Algeria, the largest Arabic country in the world and a former French colony, is still recovering from the many events that made a great impact on the economic and social sectors. These events have changed many aspects of Algeria, leaving the country struggling between the old and the new.
During the European colonization of 1830, France took control of Algeria. In 1954, the Algerian Liberation Front declared war against the French in an attempt to gain back control of their country. The war ended in 1962, only after Algeria lost nearly 1.5 million lives. After the country gained its independence, Ahmed Ben Bella became the first president. Ben Bella faced the aftermath of a war that had not only resulted in large-scale human loss, but also the devastation of economic and social sectors.
After independence, Ben Bella attempted to bring stability to the country by encouraging farmers to take control over their land in order to strengthen the agricultural sector of the country. Although this attempt to continue to rebuild Algeria’s economic and social sectors made him one of Algeria’s most popular political figures, his presidency was short lived. In 1965, one of his closest friends, Houari Boumediene, ended his presidency with a military coup that put Ben Bella under house arrest, allowing Boumediene to become the second Algerian president. After taking power over the country, Boumediene abolished all potential political institutions, placing all of the country under strict military power. Boumediene’s military style of governing eliminated the potential for opposition of any kind. When his presidency was cut short by his death in 1978 due to a rare blood disease, Algeria was left leaderless.
Since Boumediene’s death, Algeria has been through political and social turmoil including the civil war, which cost Algeria between an estimated 44,000 to 150,000 lives. The conflict was rooted in 1991 when the military suspended the elections after the Islamic Salvation Front gained popularity among the population, fearing that they would win the elections. The civil war lasted from 1991 until 2002, when the newly elected president Abdelaziz Bouteflika implemented an amnesty law that gave Islamic fighters the opportunity to give up their weapons for the chance to lead a normal life. By allowing rebels to end fighting in exchange for forgiveness from the state, the law also helped decrease overall violence.
Eventually, the amnesty law brought peace in Algeria and allowed Bouteflika to rebuild the destroyed economy. By 2002, the safety curfew was nonexistent and people were allowed to freely travel in and out of the country. Due to this progress, Bouteflika gained a great deal of popularity, which won him reelection every five years. However, despite Bouteflika’s attempt to move Algeria forward, the problems of high unemployment especially among youth as well as widespread economic inequality both continued to affect people’s daily lives, which eventually lead to a decrease in Bouteflika’s popularity.
In Algeria’s latest elections last April, Bouteflika, now 77 years old, ran for reelection for the fourth time. He was pushed in a wheelchair and could hardly speak due to a past stroke that had left him paralyzed. Many believed that this has made him incapable a changing nation where youth demand to be a part of the political scene. Bouteflika also met strong opposition from Algerians living abroad.
During the elections, Boutiflika’s campaign continued to portray the outdated message of the Algerian Liberation Front and the Liberation Movement for Independence. Although most of the youth appreciated this message, they no longer related to it. The election campaign was the moment when the nation and Boutiflika’s regime were forced to realize that the old message of the Algerian Liberation Front was no longer working. Looking at recent social medial and technology, it is obvious that Algerian youth wish to see changes that will allow the youth and many Algerians abroad to find a place in their own country. Boutiflika’s reelection into a fourth term demonstrates his regime’s reluctance to change, preventing Algeria from changing in the way that the population requires in order to move forward.
Since its independence, Algeria has struggled with many political regimes. Even though Boutlifika brought the stability that people needed during the civil war, with the increased opposition that the regime is currently facing, the regime needs to step back in order to allow the voice of its youth to be heard. By doing so, old historical traditions can remain respected memories, while political changes will allow people to feel as though they are part of the country they cherish.
To further explore Algeria’s past and present, click here for part 1 of 2 of ‘Algeria Test of Power’.
Agaila Abba is a freelance writer specializing in African, North African and Middle Eastern affairs @Agailita