Algeria: ‘birth of a new democracy’?


International media outlets substantially covered news on the recently-endorsed constitutional amendments in Algeria, according to Sasha Toperich and Samy Boukaila of the Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

Think tank groups, analysts, and political experts provided various opinions as to what the impact of recent reforms and constitution amendments will be. The opposition to the ruling FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) party stated that “imminent change is doubtful.” But the fact is, constitutional amendments and recent reforms in intelligence and security in Algeria are indeed substantial, if not revolutionary, they write for the Huffington Post:

Arguments by some political analysts that changes are meant to reinforce the “same old” and to strengthen those military elites around the Presidency (or according to some, around Said Bouteflika, the president’s influential brother who supposedly created new oligarchs in the country) are weak, simply because the changes made are inevitably going to change Algeria with a new political class of post-independence leaders.

They will potentially emerge before the end of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s term as he wished for, already in 2014, in his famous speech in Setif. They are equally good for all political parties, and for the people of Algeria. For example, parity in employment between men and women is now guaranteed by the State; freedom of speech, freedom of gatherings, and legally-mandated TV and radio time for political parties to support pluralism, including financial support for political parties by the State according to parliamentary representation. In addition, the right to peaceful demonstrations is guaranteed as is press freedom without any censorship within the limits of human dignity and liberty for all.

But the European Union is failing to take advantage of opportunities for political reform, writes Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck, a research analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center:

According to a recent opinion polling and research project based on 80 interviews with Algerian opinion leaders and a poll of 400 members of the public, 83 percent of opinion leaders and no less than 87 percent of the general public think that their country has good relations with the EU and recognize the union’s capacity to finance development projects. As for EU policies toward Algeria, both opinion leaders and the public want the EU to be more involved in the country in terms of democracy promotion, freedom of the press, and migration.

But so far, the EU’s approach toward Algeria has been confused, she argues:

The union has not properly addressed the issues of democracy, fundamental freedoms, human rights, migrants’ rights, and reforms but rather avoids these types of considerations. For instance, the Association Agreement contains only three articles on political dialogue, while there are ten articles on cooperation in the judicial area. This emphasis on the judiciary demonstrates a lack of European interest in fostering political reforms. Similarly, EU funding focuses on economic growth and jobs, improvement of public services, and reform of the judicial system. RTWT

The presidential faction’s preferred plan is likely to have Saïd Bouteflika succeed his brother (left) as president, but before publically putting his name forward the regime needs to clear the way for this transition, argues Riccardo Fabiani, a Senior North Africa Analyst at Eurasia Group

The regime is working on two main tracks to prepare the population for the transition in generally—and for Saïd in particular, he writes for Carnegie’s Sada Journal:

  • First, the authorities are engineering a carefully controlled political opening aimed at winning over a series of key constituencies. This includes promoting an empty slogan of building a civilian state and proposing a series of mostly cosmetic constitutional amendments. … In addition, a series of measures try to appease the formal opposition by guaranteeing its rights of expression in the media and in parliament while isolating the extra-parliamentary opposition (the former members of the outlawed Islamic Salvation Front, for example). ….
  • Second, the authorities have postponed the adoption of politically sensitive austerity measures, despite the collapse in oil prices and the widening fiscal deficit.

“Domestic pressure on the Algerian regime is empowering those constituencies and regime officials favorable to gradual reform,” he adds. “While the outcome of the transition is still uncertain, for the first time the regime is showing a cautious willingness to tackle some of the issues that have historically restricted its political and economic evolution.”


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