On February 22 the Algerian former Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal announced that the president Abdelaziz Bouteflika will stand for the upcoming presidential elections for the fourth time, despite having a stroke in April 2013. His health problems impeded him from leading the country for 18 months, nevertheless the 77 years old politician, in charge since 1999, in “response to the encouragement of citizens from all over the country” intends to run for the scheduled elections[1]

Nowadays, in the North-African geopolitical context, Algeria plays a fundamental role: since 1999 the country experienced little changes comparing to the fragile political stability that characterizes the other states in the MENA region. After the fight for independence (1954-1962) when more than a million Algerians died, the state passed through a civil war that started in 1991. The liberalization policy undertaken by the government under the ruling party, the National Liberal Front, had worsened the Algerian economic situation; people experienced a decrease in welfare and a constant repression that caused a growing consent for the Islamic Salvation Front. This party became the alternative that fostered the Algerian opposition to the governmental policies. Therefore, in the early 1990s, the Islamic party won local elections and the first round of the general ones. The increasing power of the Islamists was considered a threat by the government that, with the military support, cancelled the second round of the elections and banned the FIS. The bloody fight between government and Islamist guerrillas ended only with the election of Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 1999, but fears for political Islam are still strong[2]. Bouteflika managed to create a long-term stability within the country by balancing the interests of the main actors: military leaders, security services, government members and business elites. Stability was reached at the expense of civil liberties and pluralism, due to the government’s control over media, political parties and citizens[3].

Another important element for the analysis is that persistent fears about political Islam determined a different outcome for Algeria, compared the other neighboring countries during the Arab Spring. As government had enough economic resources it managed to satisfy protests through increasing public spending: it allocated 25% of the national budget for public sector salaries and subsidized basic commodities such as milk, oil and sugar. Furthermore, the 19-year-old state of emergency was lifted, the government promised to fight corruption and to start a democratic process within the institutions, even if any political reform was ever accomplished[4]. The governmental behavior and the fight against extremists increased Western attention towards the country: Algeria started to be considered the major cooperative regional ally against terrorism in North Africa and Sahel.

An Algerian delegation was present at the NATO’s parliamentary group meeting in november 2013 that faced topics like Syrian crisis, Iran, stability in Libya and the Egyptian situation[5]. It allowed France to use its air space in the military intervention in Mali[6] and since 2011 started a strong relation with the European union with the elaboration of an Action Plan under the Neighborood policy (ENP)[7].

All these facts are important for understanding the dynamics surrounding the next presidential elections: as Thomas Serres, professor at the Université Jean Monnet at Saint-Étienne underlines, the Algerian regime can be compared to an economic cartel. The State is controlled by the army, security services, technocrats, politicians and economic elites that are used to reaching compromises in order to gain benefits[8]. The final objective is to maintain the status quo to preserve power, harmonious relationships with transatlantic partners and combat radical Islamist movements within the region. “Bouteflika is pretty much incapacitated to do much of anything,” said John Entelis, a professor of political science at Fordham University in the United States. “It’s beyond me to believe he wants to stay other than because it’s in the interests of the political and military

elite, because he serves the status quo”[9]

It seems that contrasts between military authorities and General Mohamed ‘Toufik’ Mediène, the director of Algeria’s Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS) played an important role in the Bouteflika’s decision to stand the next scheduled elections.

In January Gaid Salah, the commander in chief of the general staff, presented some dossiers against four senior officers very close to Toufik during a meeting with him and other heads of military divisions: three of them were forced to retirement, while the fourth was fired. On 3 February the leader of the National Liberation Front Amar Saidani accused the DRS of destabilizing the institutions while being unsuccessful in granting security within the country; he said that the DRS is “overriding its prerogatives”. These disputes must be read as an attempt to find a new balance of power in the cartel’s dynamics that for a very long time have been disproportionately in favor of the DRS[10]. Whether during Bouteflika’s absence due to his health the establishment started looking for an alternative candidate for the April elections, the impossibility to make a deal determined the widespread consent on the president’s fourth mandate[11]. As highlighted by the political analyst Mohammed Hachemaoui the establishment’s support has to be considered as a break in negotiations for the right successor to be selected.

Not only members of the principal political party, Front de Liberation National, but also l’Union générale des travailleurs algériens, that is the main trade union, and Sonatrach, the government owned company that manages hydrocarbon resources, assured their support[12].

The question is: does the candidature of Bouteflika really guarantee this status quo? Algerian society is changing over the years, young people under the age of 30 are more than 70 percent and there is a constant decrease in participation to the electoral process. The independent presidential candidate Benkoussa said: “Young Algerians don’t want too much, they want a decent job, they want to be able to buy a house or a flat, they want their children to have a decent education, and their parents to be able to go to a good hospital. It’s time now to talk about the hopes of the next generation in Algeria, to rebuild our confidence and ensure our state will be led by strong institutions that preserve the rights of the people of Algeria and which will serve their future. We need to build a real democracy in Algeria”[13].

With the return of the president the hope for changing is less than ever, with the widespread support among strong powers the 77-years-old leader will be probably reappointed, but Algerians are in an uproar. A significative symbol of the disappointment is the movement named “Barakat”, in English means “it’s enough” and on Facebook it has already reached 30.000 fans. Created and leaded by the poet and playwright Mustapha Benfodil and Amira Bouraoui[14], it seeks to express, both on Internet and within the country, Algerians’ hopes for the future, as well as the discontentment for the disregarded expectations of change through elections in April. It is not possible to predict how far the protests will go and how much will affect the establishment’s decisions, but if Algerians will be determinet in what they really expect from their country, not only Bouteflika’s presidency but the whole system will be in question.

 

ALTHEA CENCIARELLI

Master’s degree in International Relations (LUISS “Guido Carli”)

 

 


 

[1] Richard Nield, 2014, “Algeria: A fourth term for Bouteflika?”, in Aljazeera, March 2, 2014.

[2] Massimo Campanini, 2006, “Storia del Medio Oriente”, Il Mulino, p.197-198.

[3] Daniela Huber, Susi Dennison, James D. Le Sueur, 2014, “ALGERIA THREE YEARS AFTER THE ARAB SPRING”, in IAI Mediterranean Paper Series 2014.

[4] News Africa, “Is Algeria immune from the Arab spring?”, in BBC, July 27, 2011.

[5]Algerian delegation to take part in NATO’s parliamentary group meeting in Rome“, in Algeria Press Service, November 24, 2013.

[6]Algeria allows France use of its air space for Mali intervention”, in PanARMENIAN.NET, January 14, 2013.

[7]ENP Package – Algeria”, European Commission – MEMO/13/241, March 20, 2013.

[8] Thomas Serres, 2014, “Le quatrième mandat de Bouteflika: un pari du cartel“, in Jadaliyya, February 23, 2014.

[9] Richard Nield, 2014, “Algeria: A fourth term for Bouteflika?”, in Aljazeera, March 2, 2014.

[10]Algérie : explications sur la crise au sommet du pouvoir”, in Algeria-Watch, February 10, 2014. 

[11] Richard Nield, 2014, “Algeria: A fourth term for Bouteflika?”, in Aljazeera, March 2, 2014.

[12] Romain Rosso, 2014, “Algérie: Pourquoi Bouteflika a déjà gagné“, in L’Express, March 23, 2014. 

[13] Richard Nield, 2014, “Algeria: A fourth term for Bouteflika?”, in Aljazeera, March 2, 2014.

[14] Jacques Slimane, 2014, “« Barakat » (ça suffit), le mouvement anti-Bouteflika des élites”, in Le Nouvel Observateur, March 22, 2014.