Algeria: Quiet, Too Quiet


July 6, 2017: Although the government plays down Islamic radicalism it does tolerate some forms of religious persecution. This is especially true of a minority Islamic sect; the Ahmadi (Ahmadiyya). This sect appeared in India during the 1880s and has been popular enough to get about one percent of all Moslems to join despite constant persecution in Moslem nations. Io most Islamic conservatives and radicals the Ahmadi are heretics and are often attacked and even killed because of their beliefs. The Ahmadi believe in centralized authority for Islam and a separation of church and state. They also have different views on the caliphate and the future of Islam. In Algeria nearly 300 local Ahmadi have been arrested since 2016 because a local Ahmadi group sought a (mandatory) government permit to build a new mosque. Many of those arrested have been prosecuted and fined or sentenced to prison. Because of all the persecution in Moslem nations the Ahmadi world headquarters is in Britain, where the Ahmadi are free to practice their belief that the West is in need of more religion and Ahmadi clerics seek new members from among Moslems and non-Moslems. The Ahmadi don’t believe in Islamic terrorism and that makes them tolerable in non-Moslem nations. But for nations like Algeria, to leave the Ahmadi alone is unpopular with a lot of Moslems who don’t want Islamic terrorism, or Moslems who are as nonconformist as the Ahmadi.

Resisting Realistic Reform

Algeria is a peace in large part because it went through its own Arab Spring in the 1990s. Because of that the 2011 movement made only a slight impact here and Islamic terrorists are few and very much on the defensive. Islamic terrorist violence declined again in 2016 and that continues in 2017. Most Algerians are more concerned with corruption and bad government. The popular rejection of Islamic terrorists was largely because many Algerians are still traumatized by the 1990s war not because they disagreed with the fact that the Islamic terrorists attracted popular support in the early 1990s by pretending to be the cure for corruption and bad government. Algerian Islamic radicals tried to capitalize on the Arab Spring unrest in neighboring Tunisia and Libya. But in both those countries, the popular uprising was against the local dictators and for democracy, not for an Islamic religious dictatorship. Islamic political parties were popular, but not Islamic radicals. The uprisings in Tunisia and Libya weakened the local security forces, and made it easier for Islamic radicals to move around and recruit. Algeria was able insulate itself from this. Many expect another, and larger, Arab Spring in Algeria eventually but so far the geriatric government is making concessions and trying to reform itself and finding that very difficult to do. This is delaying another revolution rather than preventing it. Meanwhile Tunisia next door, the first Arab state to rebel in 2011, is so far the only one to do so successfully and they did it without oil wealth.

The Oil Curse

Algeria has a serious budget problem. While oil prices (and oil income) were up a bit in 2016 (to about $48 a barrel) they have to reach $90 a barrel before national finances return to normal and that will apparently never happen. In 2013, before the price of oil fell over 70 percent from record highs, oil and gas exports accounted for 30 percent of GDP, 95 percent of exports and provided enough income to cover 60 percent of the government budget. The unexpected drop in oil prices brought big changes to Algeria. The government has been largely successful in cutting the budget and finding additional sources of income to cope with this. But these solutions are only temporary because they depend on drawing from foreign exchange reserves (needed to pay for imports, especially food) each year.

The government cut their budget 17 percent in 2017 after a nine percent cut in 2016. The cuts are necessary to reduce the budget deficit (8 percent of GDP in 2017 versus 15 percent for 2016). There are limits on how long these deficits can be tolerated. The deficits are covered by drawing on cash reserves built up (to about $200 billion) before 2013. In 2015 these reserves fell 22 percent to $143 billion and in 2016 another 20 percent to $114 billion. In 2017 the goal is to keep the reserves loss to about ten percent (a decline to $102 billion). At mid-year that goal on track to being achieved. Current estimates are that the foreign exchange reserves can be drawn on for ten or more years (supplemented by some foreign loans). After that severe cuts will have to be made and there will be much unrest. To avoid that the government has actually addressed (or at least admitted to) problems like corruption and mismanagement that have long crippled the economy and created popular discontent. This led to the Islamic terrorist uprising of the 1990s that was defeated but not forgotten. The Islamic radicals still have supporters, especially among men under age 30 (about 30 percent of whom are unemployed). The government has tried, especially since 2010, to reduce the youth unemployment rate but so far has not had much success. But the government still has a chance because economic reforms have enabled Algeria to keep GDP growing despite the price of oil dropping fifty percent in the last three years and not showing any sign of increasing.

July 3, 2017: The government agreed to allow some of the illegal migrants from the south (mainly from Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso) to apply for legal status and obtain work permits. Although young Algerians of the same age face a 30 percent unemployment rate there are still a lot of unskilled construction and agricultural jobs that go unfilled because educated young Algerians consider such jobs unacceptable.

June 18, 2017: In Constantine province (400 kilometers east of the capital) a weeklong operation resulted in three Islamic terrorists killed, another three captured and eight supporters arrested. So far in 2017 about 40 Islamic terrorists have been killed in the east, mainly near the coast and the Tunisian border. That’s more than half the Islamic terrorist losses in all of Algeria this year.

June 13, 2017: French diplomats visited Algeria and met with their local counterparts to discuss ways to coordinate policy on dealing with the political deadlock in Libya. Algeria and France agreed to coordinate their diplomatic efforts regarding Libya.

June 9, 2017: In the northeast, just across the border in Tunisia a soldier on patrol was killed by a landmine. Elsewhere in the area soldiers found the body of a local shepherd, who had been kidnapped by Islamic terrorists and beheaded, apparently because the victim was suspected of working for the security forces. In 2015 the brother of the dead man was also murdered by the Islamic terrorists. As heavily patrolled as this area is Islamic terrorists still find it safer for them than the similar mountainous forests on the Algerian side of the border. There is a known group of al Qaeda men hiding in this area.

June 5, 2017: Officials from Algeria and Tunisia met with their Egyptian counterparts in Egypt to discuss the continued fighting in Libya and the recent Egyptian airstrikes in Libya. Egypt explained its situation with Libya based Islamic terrorists attacking Egyptians and killing over a hundred recently. Algeria and Tunisia announced that they understood the necessity of the Egyptian attacks even though all three countries have long called for no military intervention in Libya.

June 3, 2017: Near the Tunisian border (Tebessa province, 650 kilometers east of the capital) a roadside bomb killed two soldiers and wounded four others who were patrolling the Tunisian border. By the end of the days security forces had found and arrested three Islamic terrorists (apparently due to a tip) who admitted making and planting the bomb.