Algeria, a relative bastion of North African stability, has withstood the sweeping social unrest of 2011, the rise of regional militants in 2012 and a major terrorist attack on an energy installation born out of destabilizing security environments on its borders. The president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 76, in power since 1999, is one of the few remaining veterans of the war of independence against France. He is credited by his supporters with curbing a brutal insurgency by Islamist extremists and restoring economic stability. But he has had persistent health problems and his rule has recently been dogged by corruption scandals implicating members of his inner circle.
Algeria’s presidential election is to be held in April, but reform will depend on the leadership of the military-security elite. The intelligence and security agency, the Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité, incorporates and controls all Algeria’s intelligence services, penetrating all aspects of public life, making it the country’s most powerful institution. The issue of who succeeds General Mohamed Mediéne as head of the DRS, and the future direction of the organization, is the key factor impacting on the prospects for political and economic reform in Algeria. Mediéne’s departure would risk fracturing the DRS and undermining the national security consensus that binds together the Algerian elite, eroding political stability in the longer term
Algeria’s 77-year old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is running for his fourth term. His renewed candidacy indicates that Algerian political elites, at least for now, are not seeking a path to internal system reform. The fact that Algeria has several competing power centers—the presidency and the military, with internal divisions in the latter current pre-election dynamics indicate dim prospects for either consensus or reform, for various reasons.
The current impasse in Algeria was further aggravated by the arrest of 40 individuals protesting against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s candidacy for a fourth term next month. Barakat, a new movement that opposes a fourth Bouteflika candidacy, was formed by gynecologist Amina Bouraoui, who was arrested along with journalist Mehdi Biskri of the French-language edition of al-Watannewspaper. There are thus signs of dissent within Algerian civil society. Despite Barakat’s relatively small membership and the opposition it faces, some observers believe it represents a significant development, stirring up comparisons with similar youth movements in Arab Spring countries such as Tunisia and Egypt. In retaliation to Barakat thousands of students demonstrated their support for Bouteflika in an arena in Algiers.
Given the split in an already fragmented political class and the broad acceptance within the political elites of the military as the most important backbone of the system, a president committed to reform would struggle to forge a consensus toward transition. The Algerian electorate is concerned about stability, fearing a return to the violence of the 1990s, and they are unlikely to support any potentially destabilizing reorientations, even if that means foregoing a chance to pursue reforms.