Algeria: the tandem government-army
The delicate health condition of the Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika has led to multiple speculations about his succession and its effects in the country. Since suffering a stroke in 2013, names such as the Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, the president of the Rassemblement National Démocratique (RND) Ahmed Ouyahia or the General Abdelghani Hamel, among others, have been considered possible candidates to the presidency. But in the Algerian idiosyncrasy the “who” is not as relevant as it seems. The country is strongly dependent on the military as a protector of the elite’s interest. Although that is justified by the Algerian need of internal and external security, it jeopardizes of the political, economic and social sectors. The core concern then is not “who” but “how” can Algeria move from being an authoritarian regime in the shadow to a recognized democratic state: a priori, an improbable option.
The independent watchdog organization Freedom House does not include Algeria in the category of democracies and the reason lies in the double standard of its institutions. Steven A. Cook, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, highlights that “the web of formal and informal institutions that provides the framework for the authoritarian political system in Egypt, Algeria and Turkey is obscured behind an entirely set of institutions and structures that conjure democratic policies”. In that sense, on one side there is a government with the capacity to decree democratic reforms and a military political elite which can engage all kind of restrictions in case they become a risk for the political order. On the other, a society sensitized with the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation speech which prevents them from uprisings in order to avoid another civil war such in 1992. The tandem government – army is therefore the Algeria’s engine.
Security in Algeria: empowering the military
Since its independence from France in 1962, the historical circumstances have conditioned the state building of Algeria, relying much more in the military strengthening than in the social project. The elites have taken advantage of it while using the pretext of the security in Algeria as a social justification for the military empowerment, nowadays rooted in the conflict of interests with Morocco and in the fight against Islamist terrorist.
The struggle with Morocco lies in the position each country has regarding the right of freedom in the Western Sahara. Considering that both have not internally been hit by the Arab Spring, the lack of mutual understanding remains the same. Algeria still supports the Polisario Front, which mostly operates in the Algerian city of Tindouf, defends the independence of the Western Sahara and controls the eastern part, while the remaining territory is under control of Morocco. Due to it, the episodes of tension have not ceased: in 2013 Algeria accused Morocco at the African Conference of Solidarity with Sahrawi people of “massive and systematic human rights violations” and in 2017 tried to avoid unsuccessfully the return of Morocco to the Arab League after three decades of its withdrawal. Nowadays the arms race in where both countries are involved, the war against sub-Saharan migrants or the threat that Morocco could expel the Algeria’s protected Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic from the Arab league could only worsen the situation.
Regarding the fight against Islamist terrorism, Algeria is nowadays an essential military actor in the region. It counts with a wide net of security and intelligence agencies, such as the Department of Surveillance and Security (DSS) or the Department of National Security (DGSN) as well as with external alliances, both at the regional and international spheres. Its main goal is the control of the Sahel region, where the precarious live conditions, lack of education and ethnic conflicts make this region a breeding ground for all kind of criminal activities and terrorist groups. Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an evolution of the old Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), is still the most important player both in Algeria and the Sahel region, surviving thanks to its experience, capacity of adaptation and financial sources such as weapons smuggling or kidnappings with ransom. Now Daesh has become an extra threat, having Algeria in July 2016 reinforced its borders with more than 60.000 soldiers.
The exit of the Algerian counterterrorism lies both in the mixture of soft and hard power and in the capacity of adaptation of its security policy. The example of soft power strategy is the 2015 Algerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Report Algeria and Deradicalization: an Experience to Share, a set of measures aiming to face terrorism by enhancing reforms at multiple levels. Very positive are the deradicalization measures in prisons, the reintegration of prisoners, the promotion of culture against exclusion and violent extremism or the initiatives of fostering the real sense of Islam. In front of violent movements but with no terrorist consideration the tools are dialogue and negotiation, while in front of terrorist groups the hard power takes place in the use of tactical raids, arrests, infiltrations, killings, border deployment of troops or in not giving in to terrorist blackmails.Whatever the case, they prevent from any foreign intervention in the region which could foster the terrorist encouragement.
Regarding the capacity of adaptation Algeria moved from a multilateral to a bilateral cooperation, changing its internal security policy and becoming an active actor both in regional cooperation and countering of financial terrorism. The upheavals of the Arab Spring in 2011, the further jihadist takeover in Mali, the political instability in Libya or the hostage crisis of the Algerian In Amenas gas plant proved that the multilateral counterterrorism alliance in 2010 with Mali, Mauritania and Niger in the Tamanrasset plan were not efficient. Instead, Algeria started a bilateral security cooperation with Tunisia, reorganized the old Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS) and became a founder member of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), co-chair at the Sahel Working Group (SWG) and member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF). At the same time Algeria has been recognized as a strategic ally both for the EU and the USA.
Collateral damages in the economic sector
The efforts of the military branch in security matters is proved, but its overprotection has injured the economic and social sectors. Algeria is currently in a deep economic crisis due to the fall of the oil prices: if in June 2014 the barrel of Brent was at about 105US$/b, on the first January 2016 it was at 27US$/b, being the trend in 2016 and 2017 between 49US$/b and 55US$/b. In a country where petroleum and gas supposes around 95% of total exports and 60% of the national incomes, this situation has eroded its finances, trade balance and international reserves.
Certainly is that Algeria is trying to overcome the crisis with liberalizing proposals, especially with the renewable energy program for 2015 – 2030. According to the Renewable Energy Development Center, the goal is the exploitation of natural resources by using Solar Photovoltaic (13575MW), wind power (5010MW), solar, (2000MW), biomass (1000MW), cogeneration (400MW) and geothermal (15MW) energies, increasing as well the number of socio-economic partners and international cooperation. Other important measures are the privatization of banks as a parallel source of financing, the new import licences reducing the number of imported vehicles and cement or the 14% budget’s decrease in 2017 but without affecting essential sectors such as education, housing, food and healthcare.
Despite progressive, these measures are not exempt from criticism. According to the International Monetary Fund, “unemployment increased to 10.5 percent in September 2016 and remains particularly high among the youth (26.7 percent) and women (20.1 percent)”However, Bouteflika has cut underfunded infrastructure programs, a measure which affected about 41.000 foreseen jobs. Entrepreneurs seek new ways of survival, but
Algerian bureaucratic burden of 12 procedures, 20 days long and a cost of 11,1% of income per capita difficult its viability, in contrast with other regional countries such as Morocco, where the process is much simple (4 procedures, 9.5 days long) and less expensive (7.9% of income per capita). The privatization of banks has been seen as a short term measure due to the crisis and with no perspectives of fostering a modern bank attracting foreign investment. What about the military? With all this environment, surprisingly or not, Bouteflika has no intention to reduce its budget. The good and needed results of the military branch are again a reasonable pretext.
Public opinion and reforms
In general terms, public opinion supports the military but distrust the government’s policies. According to the findings from the 2016 Arab Barometer, Algerians defended the role of the military branch, thinking that armed forces (75%) and police (60%) are the most trustable institutions. The military is still considered the “protector of the revolution” and its current role is well recognized. In the political sphere however only 16% thought that leaders concerned with citizens and the trust in Parliament and political parties was of approximately 17% and 15% respectively. At the same time corruption was the second top concern in 2016 for 27%, right behind the economic situation (50%) and regarding transparency in elections, between 2006 and 2016 only an average of about 25% considered their development fair and free and about 11% completely fair and free.
The Algerian society showed its discontent in the recent elections of 4th May 2017 with a high abstention over 60%, a not surprising fact considering the later public opinion results. The ruling party from Bouteflika, Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), revalidated its victory achieving 164 seats but losing 44 from 2012 while the second force, the Rassemblement National Démocratique (RND) of Ahmed Ouyahia, achieved 97 seats, 29 more than in 2012. However, the FLN is in coalition with the RND, two political parties very few differenced and more dominated for the personal enrichment and political ascent than for giving voice to its electors inside the Parliament.
As a way to change its authoritarian image, two important measures took place in 2016: the dissolution of the DRS and the constitutional reform. The first had the intention of balancing the power from the military to the political with a new agency, the DSS, which directly reports to the president. But external voices highlighted that this movement only corresponded to a victory from Bouteflika over the DRS long time director General Mohamed Mediène, known as Toufik and that Algeria is still a military state. The second, the constitutional reform, had indeed liberalising measures: limitation of the presidency to two terms of five years each, promotion of women’s politic rights by increasing their chances of acceding to the representation of the elected assemblies, the increase of transparency in the elections by an electoral body until the proclaim of the provisional results or the consideration of Tamazight as an official state language. But on the other authoritarian behaviours are implicit. For example, while article 42 asserts that freedom of conscious and opinion are inviolable, actually the freedom of opinion does not include disagree with Islam, the official religion of the country: reporters and civilians can be arrested under the pretext of blasphemy.
A short and even long term change in Algeria seems currently a chimera and the tandem government – military will continue decreeing easily manipulable democratic reforms. A presidential change is not the clue, as the elected one would be part of the FLN or the RND, both satisfied with the current situation. Neither can we expect a military uprising as is the elite’s safeguard and gets privileges from the government. A social revolt is improbable too due to the conscious of not reviving a social struggle such in 1992 and the trust in armed forces; and external sanctions from the USA or the EU are not expected as Algeria is a strategic ally in the Maghreb region. If at least one of these elements is not reversed, the initial question about how could Algeria become a full democratic state will have no answer in an endless status quo.
© cover photo by Magharebia (CC BY 2.0)
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 Ibidem, Article 35.
 Ibidem, Article 194.
 Ibidem, Article 4