The internal and external Algerian thorns

I have recently published two analyses on Algeria for the Jamestown Foundation. The first one, published in early December, dealt with the Libyan problems and how Algiers is trying to exert “Influence Without Interference“, sticking to its traditional foreign policy doctrine of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other States.

The second one was published last week and was instead focused on the riots that erupted in Algeria in early January 2017. As you can see from my words, I don’t actually agree with that strange ‘Pavlovian reflex’ of many in the West, who think that every eruption of violence in the Middle East and North Africa is the beginning of a new ‘Arab Spring’ (whatever this expression means now). That said, Algeria is undergoing a rather complex phase of its history, possibly one of the most challenging since the end of the civil war. As such, it’s worth giving an eye (or better, two) on what will happen within the country in the coming months.

These are the conclusions of my analysis:

Algeria has thus far managed to avoid the outbreak of a new revolution, despite its internal problems and a volatile surrounding geopolitical environment. Nevertheless, the Algerian socio-economic situation remains problematic. The outbreak of these latest spontaneous protests shows that social tension remains considerably high. In the coming months, possible new protests could also be exploited by those local groups and political stakeholders who want to strengthen their political and economic positions. As the end of the Bouteflika era is approaching, many actors in Algeria are on the alert, as the transition will inevitably bring a number of changes to the delicate, informal balances of political power in Algeria.

Moreover, this dynamic will be even more relevant given the economic problems that Algeria is set to the experience in the coming years. As oil production, exports and revenues decline amid the changes in the global oil market, the competition for the control of Algeria’s oil resources — historically one of the most significant assets at stake in Algeria — will become even fiercer.

Additionally, the troubles associated with Algeria’s oil economy will eventually force the Algerian government to change the social contract it maintains with its citizens. While this is a common problem in many rentier economies of the region, for Algeria this will be particularly challenging given its internal differences and the lack of economic diversification. Part of this social contract was based on the Algerian people being largely unaware of how people live in other countries around the world. However, the spread of the Internet, social networks, urbanization and education have changed this situation. Young Algerians are now more aware of the world surrounding them than the older generations. As such, expectations are changing. The trade-off between (partial) wealth redistribution and political acquiescence is becoming increasingly obsolete, particularly when the resources to sustain it are declining.

Lastly, as the first generation born after the civil war is about to enter the job market, this is likely to increase the pressure on the Algerian state to provide employment and opportunities of social mobility. Although many have heard tales of the brutality and desperation that Algerians witnessed in the 1990s, the rising generation did not experience the civil war directly. As such, citizens’ political self-restraint created by the social memory of the civil war will progressively erode. If not properly addressed, these problems promise to pose a number of challenges to the Algerian government in the months and years to come.