Algeria: А Belated Arab Spring?

The development of Algeria’s relationship with Russia has been sufficiently constructive, writes Oleg Barabanov, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club. Therefore, it is in Moscow’s interests to promote stability in Algeria, taking measures to prevent civil chaos, especially in the form of a new civil war.

The current president of Algeria, 82-year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika, has been in power since 1999. In recent years, he has not appeared in public for months at a time, and has received very few people. According to rumours, he has suffered a stroke and is currently in hospital in Geneva, Switzerland with serious health complications. It is believed that he is not able to make decisions himself and that the country is governed by a narrow circle of confidants.

Algerian society has accumulated a certain psychological and social fatigue, and it is not surprising that there is a demand for change. Moreover, the economic situation in Algeria is quite alarming. There are hydrocarbon deposits, and earlier, revenues from the oil and gas exports accounted for a significant share of state revenues. But recently this source of income waned, since most of the deposits have begun to taper off – this has also affected the social stability of the country.

At the same time, the next presidential elections in Algeria are scheduled for April, and recently Bouteflika announced that he would run yet again despite his condition, which understandably led to protests. Bouteflika said that this would be his final term, and he would hold wide-scale consultations on social reforms and so on, but the protests continue, partly echoing the “yellow vests” demonstrations in Paris and elsewhere in France. In fact, the very first protests against Bouteflika’s re-election began among Algerian students and immigrants in Paris, and later made their way to Algerian soil.

However, the real merit of President Bouteflika is that he was able to put an end to the civil war which had raged in in Algeria throughout the 1990s and in the early 2000s between the army groups that actually held power and Islamic militants such as the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front. This war was very bloody, leaving tens of thousands dead, and Bouteflika stopped all this. If he now leaves the stage and some analogue of the Arab spring begins, this could lead to the same scenario seen in Egypt or Tunisia. The Islamic political movement did not disappear and it will gain strength very quickly. In turn, pro-Western circles can very quickly lose in this situation, as in the first stage of the Arab spring in Egypt, when Mohamed Morsi became president of the country, and parties associated with the Muslim Brotherhood gained a significant number of seats in parliament. This would completely change the geopolitical structure in Northern Africa.

Democracy and Populism in the Arab World: Summarizing Valdai Club’s Middle East Conference
Oleg Barabanov
Given the growing demographic preeminence of predominantly young lower classes, it appears that democracy can only win in a small urbanized Arab country.The general rule of a systemic democracy is still impossible in a populous and largely backward Arab country. Islamic social democracy seems to be the only area where the search for alternatives and solutions to this problem is conceivable.

We must keep in mind that now Algeria’s relations with Russia are developing quite constructively. In 2017, former prime minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev visited Algeria; in January 2019, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited the country. The trade turnover between the countries is growing and military development cooperation is moving forward. The first steps are being taken to supply Russian grain to Algeria, although sanitary standards which were established under French influence, undermine our competition. Thus, if Algeria turns 180 degrees, we do not know how Russian-Algerian relations will develop. Therefore, it is in Russia’s interest to maintain stability by taking measures to prevent civil chaos, especially in the form of a new civil war.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.