the government for better wages and working conditions, mostly to no avail.

Where the government’s disconnection from the people proves most dangerous however, is its ignorance over the plight of the current generation of young adults. The generation of Algerians which endured the civil war as children, now finds itself struggling to make a living amidst rampant unemployment, while many lack proper education.

As such, the ground is becoming increasingly fertile for an “Algerian Spring”. Opposition parties seem poised to utilize the April 2012 parliamentary elections to highlight the corrupt nature of Algeria’s single-party system. Unbeknownst to the government, conditions for a mass protest on the heels of a corrupt election process are already in place. Should opposition parties such as the MSP form a united front with Algeria’s many labor unions in a national movement, it may very well force the Bouteflika regime from power, quite similar to the revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt.

Given the instability caused by previous revolutions in North Africa, it would be wise for both the Bouteflika regime and its allies in the West to identify this growing tension before it’s too late. While often overlooked, Algeria wields great importance as the Arab world’s second most populous country, as well as a major supplier of natural resources in Europe. Moreover, the current regime has taken a lead role in suppressing the spread of Islamic militancy, even after the destabilization of neighboring Libya. Preventing tensions in Algeria from boiling over require the attention and guidance of not only the West, but also recently reformed regional neighbors. While the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt caught the world by surprise, there will be no excuses for allowing Algeria to slide into chaos.

Daniel Nisman works for Max Security Solutions, a risk consulting company based in the Middle East.

7 thoughts on “Algeria’s Recipe For Revolution – OpEd

  • January 18, 2012 at 9:35 pm
    Permalink

    You talk about things you know nothing!

    Algeria is not a dictatorship, Bouteflika is a president elected by his people and your comparisons with neighboring countries are risky!
    Algerians were the first to rise against the single party and for more democracy, it was in October 1988, they did not wait for their neighbors to demand their rights!
    Algerians protest and will protest whenever they deem it necessary, they do not need often erroneous analysis of foreign journalists to do what they want to do!

    Reply
  • January 19, 2012 at 1:10 am
    Permalink

    you can also say that the background of the president is that he was the top diplomat
    while the president of Tunisia and Egypt both came from the security services and the military respectively

    Reply
  • January 19, 2012 at 8:01 am
    Permalink

    Great article.I believe it is only a matter of time before the Algerians fight for the rights they deserve.
    Mhamed, yes there were “democratic” elections in Algeria, but they were not democratic in any way my brother. It is a dictatorship defacto, let’s admit that.
    I wish the best for Algerians, and this piece give a candid evaluation of the situation.

    Reply
  • January 19, 2012 at 11:17 am
    Permalink

    Dear Sir,

    Your analysis lack a deep and serious research. Algerians were first to rise, some 20 years ago and this has resulted in having an elected president and more importantly a free press. I am not saying Algerian democracy is in the same norms as europ’s, however, we are on the right track and it will take time.

    Reply
  • January 19, 2012 at 6:03 pm
    Permalink

    true europe is democratic but look at most of their countries most of them are heavily in debt and broke.
    The answer is good governess
    algeria is doing average but we can do better
    If you have any good candidate/politician in mind you can contact me
    for those who are looking for armchair revolutions should look at their governments first
    After the global meltdown every country needs a change

    Reply
  • January 19, 2012 at 8:41 pm
    Permalink

    I repect the writer’s opinion, but I have to admit, he is far from Algerian reality. First, Algerian would disagree with you when you classify Algeria amon the north African dictatorship. Algeria has a vibrant free press, free speach is a reality. multi parties elections, its a tolerant society unlike most of the Arab countries.

    I think, the writer is disapointed because the Algerian people did not revolt against the regime!. Algerians will bring the change through elections and democratic process not through violence and KOs.
    Obviousely the writer know nothing about Algeria.

    Reply
  • January 24, 2012 at 11:40 pm
    Permalink

    Thanks for this great article.
    As for the comments about Algeria having free press and elections, I think the only person that would say that is someone working for the regime.
    Being able to say things, but not change anything is not a free press, it is like having a dog on a leach, you can only bark.
    Algeria is governed by criminal generals who killed more than 200,000 lives just to stay in power.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CLOSE
CLOSE