The Algeria Alternative

Why Algiers Defends Order at Home—But Not Abroad

Algerian army trainees at a military academy near Algiers, June 2012. Reuters / Ramzi Boudina

The upheavals of the Arab Spring seemed to pass one country by: Algeria. To its east, Libya collapsed into civil war, and Tunisia suffered an upsurge of terrorism that imperiled its democratic transition and economic recovery. To the south, Mali is holding together, if barely, thanks to a French-led stabilization force. But all the while, Algeria has remained a reliable bulwark—if also something of a riddle.

In many ways, Algeria is a routine democracy. It has held several elections that international observers have deemed to be free and fair and that have been buoyed by an abundance of political parties. It has a free press and an active and engaged labor movement. Its ministries are staffed by competent technocrats; its bureaucracy duly enforces protocol. As Joan Polaschik, the U.S. ambassador to Algeria, recently said, “Life there is really normal. People are out and about shopping, going to restaurants.”

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