Algeria is experiencing political unrest after its ailing leader decided to run for his fifth term next month.
The North African state has been rocked by its largest protests since the 2011 “Arab Spring” after President Bouteflika – who’s thought by many to be physically, and possibly even mentally, incapacitated after suffering a debilitating stroke in 2013 – once again became the ruling party’s candidate of choice for the upcoming elections. The elderly ruler helped bring peace to the country following its bloody civil war of the 1990s that many now regard in hindsight as being a “proto-Syria” after it pitted a secular government against Islamist insurgents, which is why Bouteflika is still so widely respected in society. Even so, the deteriorating standard of living that a growing number of people are experiencing has made it difficult for some to accept a continuation of the status quo.
Bouteflika doesn’t just represent a return to stability after around a decade of chaos, but he nowadays also stands for the military-intelligence factions of the “deep state” that have kept Algeria safe since then, especially since he supposedly became unable to rule the country himself after his stroke. There’s nothing wrong in principle with responsible members of a country’s permanent bureaucracy steering the state behind the scenes in order to avoid troubled waters in a conflict-prone region, especially after a disastrous civil war, but the problem that some people have with this is the resultant stagnation that has set in over the years. This is made even worse by the rumors that Bouteflika isn’t really running the country, which is why some people feel so offended about his latest candidacy.
Interestingly, one of the president’s representatives read out a statement earlier this week promising that Bouteflika will step down after a year if he’s elected and won’t run in the early elections that will take place afterwards, which is an extremely strange thing to say because it begs the question of why he’s even running in the upcoming election in the first place if that’ll really be the case. This might suggest something along the lines of what seems to be currently unfolding in Sudan where long-running leader Omar al-Bashir appears to be gradually stepping aside in order to make way for his “deep state” to responsibly guide the inevitable transition that will eventually take place so as to avoid inadvertently destabilizing the fragile country during that tenuous time.
On the one hand, it makes sense why Bouteflika – or the military-intelligence members of the “deep state” that are thought to be the real power behind him– would decide to go with this approach, as he’s rightly afraid that the Islamist ghosts of the civil war will return if Algeria undergoes a rapid regime change, despite it being a democratic and legitimate one. On the other hand, it’s understandable why protesters who desire real change from the inside-out might not trust that Bouteflika’s promised early elections next year will lead to anything other than the “deep state” agreeing on someone to replace him. It’s ultimately up to Algerians to judge what’s best for their country, but it unquestionably appears as though Algeria is on the cusp of either cosmetic or fundamental change.
By Andrew Korybko
Source: Oriental Review