Hundreds of thousands of people protested in central Algiers on Friday in the biggest demonstration against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s 20-year rule since unrest began last month.
So begins a recent Reuters report on the momentous events unfolding in what has heretofore been an anchor of stability in the region. For more in depth analysis see: Understanding the Algerian Protests (Giorgio Cafiero, lobelog.com, 8 March 2019).
The protestors, who come from diverse backgrounds, are unified in their stance that Algeria’s head of state, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was elected president in 1999, must step down. Yet their struggle is not against Bouteflika as an individual leader per se. Rather, they are standing up to a “deep state” made up of members of Algeria’s military, security apparatus, and business elite, known as the pouvoir, the “power,” who want Bouteflika to remain at the helm to protect their privileges as the country transitions to a new president, whoever that will be.
But it is not just a political crisis over who will replace an aging leader and his “deep state” cronies. As the International Crisis Group points out:
In addition to a looming succession crisis, Algeria faces multiple political, economic and social challenges. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has ruled the country without contest since 1999 but has been gravely ill since a stroke in 2014. With no clear heir, his succession could be troubled and worsen Algeria’s ability to tackle mounting economic challenges as oil income dwindles. This would deprive the wider region – particularly the Sahel – of an important stabilising presence.
For further information on the economic challenges, see: Breaking Algeria’s Economic Paralysis (ICG Report, 19 November 2018).
Political paralysis in oil-dependent Algeria has blocked much-needed economic reform. To avoid a new era of instability, the government should increase transparency and accountability within state institutions and the private sector, as well as improve opportunities for the country’s burgeoning youth.
We do not know how this will turn out, and the odds against a peaceful transition to more genuinely representative democracy remain high. But, in the words of analyst Giorgio Cafiero:
Bouteflika’s presidency is facing the gravest challenge to its legitimacy since it began in 1999, and Algeria’s “deep state” may be seeing its first serious cracks.
Dare we hope that peaceful democratic change will prove possible in Algeria?
Update on Venezuelan crisis
For an illuminating analysis of the deepening crisis in Venezuela, see: The Darkest Hours: Power Outages Raise the Temperature in Venezuela (Commentary, Phil Gunsen, Senior Analyst with International Crisis Group, 15 March, 2019):
The crippling blackouts across Venezuela are a grim portent of things to come as U.S. oil sanctions kick in and the country’s crisis deepens. All concerned to end Venezuelans’ suffering should vigorously pursue a negotiated transition leading to a power-sharing deal.
For more background on the crisis, see this article by an eminent Swiss Law Professor who has held many UN positions and who visited Venezuela in 2017 in his capacity as a UN Special Rapporteur. Another Take on the Crisis in Venezuela (Alfred de Zayes, Havana Times, 12 Mar 2019). He writes:
What Venezuela needs is an end to sanctions and interference in is internal affairs, an end to the violations of Articles 1-2 of the UN Charter and of articles 3, 19 and 20 of the OAS Charter by the US and its “coalition”. Venezuela needs international solidarity and respect of its sovereignty.
For a detailed commentary on the report by Alfred de Zayes, see also: Venezuela crisis: Former UN rapporteur says US sanctions are killing citizens ( Michael Selby-Green, independent.co.uk, 26 Jan 2019).
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons (2nd week of Algerian protests)