ALGERIA: NEXT TO RECEIVE LIBYA TREATMENT?

There has been a lot of buzz as of late regarding the fate of Algeria, with many analysts suggesting that the country may be the next in line to receive the “Libya treatment”. The reasons for this are numerous, but mostly revolve around the general discontent that has been brewing among the nation’s citizens who disapprove of the corruption of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a regime that has been in power since 1999.

More recently in September 2011, the country seemed to be on the verge of a revolution, as cities across the country became inundated with protests of all kinds, as demonstrators took to the streets to demand improved water and housing conditions, as well as better pay. Although Bouteflika has managed to quell the majority of unrest by privatising the media, as well as extending key subsidies and boosting wages for the police, army, health workers and other government employees, the situation for Algerians continues to look dire. However, whether Algeria will follow the route taken by Libya remains to be seen. Some indicators pointing to a revolution include the fact that Bouteflika’s health appears to be deteriorating, which could lead to political uncertainty if he were to pass. Additionally, the regime’s leadership is old and out of touch with the average, young Algerian. However, there are reasons to suggest that Algeria may not actually suffer the fate of its neighbour, Libya. For one, many citizens still recall the horrors of the 1990s civil war, and as such, may be hesitant to engage in wide-spread conflict. Additionally, the Algerian Government may look to capitalise on the threat that al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) poses to the region by using it as an excuse to stamp out anti-government feeling. Ultimately in a region beset by violence, Algeria’s position looks up for grabs.

Potential causes for a revolution:

1.) Bouteflika’s health in question, may lead to power vacuum

A major ingredient that may lead to the recipe for a revolution in Algeria is the never-ending rumours surrounding the well-being of Bouteflika. In early September 2011, sources close to the president said the leader visited France for a weeklong medical check-up, pointing to a possible health scare. Bouteflika’s health has frequently been the topic of discussion. In 2005, Bouteflika was rushed to France for emergency treatment reportedly due to a bleeding stomach ulcer. Additionally, a leaked US diplomatic cable revealed Bouteflika had developed stomach cancer in 2008. With the seventy-four-year-old president’s health in question, the situation in Algeria looks increasingly uncertain. As Bouteflika has had power since 1999, there are rumblings of a possible power struggle, which may create the perfect opening for an uprising in the country.

2.) Aging leadership is disconnected with youth of population

Along with concerns over the president’s health, there is growing apprehension that the older regime has become increasingly disconnected with its youthful population. Currently, 70% of Algeria’s population is under the age of twenty-five, with most struggling to find a means to support themselves. The government, meanwhile, is comprised of mostly older more conservative men, many of whom are over the age of seventy and lack the tech-savvy expertise of the nation’s youth. Additionally, for many the Algerian Government has further alienated itself from its youthful population, as well as isolated itself from the rest of the Maghreb for its perceived lack of support for Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC), as well as for hiding members of Gaddafi’s family.

Reasons why a full-blown revolution may not occur:

1.) Revolution may evoke memories of bloody 1990s Civil War

Though many analysts may argue that Algeria is poised to suffer wide-scale conflict, there remains doubt, despite sporadic bouts of unrest, that such a revolution could take place, specifically considering the rather recent internal violence in Algeria. In the early 1990’s the country underwent a deadly civil war which saw upwards of 200,000 citizens die. The conflict erupted when the now banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) Party gained considerable support among Algerians. Fearing the group’s victory, the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) Party immediately called off the elections, and arrested thousands of FIS Party members. The move eventually resulted in a military coup, and President Chadli Bendjedid was removed from office. Following this, Islamic militants began to spring up across the country and waged an all out war against the Algerian Government. The conflict ended only recently in 2002 with the defeat of the Islamic Salvation Army and Armed Islamic Group. With such a drawn out conflict which saw most Algerians lose at least one family member, many may be hesitant to engage in wide-scale demonstrations.

2.) Algerian Government may use terror threat to stamp out protests

Along with citizens fearing a deadly civil war, Algeria may also not follow the fate of Libya due to the government’s use of anti-terrorism tactics as a means to quash out anti-government demonstrations. As AQIM continues to engage in arms trafficking along the porous Libya-Algeria border, Algerian authorities appear to be stepping up their campaign against extremist organisations, arguably after repeated calls from foreign diplomats who have criticised the country on numerous occasions in the past for Algeria’s perceived lack of attention to the security problems emerging within its own borders. However, the news that Algeria is confronting its own security issues head on is not necessarily a positive, as arguably the Government may try to use this as a tool to crackdown on popular protests which it could easily accuse of sympathising with terrorism. These fears were confirmed on 03 February 2011, when Bouteflika announced plans to lift the emergency law, which prohibits protests without a permit, and substitute for it new anti-terrorism laws. With a police force numbering some 170,000, Algerian authorities could easily take down any protesters and accuse them of conducting terrorist activity.

Verdict-is conflict inevitable?

Overall, Algeria’s future is too close to call. However, the country will likely take a different route than that of Libya. Look instead to see the country undergo sporadic bouts of unrest, whilst the government makes incremental changes.

(Image: EPA)

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