City of Oran in northern Algeria
© Wiki Commons
City of Oran in northern Algeria
Last updated: April 30, 2014
Can Algeria get rid of its shadow from the past?

“Scars heal with time; Algeria's will be no different.”

Banner Icon Although Algerians currently seem resistant to challenge the status quo, time will heal the country’s scars and large-scale opposition against the ruling elite may very well arise, argues Abul-Hasanat Siddique.

Having held office since 1999, Abdelaziz Bouteflika has won a fourth presidential election in Algeria, obtaining 81% of the vote. However, 77-years-old and with recent health problems following a stroke, the question is whether the Algerian president will even finish his term in office.

Amid a backdrop of opposition from Barakat — a newly formed movement whose name means "enough" in Algerian Arabic, in reference to the president — why will Bouteflika simply not let go?

After entering office unopposed following a decade-long civil war that left hundreds of thousands dead in the 1990s, Bouteflika is held high by supporters for his efforts in generating stability and reconciliation following the conflict.

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For his critics, however, the president is a puppet – the face of a political-military-intelligence establishment that has ruled Algeria since its independence. By acting as the puppeteer, Le Pouvoir, a combination of corrupt politicians, military generals and intelligence officials who run the show in Algeria, are able to safeguard their own interests. As Nils Naumann states: "Bouteflika's reelection has been staged by a corrupt political elite that wants to protect its power and privileges."

"Bouteflika's reelection has been staged by a corrupt political elite"

Meanwhile, with an economy that has suffered like those in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Algeria in the Bouteflika-era has seen rising unemployment and poverty, despite the country's resource wealth in oil and natural gas. In fact, 10% of Algeria's youth is unemployed, while 23% of the entire population is below the poverty line. For some, it is puzzling as to why Algerians did not join the wave of protestors in their droves as uprisings rocked the region in 2010-11.   

Algerians, however, have understandable reservations when it comes to political dissent. As stated in The Arab Uprisings: An Introduction, it is not that Algerians are content with Le Pouvoir or Bouteflika. Rather, having experienced a bloody conflict with France and a civil war in recent history, Algerians are simply reluctant to call for change. At present, the Algerian public at large does not see a viable alternative to the ruling elite.

In this view, there will either be a new puppet president put in place under the watchful eye of the military establishment or a power struggle will ensue with an Islamist government — the latter of which draws fears of a return to the instability of the 1990s or a situation similar to the one in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Indeed, after seeing what uprisings brought to Egypt, Libya and beyond, and with their own experience of open elections in 1991, Algerians do not want political unrest to affect their country and daily lives.

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With that said, most of Algeria's 36 million-strong population is below the age of 30 — 27% are under 15 years old, while only 6.9% are above 60. And with unemployment problems in a country that economically depends on its oil and natural gas, where output is faltering, a restive population is a real possibility.

Like other countries in the region, Algeria's domestic investments are largely concentrated in its oil and natural gas sector, with other markets often being neglected. Ihsane al-Kadi of Maghreb Emergent states: "Private sector investment is still weak in Algeria. There are bureaucratic hurdles because the regime fears it would turn into an effective force and ultimately achieve political clout."

While the latter is probably true, without effective investment — both foreign and domestic — and with a youth bulge that will not cease any time soon, Algerians will struggle to find a suitable job.

Even though Bouteflika boosted civil servants' salaries in 2011, such measures will not satisfy all walks of Algerian society, especially the youth. Most importantly, Algeria's next generation will not necessarily look for public sector jobs, nor will they all be qualified to hold such positions since the education system is in dire need of reform. The age-old military model of governance in Algeria is unsustainable.

For as Barakat has shown, opposition can be mobilized in Algeria. While the movement's numbers are still relatively small, its demonstrations give a glimpse at what could be future large-scale opposition to Bouteflika's predetermined successor and Le Pouvoir. After all, like a ticking time-bomb, Egypt's April 6 Movement was created in 2008 following industrial workers' strikes in Mahalla, but only managed to gather mass support three years later to topple the unshakeable dictator, Hosni Mubarak.

Similarly, Algeria is seeing a rise in demonstrations, with the potential of frequent strikes by trade unions that could cripple the country and bring it to a standstill.

Scars heal with time; Algeria's will be no different.

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