What Lies Ahead for Algeria?

Algeria’s future is filled with confusion and concern. Four experts on Algeria take an in-depth look at the changes to come.

Algeria’s future is filled with confusion and concern. The ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s election to a fourth term may have been widely expected, but few have a sense of what exactly will come next. Although Bouteflika’s allies are poised to retain power after a cabinet reshuffle was announced last month, uncertainty remains as to who will eventually succeed the aging president. Amid this backdrop, the government has passed laws curbing the activities of civil society organizations, and reforms issued last September to ensure Algeria’s security services move away from political policing have fallen short of reformists’ hopes. Meanwhile, the country must grapple with a range of economic and social issues.

How will Algeria navigate the post-Bouteflika era? And how are the political elite laying the groundwork for this transition? Four experts on Algeria take an in-depth look at the changes to come.

Bouteflika’s Possible Successors

Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck, research analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

Algeria’s cabinet reshuffle of April 29 gave some indication of the political maneuvering underway to facilitate the looming presidential transition. However, one must keep in mind that whoever the successor is, he will be chosen from a pool of men who are all pure products of a system that has locked the country into a mode of permanent transition, in which alternation and political renewal are almost nonexistent.

During the reshuffle, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s close advisors, including key ministers, kept their portfolios. Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal was reinstated after an interim period of over a month, during which he led President Bouteflika’s election campaign. Tayeb Belaïz in the Ministry of Interior, Ramtane Lamamra in Foreign Affairs, Tayeb Louh in Justice, and General Ahmed Gaïd Salah in National Defense likewise kept their posts.

Yet in the reshuffle, Finance Minister Karim Djoudi left the government and was replaced by a close confidant of the president, Mohamed Djellab. Other important figures, such as the Advisor of Defense and Security Affairs, Major General Mohamed Touati, and the Adviser for Legal Affairs, Said Bouchair, were dismissed, as was the Special Adviser to the President of the Republic, Mohamed M’gueddem. Meanwhile General Athman “Bachir” Tartag, who left his post as the head of the Department of Homeland Security in September, has reappeared as the Special Advisor for Security Affairs, indicating the already known presence of the intelligence services in the presidency. In addition, DRS sources estimate that the majority (nearly 70 percent) of Sellal’s staff are affiliated to the president and his former Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahiya, paving the way for a government that would be fully supportive of Ouyahiya.

The great “loser” of the reshuffle is undoubtedly Abdelaziz Belkhadem, who was sacked from his position as adviser to the president on August 26 after serving him for nearly fifteen years. Although Bouteflika considered Belkhadem an asset in facing the Islamists in the past, their current decline in Algeria makes him no longer essential. Worse, Belkhadem, the former general secretary of the National Liberation Front (FLN), is prohibited from participating in the party’s activities and is now persona non grata within the National People’s Assembly. This prevents Belkhadem from being a potential successor to Bouteflika, although he maintains political aspirations that he does not try to hide.

The “winner” is Ahmed Ouyahiya, who made his umpteenth comeback, this time as a director of the President’s Office with the rank of Minister of State. He is responsible for the current revision of the constitution, which he had done once before as chief of government in 2008 to allow for Bouteflika’s third term. He is also been the enforcer of difficult and often unpopular policies. The Algerian press calls him “the man of dirty work,” a label he takes pride in, as he does in his credentials as a member of the uninhibited anti-Islamist “eradicator” fringe. His strength lies in the fact that he remained loyal to the president and the state despite being sacked in September 2012 as minister and losing the leadership of his party, the National Rally for Democracy. Ouyahiya seems to be the one that behind the scenes decision makers are likely to choose as a replacement for Bouteflika, despite rumors that Abdelkader Bensalah or Said Bouteflika are potential successors. The press put an end to Bensalah’s ambition when theyclaimed that he was a naturalized and not born Algerian—a requirement for the presidency per article 74 of the Algerian constitution. As for Said Bouteflika, he has a reputation of being a “thief” for his involvement in various corruption cases.

Ouyahiya is an alternative to both men, and he benefits from his special place in the Algerian military establishment. Decision makers are trying to buy time for Algerians to come to terms with the idea that the man who was responsible a number of unpopular policies, like the wage austerity of 1995 and the implementation of the structural adjustment program of the IMF, could become president of the Algerian republic.

The Role of the DRS
Arslan Chikhaoui, Executive Chairman of the Algeria-based NSV Consultancy Center.

Since it was restructured in September 2013, Algeria’s Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS), a branch of the country’s military, has seen a second wave of reforms, following the first set in early 1990s. These reforms seek not just to address growing regional threats but also to respond to current internal developments. However, a more progressive approach is needed to ensure that the institution moves away from its traditional role of political policing and shift to real intelligence work.

The terrorist attack at the gas plant in Tiguentourine (in the south-east of Algeria) in January 2013 proved the need to speed up the intelligence services reform and to improve the efficiency of the military. The reforms that have been undertaken are threefold. The first is a generational shift to rejuvenate DRS leadership and allow the post-independence generation to take the lead. The second is a structural reorganization to ensure a refocusing on principal activities and new threats. Finally, a modernization effort seeks to transition the intelligence service away from operating as a “secret police” and toward acting as a proper intelligence agency that can adapt to ongoing regional threats and domestic political transition.

In addition to these reforms, the presidency, through a consensual agreement, is making a concerted effort to show that DRS is slowly becoming more transparent and moving away from interfering in politics. Presidential decree 14-183 of June 11 created a new Service of Judiciary Investigation (SIJ) under the jurisdiction of both the DRS and the general prosecutor of the criminal division of the court of appeal. The SIJ is intended to conduct investigations on national security threats (terrorism, subversion, organized crime, and corruption). Furthermore, the decree specified that the SIJ is prohibited from interfering with affairs, such as political ones, that do not relate to its specific missions listed in the decree. That a decree related to the affairs of the DRS was made public is an indication of the attempts to bring more transparency to the institution’s functioning.

Although in theory the army has been retreating from the political scene since the late 1980s, the DRS still needs to break its organic and hierarchical link with the Ministry of Defense. Only a progressive approach can guarantee this. The “Soviet”-like centralized structure model needs to be reformed to ensure it does not interfere in civilian political governance.

The presidency is attempting to adapt the country’s military and security doctrines along with its foreign policy doctrine. In terms of security, it remains to be seen whether the improvement in institutional governance could be achieved without disrupting stability. The key challenge for the future is to shift from rulership to leadership.

No Steps Forward, Two Steps Behind
Kouceila Zerguine, Annaba-based lawyer and member of Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) and the Lawyers’ Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDH).

To make sure the 2011 Arab uprisings did not engulf Algeria—as it did to a number of Arab states—a series of measures and new laws were enacted in early 2012. Although these legislative enactments were described as advancing democracy, they have actually restricted freedoms and violated the international commitments made by Algeria, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations (ICCPR).

The need for reform provided President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, now in his fourth term, the opportunity for his regime to close up the space available in the political arena and for civil society groups, thereby tightening control over Algerian society. Among these measures were the Association Law (12-06) and the Political Party Law (12-04).

The Associations Law stipulates that mere declaration is no longer sufficient to create a civil society group, and that registration is subject to the prior approval of the authorities. This law in some respects codifies a practice already widely implemented by the authorities, reinforcing the power of the authorities and hindering the independence and impartial regulation of civil society groups. According to the new law, authorities can now refuse the registration of associations that they judge to be “contrary to the national constants and values and to public order, morality, and the provisions of laws and regulations.” The law further places severe restrictions on the funding and membership of civil society groups, among other constraints. These restrictive measures and the vague notion of compliance put forth in the law could allow the authorities to prevent the formation of associations, including groups that defend basic rights.

The Political Party Law, meanwhile, contains 84 articles and strengthens the power of the regime (particularly the Ministry of the Interior) with respect to political parties. From the initial step of forming a party to its internal organization, the Ministry of Interior now has very broad powers that give it significant control over political parties. Furthermore, the law allows the ministry to maintain significant control over dissolution procedures and to enact prohibitions or restrictions.

These two laws, above all, confirm that the government wants to restrict civil society and all forms of peaceful dissent. Equally importantly, these legislative measures indicate that President Bouteflika will continue the traditional practice of managing the consequences rather than addressing the root cause of Algeria’s problems—in turn eschewing the much-needed overhaul of Algerian governance. Bouteflika’s approach will only encourage, not prevent, resistance movements that operate outside the state from emerging. Radicalization is sure to follow.

Political Obstacles to Economic Reform
Mourad Ouchichi, professor of economics at the University of Béjaia in Algeria and author of The Political Foundations of the Rentier Economy in Algeria (2014).

The Algerian economy has undergone significant restructuring and reform since the 1980s. Yet after more than two decades of reform measures, the performance of the Algerian economy has barely changed. Indeed, although the country has a degree of fiscal stability—due in large part to oil revenues—the Algerian economy remains sluggish.

Obviously, neither domestic pressures nor IMF conditions and recommendations have compelled policy makers to move the economy in a different direction. This contradiction between wealth accumulation (which the country has been able to do with its robust oil revenues and foreign currency reserves) and poor economic performance are symptomatic of bad policy choices.

The Algerian economy to a large degree follows in its operation the directives of the state, not free market forces. The country’s political administrative system established after Algerian independence in 1962 sought to build a utopian ideal withdrawn from a market economy. The government hoped to avoid inequalities caused by the market, and for this purpose it was necessary to closely control and heavily regulate the production and distribution of goods and services. But the model, which prevails to this day, has not prevented inequality and has even furthered it. This rentier economy has fuelled poverty, waste, and corruption, and has discouraged organic economic growth that does not depend on oil revenues.

Moreover, this rentier model has above all ensured the longevity of Algeria’s authoritarian system. As long as politics and the economy are so inextricably linked in Algeria, obstacles to change will remain. The Algerian government is obsessed with the domination of all levers of power including the economy, which inevitably precludes them from making the right choices in terms of economic development, liberalization, and growth.

On a political level, the Algerian regime has shielded itself from the emergence of competing political forces and from autonomous civil society through the outright ban on all political activity occurring outside state apparatuses. The proliferation of scandals—mainly in the financial sector and in the public markets—the denial of free political and union representation, the ban on public demonstrations, and the massive violations of human rights, are all telltale signs of the country’s broken politics.

Yet, several factors may offer a glimmer of hope. First is the possible emergence of an autonomous private sector; the room opened by partial liberalization can give rise to an emergent economic elite in the private sector and possibly the informal sphere, which would in turn realize that its future depends on economic policy change. Second is pressure for change that would come from foreign partners. Western countries—including those that form the European Union—might indeed decide to pressure Algeria to play a bigger role than what it has done so far and might push for a more aggressive development plan for the country. Third is the emergence of autonomous trade unions, currently part of Algerian civil society, which could eventually grow over time and become impactful.

Finally, contrary to what some analysts suggest, Algerian society is not immune from the unrest plaguing North Africa and the Middle East. The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, the fall of Mubarak and then Morsi in Egypt, the violent overthrow of the Libyan regime, and the Syrian conflict all plainly show that the aspirations for a better life are an essential sociological reality for the peoples of this region. Algerian society cannot afford to remain on the sidelines of these historical developments indefinitely.

This article is reprinted with permission from Sada. It can be accessed online at: http://carnegieendowment.org/2014/10/16/what-lies-ahead-for-algeria/hs0o