Every week since February there have been peaceful mass gatherings calling for change in Algeria. The population wishes to see their country live up to its historic reputation for liberty and independence from colonialism. While many have interpreted the protests as a continuation of the “Arab Spring,” Algeria is the only Arab country to have attempted a democratization experiment as far back as the 1990s. The current revolt, now in its ninth week, was thus in some sense predictable given Algeria’s history, while also unprecedented, hopeful, and complicated.
The rise of protests was predictable because Algeria’s economy has stagnated and its state institutions have been rotting from within for many years. The crisis is deep and multi-layered and touches all the foundations of a state where the president has been deemed illegitimate by a large segment of the population after being in power since 1999. Among the many catalysts for discontent is Algeria’s large youth unemployment rates—approximately 39 percent of young men and 28 percent of young women are unemployed. The economy itself is teetering on collapse, as the government has used oil revenues for subsidies rather than towards diversifying the economy. Since President Abdelaziz Bouteflika recently resigned, none of the clans that have run the country for years has been able to put forward a nominee to replace him, itself an indication of the lack of functioning institutions. Read more