Is Algeria on the verge of a split?

Algeria is one of the most balanced countries in the Maghreb, with the National Liberation Front gaining the support of Bureaucrats, tribes and congregations in its struggle for independence. However, the most important part of this balance is the army.

Is Algeria on the verge of a split?

Sinan Ozdemir

Algerian president Abdulaziz Bouteflika's announcement that he is planning to re-run for the top spot in the upcoming general elections on April 17 has pleased his supporters but at the same time ruffled the feathers of his opponents.

Even some within his inner-circle are concerned that the 77-year-old Bouteflika, who has had health problems as of late, will not be able to fulfill a fourth term as president.

On announcing his candidacy on March 3, a number of other candidates pulled out. Recalling a speech he made in 2012 calling for the start of a transition process, many protesters against his decision to re-run are asking why the process has been put off.

This shows that the concept of a transition process was read in different ways by different groups. After Algeria's long period of civil clashes between 1991 to 1999, Bouteflika started his period of 15 years in charge of the country. However, while many today feel that it is time for a new transition to get underway to establish Algeria's second republic, the ruling elite has indicated that this transition will only take place within its own circle.

Bouteflika's candidacy may result in the new constitution for Algeria being drawn up backstage during his fourth term and that the transitional phase will not be a joint effort between the ruling elite and the opposition.

Opposition groups have now agreed to boycott the upcoming polls and take their concerns to the streets, with the Barakat! (Enough!) Movement now working with political parties to support protests by student groups and non-governmental organizations.

This is the first time that some many groups from so many backgrounds, including liberalists, socialists and religious groups. Their growing boycott calls suggest that the April 17 elections will have a turnout much lower than expected.

However, when one looks at the bigger picture, one will see that during Bouteflika's reign Algeria has increased its annual exports from $200 million to $2 billion, totalling 2% of the country's overall budget, without including the export of natural gas.

He has also secured $50 billion of investments leading to the establishment of 2 million new homes as well as dozens of hospitals, universities and high schools, not to mention another $12 billion invested in social services.

On the other hand, unofficial statistics suggest that up to 10,000 Algerians are attempting to set sail from its Mediterranean coast to Europe every year.

In 2011, a number of changes to allow more freedoms in society were introduced after mass protests. The face of the parliament changed in May 2012 following the country's first general election. This allowed different political voiced to be heard and this reform is expected to continue in Bouteflika's fourth term.

Algeria is one of the most balanced countries in the Maghreb, with the National Liberation Front gaining the support of Bureaucrats, tribes and congregations in its struggle for independence. However, the most important part of this balance is the army.

Especially in the 1990s, the role the army played during the years of internal strife cannot be ignored. One of Bouteflika's most important first steps was securing peace withing his nation. At the same time, despite progress, old wounds still aren't completely healed.

Back then, the army seized control and entered into a long conflict with members of Islamic movements. Today, there are still many unanswered questions about that era.

Meanwhile, on the opposite end of this balance is the civil administration. Ever since Algeria became independent, they have been pushing for the army to pull out of politics. Though they opposed Bouteflika's candidacy in 1979, the army are today the ones giving him the green light to run.

This way, Bouteflika has been able to keep the army under his control during his reign. The only time he was opposed by the army was at the end of his first term, but they were unable to prevent him from running for a second term. Also, some retired generals are opposed to his fourth term, which shows a split in the army.

The defence minister is now holding his army back from opposing Bouteflika running for re-election, amid rumors that his health is in poor condition. If he is re-elected, it is expected that the vice president would take over in the event of his death or inability to carry out his duties.

As the elections approach, it can be seen that different understandings of the 'transition process' will increasingly emerge.

Last Mod: 07 Nisan 2014, 14:27
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