In early 2011, most pundits expected that Algeria—plagued by corruption, nepotism, deteriorating socioeconomic conditions, restricted freedoms, housing shortages, and bad governance—would be the next country to face an Arab Spring uprising. And although riots did shake the country, they were contained swiftly (and without bloodshed) by a large, well trained, well equipped, and well paid police force.
To this day, sporadic and localized strikes, protests, and riots are routine. There are sometimes as many as 500 a month. But, generally speaking, the regime has been able to address them through payoffs in the form of higher salaries or housing vouchers. Protests, in other words, are kept localized and opposition groups have little popular support. Besides, many of them have been co-opted by the government, with leaders of most of the opposition parties having participated in one way or another in successive governments.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been able to succeed in co-opting the public and the opposition where other governments in the region have failed because Algerians still remember the brutal conflict throughout the 1990s, when government forces faced off against various Islamist groups. The Islamic Salvation Front had been poised to win the 1992 legislative elections, which were abruptly cancelled, provoking widespread violence. Likewise, the government still has plenty of cash from oil and gas reserves to buy loyalty. The only question, though, is whether the regime’s resilience will last in the face of new challenges.
THE PROBLEM OF SUCCESSION
After watching Tunisian dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali flee his country in January 2011, Bouteflika promised that he would introduce reforms aimed at what he termed “deepening the democratic process” in Algeria. He lifted the state of emergency that had been in place since 1992 and presented in April of that year a roadmap for reform. It included unspecific promises to amend the constitution and revise the laws governing elections, political parties and associations, women’s participation in public
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