Algeria is experiencing a late “Arab Spring”, recently after the President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced to run in the upcoming elections for his fifth term, countrywide demonstrations took the streets for reforms in government. After the decade long civil war against the Muslim Brotherhood-inspired militant groups in the 1990s, Bouteflika the national leader from the 1970s took office and have lead the country to its most stable period. Now as the leader remains ill and questions about his ability to lead the nation further concern the people of Algeria. There has been a primary candidate who has attempted to run against the long-running President, Mr Rachid Nekkaz. He previously attempted to run in the Presidential election of France in 2007 and failed. Attempted to run in Algerian elections in 2014 failed again. In 2019 it’s the same.
With the controversial figure of Nekkaz, made famous by his stunts in Austrian public sphere in his protest against the Austrian government’s ban on Niqab in public places (Veil that covers the face of women, worn by some Muslim women). He also vowed to pay any fines issued by the Austrian authorities to any Muslim women. As Nekkaz holds dual citizenship the Algerian law prohibits him from running for office in Algiers.
As the Islamist elements in Algeria have been crushed by the National Liberation Front (NLF) the Party of President Bouteflika and the organisation that was in the forefront in the Algerian freedom struggle against French occupation. The Islamist elements in Algeria supported by international bodies such as the Muslim Brotherhood are predicted to take this to the next level as was done in Egypt, Libya, Syria and various other Arab countries. The risk of hijacking the Algerian peaceful protests on reforms still remain high.
If the Algerian authorities handle the protests and the demands of the people cautiously, a hybrid war situation can be averted. Further, the corruption under the NLF has been rampant and this fuels the discontent among the general population of Algeria. If the government addresses these issues and legitimately offers to tackle the demands of the people, the NLF will avoid refuelling the old conflicts in the country. The Algerian deep state including the military and private enterprises have vested interests in the NLF as there have been mutual understandings between the establishment and the deep state entities for nearly two decades. With a sudden change in government and policies, this would disrupt the structures of the state from within, further destabilising the country. Therefore, it is vital for the current government to organise a smooth transfer of power to the next leadership without causing disruption.
Algeria has been heavily reliant on its natural oil and gas reserves, with government subsidies various social programs were undertaken to alleviate the living standards. However, as the economy of Algeria remains uncompetitive, private enterprises suffer from innovation and global competitiveness. Especially after the “dark decade” of civil war the country had suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties. The infrastructure of Algeria as well as its private enterprises require renovation. Due to the fall of oil prices Algerian system of government suffered and their social programs were strained, hence, the government gradually increased taxes this further fuelled discontent in the population. Algeria has big challenges to move away from its natural resource-based economy and requires fundamental changes in its economic structure. The collision among government offices, natural resource companies and the oligarchs significantly stagnate the growth of the country’s economy.
Reflecting on these factors it can be understood now the announcement by President Bouteflika to withdraw from the next elections, however, he also announced a postponement of the elections until this can be done with caution and not rush the elections. The postponement of the election may also risk the increase of discontent among the public, hence, it is vital for the establishment in Algiers to swiftly come up with a transition plan without further aggravating the situation. As the hawkish eyes of the Muslim Brotherhood and its backers primarily Qatar and Turkish establishment along with the Western intelligence services, especially France may try to further their interests in the region by dismantling the Algerian state structure. Furthermore, the military chief of Algeria has announced a statement that requests the civil government body to hold elections even though the president previously temporarily postponed the elections. This may complicate things from within the Algerian state apparatus.