Yahia H. Zoubir
Algeria is the largest country in the Arab world, Africa, and the Mediterranean basin, ranking 10th in the world in size; in the Islamic world, only Kazakhstan is bigger. It has the third-largest oil reserves in Africa and the world’s tenth-largest gas reserves. Algeria has powerful, modern armed forces totalling 300,000, not counting the reserves. With a total annual spending of $10.4 billion, Algeria has the largest defence budget in Africa. The total boundaries with the seven neighbouring countries cover square 6,734 km, while it has a Mediterranean coast of more than 1,000 km. Although Algeria is not a regional hegemonic power, it is indisputably a middle power, as defined by some scholars of interna- tional relations (Cooper 2013, 25). The country has gone through a decade-long crisis in the 1990s; the civil strife claimed the lives of at least 100,000 people and caused more than 7,000 disappearances. However, it was able to elude the so-called “Arab Spring” (Aghrout and Zoubir 2016) that resulted in the col- lapse of some regimes and/or continued civil wars. While escaping the uprisings that swept through the region, Algeria faces instability along its long borders, not only in the Maghreb, but also in the Sahel. Algerian security forces have deployed along those borders to thwart threats from Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the organisation of the Islamic State, among other terrorist organisations that continue to mushroom in the Maghreb-Sahel region.
Despite the seeming stability that prevailed in Algeria, on the eve of the February 22, 2019, powerful, unceasing nation-wide protests, the country still faces considerable political, economic, and security challenges. From 2012 onward, the Algeria system had not found a successor to the ailing ex-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, an anomaly that had sclerotised Algeria’s institutions as well as its diplomacy. The restructuration in 2015 of the intelligence services, one of the pillars of the regime, has yet to reveal the manoeuvrings inside the “black box,” due to the well-known opacity that has characterised the system since the country’s independence in 1962 (Zoubir 2019a). There have been important changes in the armed forces, which remained legalistic despite the increasing predominance of the self-styled presidential clan that ostensibly ruled the coun- try in the shadows since the illness of the president who had not addressed the nation from May 2012 to his forced resignation on April 2, 2019.
Algeria has experienced a perpetual transition (Dris-Aït-Hamadouche and Zoubir 2009), highlighting a unique type of resilience of the regime in the region. Its economy is a rentier one; hydrocarbons represent more than 90% of the country’s revenues. The redistribution of part of the rent allowed the regime to buy social peace and enable it to survive for some time. However, this peace rested on continued, regular, relatively high prices of oil. The drop of oil prices, coupled with the absence of a genuine productive economy, has enfeebled the stability of the system and the successive regimes. Unemployment among the youth remains high and the temptation of joining violent extremist groups, although latent, represents a genuine threat. In addition, while the appeal of Islamism and Jihadism had dwindled following the end of the armed insur- rection and the policy of national reconciliation (1994, 1999, and 2005), this has not eliminated the root causes that have instigated the momentous uprising of 1988 and its aftermath. The country also faces questions of identities and human rights. Despite some liberal measures, the regime resorts to repressive measures when it feels threatened by civil society organisations. The political parties have little anchorage in society, even if they occasionally exerted a degree of pres- sure on the regime and denounced its obsolescence. The Bouteflika regime, though, had succeeded in co-opting many opposition parties and even the para- sitic emerging business class, the so-called “oligarchs,” who have made alliances within the structures of the state and increasingly influenced the state’s domestic and foreign policy.
Events in the neighbourhood have strongly affected Algeria’s national security. This has resulted in the continuous increase of the military budget. Indeed, with a total annual spending of more than $10 billion, Algeria has the biggest defence budget in Africa. Taking advantage of the hike in oil prices, its military spending more than doubled in the period 2004–2013, with an increase of 176%; the drop in the oil prices did not affect the defence budget allocation although a prolonged drop in oil prices might eventually influence military spending.
Given its regional importance, Algeria has succeeded in readjusting its multi- lateral and bilateral relations. Because of its experience in fighting terrorism, it has been able to work with a multitude of regional and international organisations in the prevention of terrorism.The fight against terrorism has become an important part of Algeria’s relations with the United States, Russia, and European countries. Although relations with the West have been among the most important priorities of the regime, relations with China have increased considerably. China is today Algeria’s main trading partner, supplanting France, the country’s traditional eco- nomic supplier.The regime neglected the important relations with Africa for some time, although a resurgence of policies in Africa to counter the policies of its main regional rival, Morocco, following Bouteflika’s disgrace, seems in the making.
Algeria experts do not all agree on what Algeria’s future might be. This has triggered a rich debate regarding all aspects of this middle power. Scholars and non-scholars alike have shown, until the February 2019 events, a fascination for the robustness of the regime, especially since predictions about its downfall have each time proven wrong.
The idea for this book was germinating for many years. When the contribu- tors were invited to contribute to this book in fall 2017, they were far from imagining the events that have unfolded since February 22, 2019. Although the crisis of the regime was unmistakable, few had expected Algerian society to be so robust as to compel the military’s high command (État-Major Général), under the leadership of strongman Ahmed Gaïd Salah (AGS), to remove Bouteflika from power. Neither did they expect the launch of an anti-corruption cam- paign against Bouteflika’s most powerful cronies, including the mighty head of intelligence, Mohamed “Tewfik” Médiène (1990–2015) and his successor Bachir “Tartag” Sahraoui.
Because the chapters in this book were written before those events, it is only rational that this Introduction provide an analytical overview of the origins of the crisis that has the potential of leading to what the Algerian protestors have dubbed the “second republic” (Zoubir 2019b). Analysing the current Algeria crisis is challenging, particularly due to Algeria’s complex history.Yet, examin- ing its genesis from a critical, historical viewpoint might enable one to decode at least some of the intricacies of the Algerian state and society and elucidate the current unfolding episodes without falling into the trap of journalistic nar- ration. Such a method is essential in comprehending the progresses and wasted prospects, as well as the obstacles that Algeria has undergone since its inde- pendence in 1962. I will provide first a succinct synopsis of the period that preceded the existing crisis. I will also assess the twenty-year calamitous reign of Abdelaziz Bouteflika and scrutinise the root causes that have prompted the gigantic weekly marches since February 2019.The essay will also highlight the demands/grievances of the millions of demonstrators. I will also discuss how demonstrators enunciated those exigencies, which matured in response to the actions of the fragile government and the decisions of the military’s high com- mand, through its spokesperson, AGS. I will then focus on the issues regarding the prospects for a peaceful transition.
A misappropriated revolution
The conception of the Algerian political system, which Algerians today would like to see dismantled, saw its conceptualisation prior to the country’s indepen- dence. No matter the variations that it might have taken, the foundation of the system has been fundamentally authoritarian; it reflected the nationalist move- ment’s narrow vision, which made independence its exclusive slogan, without conceiving a rational, democratic socioeconomic programme for post-independence. Because of the specific nature of the nationalist movement, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), whose claim to authority rested solely on historic rather than democratic legitimacy, became in 1963 the only lawful party. In this system, however, the FLN, officially entrusted with the task of controlling civil soci- ety, remained a mere transmission belt to the group (known as clan) or clans in power. Progressively, the FLN resorted to “inheritance capture” (see Safir’s chapter in this volume); all kinds of opportunists usurped its historical legiti- macy and filled its membership without regard to the interests of the nation. The FLN has served as a mere vehicle of control and repression in the hands of the ruling bloc (in the Gramscian sense), which wrested the reality of power. Lacking popular legitimacy and being suspicious of the masses, the regime instituted an entire administrative and political machinery to generate unanimous approval of its policies (unanimism) and repressed any type of opposition to its rule.
Successive regimes sought to exert complete domination over every aspect of state and society (Zoubir 1999), for it needed to remain in power through an assortment of methods to preserve its rule, including seemingly liberal policies (Kilavuz 2017). The bloc in power (le pouvoir or the “deep state”) was not only distrustful of institutions, but was also apprehensive of other rival clans, as well as society. Yet, notwithstanding the clan’s totalitarian attempts, concurrent mechanisms (e.g., development of an informal sector—in which some dignitar- ies of the regime were and still are involved dissidence in the guise of cultural demands, such as Islamism, Berberism, etc.) contested overtly and covertly the regime’s policies, particularly during periods when the prices of oil dwindled (e.g., 1986, and since 2014) and the distribution of the rent became more dif- ficult. A polarisation between state and civil society was the most perceptible corollary of the policies various regimes have practiced. The institutions in place have rarely represented the real interests of society. Instead, their real purpose has been to give the illusion of legitimacy and to prolong the power of the incumbent regime and of the nascent local oligarchy whose interests, linked to their patrons in the regime, were opposed to the masses. The power in place empowered clienteles within these institutions because of the factional- ism that has been the hallmark of the system. Corruption, clientelism, nepo- tism, and favouritism best typify the system, which has also permeated society. Bouteflika’s rule, in fact, represented the apex of the degeneracy of the system and at the same time the beginning of its downfall. The revelations of corruption following Bouteflika’s removal from office on April 2, 2019, highlighted the unimaginable levels of corruption and illicit enrichment of officials and their collusion with the oligarchs.
The institutionalisation of this political system has had a persisting, damag- ing effect on any attempt of a genuine transition to a more democratic state and society. The regime’s legitimacy of its continued rule drew from both the war of liberation (1954–1962), which had been eroded by the late 1980s (Zoubir 1996) and from the hydrocarbons revenues that served to co-opt society and political “opposition.” Algeria is a rentier state that rebuffed introducing true economic reforms, for the rent ensured both social and political peace. Unsurprisingly, upheavals usually follow the drop of the oil prices when the regime can no longer keep its part of the bargain of the social contract or rather of the “rentier social pact” (Safir 2019; Safir in this volume) that ties it to society, i.e., the redis- tribution of part of the rent to the population and to the clienteles. Although the popular masses experienced substantial improvement in their standards of living, due to the large revenues from hydrocarbon earnings and an initially suc- cessful industrialisation programme (mainly in the 1970s), the gap between the masses and the wealthy class resulted in recurrent social discontent. The absence of democratic mechanisms forced Algerians to adopt attitudes of apathy towards the regime and its populist discourse, and to political life in general, thus strength- ening the growing suspicions vis-à-vis the state and to totally mistrust the élites in power. The prevalent expression of this general dissatisfaction came in the form of passive resistance: complete apathy towards public affairs, strikes, riots, absenteeism, lack of civism, disrespect for state symbols, brain-drain, and illegal and legal migration of the youth. The low level of participation at the polls during presidential, municipal, and legislative elections since 2004 were proof, if need be, of this mistrust towards the system and indifference towards the regime in place.
The lost opportunities of negotiated pact transitions
The contention in this essay is that successive regimes have wasted opportuni- ties to initiate genuine transitions to a more democratic state and a modern economy. I will argue that before Bouteflika’s twenty-year rule (1999–2019), Algeria had missed two opportunities for a democratic transition, or at least for establishing a system based on good governance, rule of law, and political participation. The first was in 1976 when President Houari Boumedienne’s regime had, despite its failings and its authoritarianism, fairly decent accom- plishments, especially in the socioeconomic realm and when it elaborated a National Charter after relatively “democratic” public debates. Unfortunately, the regime reverted to authoritarianism soon thereafter; after his death, the process of de-Boumediennisation did not aim at ending the system, but at maintaining it through a different tactic. The second, more promising occasion happened after the October 1988 bloody riots. Similar to today, the rioters, though much less politicised than the generation of February 22, had called for the eviction of all officials whom they believed had betrayed the promises of the struggle for independence. They also demanded justice, the end of the hogra (bullying/injustice), and insisted on respect of their dignity (karama) and the enjoyment of full citizenship (Zoubir 1996). The liberalisation process that ensued in 1989, led by “reformers”, what transitologists call “softliners” was quite promising since the authorities allowed for the creation of political par- ties and associations.
That potential transition, however, failed mainly because the actors did not participate in a negotiated pact which would have clearly delineated the roles of the government and of the opposition parties, which had been legalised following the riots, and the military. A negotiated pact, as transitologists theorised in the 1980s (O’Donnell and Schmitter 1986, 40), would have made such transition possible, perhaps one unique in the Arab world. The absence of a negotiated pact before the fateful elections of 1990 and 1991, which saw the overwhelming victories of the unconstitutional, yet autho- rised, Islamic Salvation Front, was one of the primary reasons for the military’s intervention in January 1992 and the civil strife that followed (Zoubir 1998). The strategy that the regime had pursued after the October events consisted of ousting a few of the most detested public figures and using the all too familiar stratagem: whereas the whole political system was de-legitimised, the regime sacrificed a few figures (the secretary-general of the FLN and the head of intel- ligence services), while the political system remained intact, notwithstanding the push of the softliners. The few alterations that the softliners had introduced remained superficial mainly because the regime obeyed the same logic: how to preserve the rule of the bloc (or clans) in power. Moreover, the reforms arrived at through a democratic, consultative debate; the few changes that the hard- liners conceded resulted from the pressure emanating from “street” and the momentary tenacity of the softliners.The pouvoir (deep state) foremost objective in allowing them was to thwart further outbreaks from happening. Therefore, the reforms were rather fragile. More importantly, the burgeoning civil soci- ety was virtually ignored (Zoubir 1999).
The reforms, from above, were part and parcel of the power struggle inside the regime and were launched, there- fore, to help the perpetuation of the same old system. Overall, the changes could not result in the institutionalisation of a genuinely democratic state; their objective was simply to preserve the old one by giving it a “democratic” façade. In other words, the regime used the multiparty system it put in place in 1989 as a stratagem for survival and a shrewd way of controlling any opposition (Dris- Aït-Hamadouche and Zoubir 2009). The Islamist radicalism and the explosion of terrorist violence gave the regime the opportunity to reverse the progress made in 1989–1991. Indeed, the 5 years following the cancellation of the elec- toral process in 1992 witnessed a high level of political violence. To break the deadlock of violence, from the end of 1995 onward, the rulers implemented institutional normalisation (e.g., new Constitution in 1996, legislative elec- tions in 1997, etc.). The regime alternated between authoritarianism and frag- ile, limited forms of “democracy.” The ostensible transition period in which Algeria engaged lasted indefinitely; it had become a protracted “transition” with no end in sight, while the system remained unscathed. Since then, the Algerian political system has thus been neither democratic nor authoritarian in the strict definition of the concept. It was at best an illiberal democracy. Like many other regimes in the region, it corresponds to the hybrid types with dif- ferent appellations, such as competitive, electoral, hegemonic, or semi authori- tarian, although Bouteflika reintroduced into the system many characteristics of classical authoritarianism and neopatrimonialism.
Bouteflika’s sultanistic power
While he was credited with re-establishing peace in the country through the Civil Concord (September 1999) soon after his questionable election in April 1999— the military had imposed him as the candidate; aware of the manoeuvre, the six presidential contenders withdrew on the eve of the election—and the Charter on National Reconciliation in 2005, it was in reality his predecessor President Liamine Zeroual, who had begun the Rahma policy (1994) whose objective was for the Islamist fighters to surrender and obtain amnesty. As well as the reinstatement of revolutionary legitimacy and the redistribution of the hydrocarbons revenues, restoration of peace and security served as the main sources of legitimacy of the Bouteflika regime. However, Bouteflika never intended on serving only two terms in office, as inscribed in the 1996 Constitution; neither was a genuine transition to democratic governance part of his plan (Zoubir 2000). Being confident about his “achievements,” an expression that had become the mantra of his cronies, during his first and part of his second terms, Bouteflika introduced in 2008 amendments to the 1996 Constitution, adopted overwhelmingly by parliament, which removed the limit on the number of presidential terms, thus making Bouteflika a president for life (Aghrout and Zoubir 2009). As both commander in chief of the armed forces and defence minister, Bouteflika gradually forced to retirement senior offi- cers and replaced them with officers loyal to him; he succeeded in reducing the military’s political role not because he sought the erection of a civilian state, but because he wanted to increase his power vis-à-vis the military. His re-election in
2004 confirmed that, at least in appearance, he had succeeded in prevailing over the military and reducing greatly their role in politics. Unquestionably, perhaps unwittingly, after a while, the armed forces had become more professional, a pro- fessionalisation that, in fact, had begun in the 1990s. The armed forces gained from modernisation of their equipment, obtained thanks to a substantial budget, which reached more ten billion dollars almost annually. Nevertheless, while he seemingly imposed his power over the military, he did not fully control the intel- ligence services (Roberts 2007), although he managed to remove in late 2015 powerful Major-General Mohamed Médiene, alias “Toufik,” who had headed the Directorate of Security and Intelligence (DRS) for 25 years.
Bouteflika ruled Algeria virtually unrestrained. From a conceptual perspec- tive, his rule fell within the definition of neo-sultanistic regimes (Chehabi and Linz 1998), that is, neo-patrimonial regimes marked by personal rulership. Here, we retain the definition of Erdmann and Engel (2006, 18):
Neopatrimonial rule takes place within the framework of, and with the claim to, legal-rational bureaucracy or ‘modern’ stateness. Formal struc- tures and rules do exist, although in practice, the separation of the private and public sphere is not always observed. In other words, two systems exist next to each other, the patrimonial of the personal relations, and the legal- rational of the bureaucracy.
Indeed, Bouteflika used his power without restraint, at his own discretion, and above all uninhibited by rules or by any dedication to an ideology or value sys- tem. He surrounded himself largely with people he had chosen directly; those people were mainly members of his family, individuals from his (western) region, friends, business associates, or individuals who ensured that the system sustained itself. The position of Bouteflika’s entourage grew from their total personal sub- mission and allegiance to his person. Government officials acted as the personal servants of Bouteflika despite his incapacity to oversee government affairs, and they obtained their power solely from this relationship with Bouteflika or his brother from 2013 onward. The absence of rule of law and utter corruption were the hallmark of Bouteflika’s regime. The responsibility of Bouteflika is consid- erable for these unlawful lootings, misappropriations, thefts, squandering, and illicit enrichment. Through his actions or inactions, he was primarily respon- sible for the corruption practices that pervaded the whole polity. The security services always informed Bouteflika about the investigations they carried out on his own ministers and other dignitaries connected to him. When he did not protect these associates, he encouraged them with his silence and complicity. When he saved them from justice, he encouraged them to continue dilapidating willingly or passively the country’s assets. Under his sultanistic rule, corruption of ministers, senior civilian, or military officials had turned into an instrument of governance. There are abundant cases to support such observations. For instance, when security services submitted to him corruption files of various ministers, such as Chakib Khellil, the powerful Minister of Energy, he ignored those files and retained ministers who were involved in huge cases of corruption. In fact, officials who refused to drop charges against Khellil, for instance, were fired, as was the case in 2013 of Dr. Mohamed Charfi, Minister of Justice for issuing an international warrant against Khellil and insisting on keeping the charges against him (Mahmoudi 2013).
Bouteflika generally used the parliament as a rubber stamp for his policies, which the deputies, elected through mostly rigged elections and through clien- telism, used it for the acquisition of privileges. To ensure their loyalty, support for the constitutional revisions, and for his candidacy for a third term (2009–2014), for instance, parliamentary deputies—and later governors and high government officials—received a 300% salary increase 2 months prior to the election, even though their salaries and benefits were already considerable compared to those of the average citizen. Opposition political parties—secular and religious—existed under his reign, but they have shown no proclivity for acceding to power. They were content with having representatives in the parliament in part because a portion of their salaries went to the parties’ coffers. This explains why the population did not see the political parties as playing a consequential role in poli- tics or their power to produce any change; the low turnout for the May 2012 and 2017 legislative elections and the 2014 presidential election confirmed this apathy towards the political system and incapacity to effect far-reaching transformation. Throughout his rule, Bouteflika endeavoured to domesticate civil society and tolerated only those organisations that championed his continued rule. Bouteflika ensured that he would remain president for life, although in 2016 an amendment to the Constitution reinstituted the two-term limit, which did not affect him. He created a total void around him and eradicated any authentic challenge to his power. Bouteflika succeeded in fragmenting political parties to thwart them from ever building a mass party like the Islamic Salvation Front, which was the first ever force to challenge the life of the regime (Zoubir and Aghrout 2012).
However, it would be erroneous to contend that there was no opposition to Bouteflika’s régime. In fact, Algerians resisted in diverse methods (Zoubir and Dris-Aït-Hamadouche 2018), through autonomous unions or through dissents within the regime itself, as well as through limited riots or through low partici- pation at the polls during elections; yet, Bouteflika and his cronies believed that they could co-opt Algerians through a redistribution of the oil revenues (cheap housing, food subsidies,…). Bouteflikists still held to this scenario even when the economy was at a dead end. While political analysts predicted the explosive situation (Zoubir 2016), and despite warnings from experts, the regime had no inkling as to the massive demonstrations that broke out in February 2019 and have continued until now (September 2019). Bouteflika’s cronies were persuaded that since the country succeeded in dodging the so-called “Arab Spring” (Zoubir
2011), Algeria would overcome the economic predicament and control any wave of protests (about 500 riots a month). In fact, through their speeches, it became evident that officials were of the opinion that Algerians were uninterested in pol- itics and would thus not attempt to launch massive demonstrations. Additionally, the regime warned Algerians continuously that any upheaval would result in cat- astrophic consequences. It referred to countries, such as Libya, Syria, or Yemen, overlooking the fact that more than 70% of Algeria’s population is below 35 years old and that most of them have not experienced the bloody decade of the 1990s. Algerians had decided that it was time to overthrow the regime, cognizant that violence would be to the advantage of the regime, which could use the state of emergency to crush any rebellion.
The end of Bouteflikism or the end of the system?
As often happens in an oil rentier economy, the drop of prices mostly causes suffering for the people, especially the middle class and the underprivileged. The regime’s disinclination all these years to transform a rentier economy into a productive one has come back to haunt it in exactly the way experts had pre- dicted. The government had no other choice but to cut budgets, increase the prices of some goods, and reduce imports, almost similar to what the regime did after the oil slump in 1986 that resulted in the 1988 riots. After the collapse of the oil prices in 2014, the challenges worsened due to other factors, such as the extreme level of corruption and lack of accountability. Indeed, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 ranked Algeria in the 105th place out of 180 countries (Transparency International 2019), and the World Bank’s Doing Business 2019 puts Algeria at 157 out of 190 (World Bank 2019). Corruption scandals had rocketed, occasioning heavy costs for the country’s economy, while angering the citizens. Bouteflika failed in transforming the rentier economy into a productive economy or diversifying it, maintaining Algeria as a one-commodity producer (hydrocarbons)—revenue from hydro- carbons account for about 60% of Algeria’s Gross Domestic Product and 97% of foreign earnings. The regime resorted to the printing of money to survive the economic crisis, but this did not alleviate the impoverishment of the population. Regardless, officials continued to claim that under Bouteflika Algeria has been a beacon of stability and that the programme of austerity put in place would help overcome the crisis.
The demonstrations that broke out throughout the country in February
2019 merit an explanation. I posit that Bouteflika seeking a fifth term in office was only the spark; however, Algerians had accumulated grievances against the kleptocratic regime whose corruption had attained staggering proportions for years. Already in 2014, Algerians opposed Bouteflika’s running the country. Despite his poor health (he suffered a stroke in April 2013), the regime main- tained Bouteflika for a fourth term in April 2014; he campaigned for re-election through proxies (his cronies) since he could not walk or give speeches (his last speech to the nation was on May 8, 2012). Undoubtedly, the regime magni- fied Bouteflika’s re-election results for a fourth presidential term; the alleged 51.7% rate of participation was much higher than it really was, as most observers asserted that the rate did not exceed 20%–25%. During the fourth term, the pros- pects of Bouteflika, whose health had deteriorated considerably—he moved on a wheelchair and seemed unconscious—seeking yet a fifth five-year term in office in 2019, was a perspective that shamed the regime and humiliated Algerians. Those loyal to his person because they profited from his rule wished that he would seek a fifth term despite calls in 2018 from many quarters that he should not; anyone who opposed the fifth term experienced reprisal. Through his pow- erful brother and special advisor Saïd Bouteflika and a constellation of cronies, including bureaucrats, government party members (National Liberation Front, National Rally for Democracy, Rally of Algerian Hope (TAJ), and Algerian Popular Movement), a few senior military commanders, the government work- ers’ Union Générale des Travailleurs Algériens, all part of the so-called presiden- tial clan that ran the country, Bouteflika declared on February 10 that he would run for a fifth term. This was in violation of the Constitution and an aberration considering his worsening health.
Disapproval to his candidacy for a fifth term did not derive from his viola- tion of the Constitution—the regime has violated it at will—but mainly from the humiliation that Algerians had been suffering throughout his fourth term. It would be a grave mistake to underrate this element in decrypting the protests that began in Bordj Bou Arreridj on February 13 (with the slogan “Makach ouhda khamsa,” “no 5th term”), then in Kherrata and Khenchela on February 16, 2019 (with the call “no to the 5th term of shame”) before taking on a national dimension by the millions. In the Algerian mind, this form of shame or assault on their self-respect (as was the case under colonialism) has always prompted uprisings, though the timing is often unanticipated as was the case of the Berber Spring in April 1980 and in April 2001, or the October Riots in 1988, which had been preceded by limited demonstrations in 1986. In the social media, Algerians criticised harshly the president’s appalling sporadic appearances (one or two a year). They were exasperated seeing officials offering a painting to Bouteflika’s frame. The indignant conduct of his cronies disgusted Algerians who understood nonetheless that such insistence in keeping Bouteflika in power derived from the predation they were enjoying (access to contracts, high pay, and other privileges). In sum, Algerians felt that they had become the joke of the world.
The massive protests from February 22 onwards were striking by their peace- fulness; the role of social media was considerable in passing the message of non violence. Obviously, the presidency would have preferred violent riots, so that hostility could force the military to intervene, as in October 1988, and impose a state of emergency. This was a serious miscalculation of the presidential clan for two main reasons.
One, the military had made it clear that it would not inter- vene, signifying that the military institution had decided to forsake Bouteflika’s regime. Two, the millions of marchers decided to conduct the demonstrations peacefully (“silmiya”), denying any justification for the security services to use force the security forces themselves avoided the use of force. Actually, the most striking development was the advent of a powerful civil society, with incredible organisational, non-violent skills. No less astounding was the increasing politicisation of the movement. The determination of the regime to maintain the election strengthened the resolve of the protesters to oppose a fifth term for Bouteflika. Fissures within the regime multiplied; even state employees began denouncing the regime. More importantly, the armed forces showed signs of impatience with the Bouteflika clique. The head of the military Ahmed Gaïd Salah, although a long time ally of Bouteflika, even raised the spectre of Art. 28 of the Constitution, part of which stipulates that, “[the National People’s Army] shall also assume the task of protecting the unity of the country and the integ- rity of its land…” (Algerian Constitution 2016). One could only infer from this that the stubbornness of the president not to resign constituted a threat to the country’s national security and therefore the armed forces would hold even his entourage accountable. Ahmed Gaïd Salah had now changed his position, claim- ing to be siding with the protesters who had kept the pressure to prevent a fifth term for Bouteflika. In fact, without this pressure and AGS’ change of position, which was unmistakably the result of consensus inside the high military command to see Bouteflika renounce his candidacy of a fifth term, Bouteflika and his supporters would have clung to power indefinitely since his cronies had so many interests at stake. On March 26, AGS called for the application of Article 102 of the Constitution to force Bouteflika to resign. The article stipulates that, “When the President of the Republic, because of a serious and lasting illness, is totally unable to perform his functions, the Constitutional Council shall meet de jure and, after having verified the reality of the impediment by all appropriate means, it shall propose, unanimously, to Parliament to declare the state of impediment.” The next day, the parties of the so-called Presidential Alliance, such as the FLN and RND, supported this call, hence confirming the fractures inside the regime. On April 2, under extreme pressure from the military, Bouteflika announced his resig- nation, not without seeking a last minute ruse to prolong his fourth term in lieu of the fifth one he had sought. Bouteflika’s resignation did not stop the millions of protesters to persist in their weekly marches on Fridays and the students on Tuesdays.
Whilst the demonstrators focused on political issues, they have not ignored the economic demands. Indeed, the slogans include condemnation of corruption, inducement, and the rents that profit the regime’s clienteles. Obviously, this raises the issue of the economy, which the Bouteflika regime has ruined, mostly due to its mismanagement. The oligarchs and high officials in the administration had swindled billions of dollars. Today, Algerians face challenging socioeconomic concerns; whatever the type of the government that will gain power, it will have to face the economic challenges. The economy is in dire need of diversification. The population has grown considerably in the last decades, while unemploy- ment, especially among the youth, remains high. Since 2014, the government’s ability to keep its end of the social contract has been broken because of the low oil prices, which have strained the country’s public finances and reduced Algeria’s reserves from $178 bn in 2014 to approximately $75 bn in 2019. In 2018, the budget deficit had reached 10.2% of the GDP and projected to be equal to 9.2% in
2019 (Ghanmi 2018). When the crisis erupted in 1988, Algeria’s population was about 25 million; in 2019, it has reached 43 million, which means that it would be difficult to alleviate the grievances of Algerians through printing money that causes inflation. One of the major tasks of the new government will definitely be to engage in authentic reforms that would entice foreign direct investments and create jobs through a diversification of the economy. The Algerian crisis is multi- faceted and better governance, perceptible enough by the population, is undoubt- edly the best remedy. Civil society, which seemed weary before February 22, has understood the importance of sustained struggle for a more democratic system. Certainly, civil society, through representatives, has already produced propos- als for a transition that would end the old regime which continues to resist and institute one based on genuine popular legitimacy. For instance, on June 12, 2019, civil society organisations met in Algiers and adopted a common roadmap for ending the crisis. Participants from different backgrounds opted for a transition period of 6 months to 1 year. They suggested the appointment of a presidential body or an agreed upon person to manage the transition. They also suggested the constitution of a government of national competence to manage daily affairs. The establishment of an independent commission to organise elections and pro- claim the results would follow. The participants urged the opening of a global national dialogue involving the political class, civil society, national personalities, and activists of the popular movement. They asserted the necessity for a broad dialogue that would be “a prelude to a national conference to initiate a peaceful democratic transition on the basis of an electoral process that would represent the rupture with the existing system.” To achieve a successful process, the partici- pants insisted on the “preparation of a favourable climate, through the respect of individual and collective freedoms and the free practice of human rights” (Lina
2019; Makedhi 2019a). Other initiatives emerged since then and many propos- als have come into sight. Lively debates are taking place in the media and even in the streets, occurrences that Algerians have not seen since the country’s indepen- dence. On June 26, 2019, members of political parties, civil society organisations, independent trade unions, and intellectuals, held a meeting in Algiers to agree on a common platform for a transition to democracy. The meeting resulted in the issuance of a political resolution, entitled Political Pact for a Genuine Democratic Transition, in which the drafters denounced “the maneuvers of the government in the sole hope of defeating the flood of citizens and pre- venting any credible political alternative for radical democratic change” (Amir
2019). The signatories underlined the fact that, today, real power is assumed and exercised entirely by the army’s general staff. The participants highlighted the preconditions for negotiations (with the authorities) and a genuine transition to democracy, which cannot happen without:
The immediate release of all political and opinion detainees;
The liberation of the political and media field;
An immediate end to judicial harassment and threats against citizens, activ- ists of political parties and their organisations, independent associations, trade unionists, human rights activists, and journalists;
The immediate cessation of the squandering of national wealth and the recovery of looted property.
Furthermore, the signatories declared that this requires the organisation of a transition period that brings together the political means to express the true sovereignty of the people and the building of a democratic rule of law based on (Pacte Politique 2019):
Independence of the judiciary;
Separation and balance of powers;
Non-use of religion, national heritage, and symbols of the nation for politi- cal purposes;
Equality of rights between men and women;
Non-use of violence for the conquest and exercise of power;
Right of association and trade union organisation subject only to the declar- atory regime;
Right of assembly, organisation, and demonstration;
The state’s guarantee of citizens’ fundamental social and economic rights;
Recognition of individual, collective, and trade union freedoms and the right to strike;
Popular sovereignty over the nation’s natural resources;
Recognition of the role of the state in the conduct of national development and the fight against socio-economic inequalities and poverty; and,
Respect for all pluralisms.
This, of course, represents only one of the many attempts Algerians have initi- ated with the hope that the military institution would support the transition, without, however, interfering in the process whose main objective is to erect a democratic, civilian state.
The forum on national dialogue
On July 5, 2019, which also marked the fifty-seventh anniversary of the country’s independence, an estimated twenty million Algerians took to the streets throughout the country. In addition to the earlier demands, they called for the freeing of those arrested the previous weeks, including a hero of the war of independence.The most repeated slogans referred to the capture of the state by fake revolutionaries who usurped the Algerian Revolution for their own economic interests.They reiterated that no transition would be possible while those who were responsible for Algeria’s predicament are still in the government.Thus, most Algerians rejected the holding of the forum on national dialogue, which brought together some political par- ties that had collaborated with the old regime; unsurprisingly, the forum received negative feedback from the movement as was evident through the social networks. This despite the forum’s participants’ call for the “recognition [by the regime] of the legitimate demands of the popular movement, the exclusion of the symbols of the former regime, the opening of the political and media field with the lifting of all constraints.” In the text which the participants published also listed other crucial actions, including securing the popular marches [some limited police brutality was evident on July 5] and stopping the harassment of demonstrators [seizure of the Amazigh flag], respecting individual and collective freedoms, stopping arrests, and respecting the principle of free and independent justice. The conference partici- pants also insisted on the need to establish a government of national competence and the exclusion of political officials involved in corruption (Makedhi 2019b). The perception, however, among the general public is that the regime concocted the conference since the participants espoused, at different degrees, the roadmap that AGS and the interim president of the state have supported.The leader of the forum,Abdelaziz Rahabi, a former, well-respected diplomat, was fully aware of the difficulties that the potential transition faces: “Algeria is in a political deadlock with unpredictable consequences,” says Rahabi, who was one of the architects of the national dialogue conference held Saturday in Algiers. “No authority in Algeria, neither the presidency of the Republic, nor ourselves, nor the political forces, is in a position to set a date for the holding of the presidential elections.”
He also added that,
The election date is not the key to the solution. The key to the solution is the overall political agreement between the political forces and an envi- ronment that gives Algerians the feeling that they are going into a clean election, that their votes will not be diverted, that things have changed and that the country is truly entering a democratic electoral process (Algérie Patriotique 2019).
Rahabi insisted, like do transitologists, that Algeria needs “a political, negotiated, consensual and peaceful solution” (Cited in Radio Algérie 2019); this presupposes that a minimum of trust between the popular movement and the authorities be established. It remains to be seen whether the social movement (Hirak) can trust the authorities and whether the latter are willing to reach compromises and to initiate a genuine transition to a democratic political system. It remains also to be seen whether these conditions are met and whether the hirak will eventually produce its own representatives to negotiate a transition with the holders of real power, that is, the high command of the armed forces. As of this writing (late August 2019), the protest movement has gone unabated and the deadlock between civil society and the high military command has continued.
The ongoing peaceful revolution marks an extraordinary turning point in Algeria’s post-independent history. Algerians have shattered the hybrid, yet robust, authoritarian regime that had wounded their dignity and defamed the reputation of their nation. They are now fighting for a genuinely democratic republic. Certainly, today, the most important challenge is to keep the momen- tum in the movement’s demands and to continue addressing the difficult questions of the transition to this second republic. Protesters have made radical demands, but, like most successful transitions have shown, they still need to dialogue with some members of the old regime, that is, those that have simply served the state and did not engage in corrupt practices. Lively debates are frequently held in universities—which had lost their role of centres of knowledge and ideas in the last 20 years and among some respected national figures to work out transition strategies. Since one of the pillars of the system has been the military, the main question is what role the armed forces will play during this transition. Some Algerian intellectuals are convinced that the “ANP is determined not to super- vise, control or supervise the profound social change that Algerians are under- going (because that is not its role) but to guarantee its effectiveness and success” (Mebroukine 2019). Should Algeria succeed in this transition, it would certainly disprove the transitologists who have focused on the so-called “Arab exceptionalism” (Goldsmith 2007; Stepan and Robertson 2005). For the moment, this seems to be the case. But, undoubtedly, Algerians will certainly have to prevent the old regime from stealing the revolution like it did prior to independence (the coup against the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic in 1961), at independence in 1962 when the so-called Group of Oujda captured the independent state, and after the riots of October 1988, when the system concocted a façade democracy to guarantee its endurance.
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