2019 has been a year of remarkable events in Algeria, shattering the illusion of a stable authoritarian regime with an apathetic citizenry. In February, peaceful protests erupted against the announcement that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika—in power since 1999 but so ill that he had not spoken in public since 2013—would seek a fifth term. In the weeks that followed, millions joined protests across the country that coalesced as a peaceful grassroots movement, or Hirak, with the slogan “no to a fifth mandate.” As the demonstrations grew, Bouteflika finally stepped down on April 2, pressured by the army, the power center of the regime.
Since Bouteflika’s resignation, the army has moved to the forefront, having long ruled mainly from behind the scenes. It has ordered (somewhat arbitrarily) the arrest and prosecution for corruption of certain unpopular regime figures, but has refused democratic reforms. In response, the Hirak’s peaceful mobilization has only increased. Protestors have marched every Friday and most Tuesdays against corruption, the army’s political dominance, and the entire ruling class. They march for sweeping change in the form of a civil democratic state granting freedoms, justice, and reforms.
Meanwhile, the regime is pushing ahead with a December 12 presidential election that aims to produce an army-approved successor to Bouteflika, while preserving the current political system and allowing the army to return to the background. The Hirak has called for a boycott, contending that the current regime must leave and systemic reforms must occur before a genuine election can be held. Whether a sufficiently large minority will turn out for the regime to pass off the vote as “legitimate” remains to be seen.
To shed light on dynamics in Algeria at this pivotal moment, POMED asked 14 experts to respond to the following question:
Is a genuine transition to democracy a possible outcome of events in Algeria since February? If not, why? If yes, what is the most important factor in the months ahead that will influence whether Algeria moves in the direction of democratization?
Read the Expert Q&A with responses from:
- Yasmina Allouche
Researcher at TRT World Research Centre in Istanbul
- Rochdi Alloui
Independent Analyst on North Africa at Georgia State University
- Amel Boubekeur
Research fellow at École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) and a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations
- Ambassador Robert Ford
Former U.S. diplomat who served as U.S. Ambassador to Algeria from 2004 to 2006 and as head of the Political/Economic section of the U.S. Embassy in Algiers from 1994 to 1997
- Dalia Ghanem
Resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut and co-director for gender-related work for the Center’s program on Civil-Military Relations in Arab States
- Zine Labidine Ghebouli
Scholar at the American University of Beirut and regular contributor to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s “Fikra Forum” blog
- Francis Ghilés
Associate Research Fellow at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs and a former North Africa correspondent for the Financial Times
- Sharan Grewal
Assistant Professor of Government at William & Mary and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution
- Louisa Dris Aït Hamadouche
Professor of international conflict at the University of Algiers
- William Lawrence
Professor of political science and international affairs at the George Washington University and a former International Crisis Group North Africa director
- Ilhem Rachidi
Morocco-based freelance reporter focusing on human rights and protest movements in Algeria and Morocco for publications including Al Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor, Rue89, and Foreign Policy
- Hugh Roberts
Edward Keller Professor of North African and Middle Eastern History at Tufts University and the author of numerous works on Algeria
- Vish Sakthivel
PhD Candidate at the University of Oxford and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute
- Isabelle Werenfels
Senior Fellow in the Middle East and Africa Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin
PDF available here.