Algeria’s citizens know the risks associated with bloody revolutions. As thousands gathered in Algiers to protest the cancellation of the planned election of the 18 April, many urged caution not to repeat the bloody civil war of the 1990s. Algeria’s ruling dictator, Abdulaziz Bouteflika, is widely credited with uniting the country following its dark past, but the patience of his people is wearing thin.
Bouteflika himself rarely appears in public, and has not made a national address since his stroke in 2013. In spite of this compromising position, he announced in February that he would stand for a fifth consecutive term in the country’s non-competitive elections. Unable to file the papers himself, and communicating with Algeria’s citizens exclusively through written statements, his decision to run was met with the largest protest in the country yet this century, even as over a thousand top judges said they would refuse to oversee the election if Bouteflika ran once more.
The dictator has since reversed his decision and will not run for re-election. The ballot, planned for April, has instead been canceled altogether, which means Algeria’s political future now looks uncertain. Free and fair elections are an unlikely outcome of the protest, but it is not clear who might be the next choice for President.
The most substantial reason for protest against the regime is the lack of accountable leadership. As one protester told the BBC World Service: ‘I can’t really tell who’s ruling our country, and that’s the problem’. Bouteflika is widely regarded as a puppet for the Algeria’s political, business, and military elite for whom he is not only a compromise that unites factions within Algeria’s ruling class, but a dictator with no clear successor. Brutal suppression of dissent has, until now, ensured that this dilemma has not been met with substantial criticism. Other factors at play have moved Algeria’s populace to the streets.
For one, there is a substantial demographic disparity between the 81-year-old leader, and the young population of his country: 70% of Algerians are under 30. For them, Bouteflika represents a ruling class that has increasingly failed to deliver on promises of jobs and prosperity for the nation’s citizens. Forbes reports that youth unemployment is at a staggering 29%, and the country’s heavy reliance on oil has left Algeria highly vulnerable to the drop in oil price over the last few years. According to UN Comtrade, over 94% of Algeria’s exports derive from its oil industry. Garbis Iradian, of the DC-based Institute of International Finance, has said that the Algerian economy ‘will deteriorate’ if global oil prices remain below $80 a barrel.
Algeria, therefore, faces two oncoming crises. The first is economic, and concerns spiraling youth unemployment and public domestic debt. The second is constitutional: Algeria aims to find a new leader to reconcile the two halves of a divided society, and, furthermore, to do it without the promise of violence. Mohamed Aissiou, an engineer working in Algiers was keen to emphasize that. ‘We want Bouteflika to go, enough, we want change and we want change peacefully.’