Algeria: The Unwelcome Message Is Respected

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March 22, 2018: February was a quiet month for Islamic terrorist activity and March even more so. In February one Islamic terrorist was killed and two arrested while the security forces continued to find more abandoned Islamic terrorist hideouts (often bunkers in rural areas) although some of them still had stored equipment in them like weapons, ammo and explosives. But so far in March no live Islamic terrorists have been encountered. Some are still around but most have either left the country (especially Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso to the south). Ever since Algeria defeated a major outbreak of Islamic terrorism in the 1990s Algeria has come to be known as a very hostile place for Islamic terrorists. In the last decade there have been failed efforts by al Qaeda and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) to establish a presence in Algeria and in both cases the Islamic terror groups suffered heavy losses and accomplished little besides getting their failures publicized.

Currently when the numerous police and army patrols do encounter something suspicious it was usually smugglers, not Islamic terrorists. The most lucrative contraband is drugs, which are moved from Algerian ports to Europe. Less frequently smugglers will move weapons while its more likely now to find consumer goods that the government has put import restrictions on to reduce losses to foreign currency reserves.

And then there is religion. Algeria is overwhelmingly Moslem and one way the government prevents Islamic radicalism is by regulating the construction and operation of mosques and who can run them. But there are over 17,000 mosques in the country and the government finds and shuts down hundreds of illegal ones each year. Dozens of others must be watched carefully because of suspected support for Islamic terrorism. One way to placate borderline Islamic radicals is to persecute non-Moslems (three percent of Algerians and nearly all Christians). But you cannot go too far lest you anger the European nations (especially France) that Algeria still depends on for all sorts of things.

In Algeria many economic and security problems revolve around geography. Most (90 percent) of the population lives in 20 percent of the Algerian territory along the coast. But that is not where the money is. Some 75 percent of the government budget comes from the oil and natural gas production in the desert south. The oil and gas operations generate nearly 40 percent of the GDP. Thus the security forces have two very different missions. One involves policing the densely populated coastal areas that also have lots of hilly forests to hide in. The south largely lacks vegetation as well as roads and people making it more difficult for terrorists or smugglers to move around when the area is well patrolled, which is usually is. The government learned the hard way several times that if you get sloppy with security the Islamic terrorists will eventually detect that and take advantage.

The biggest security problem is increasingly angry (and often unemployed if young) population that wants more honest and effective government and the ability to vote in fair elections. This motivates the government to be effective enough to avoid a revolution. The drop in oil prices after 2013 made this task a lot more difficult. The government has coped, often just barely. In 2017 GDP rose 2.2 percent, down from 3.3 percent in 2016. On the bright side inflation was also down, from 6.4 percent in 2016 to 5.6 percent in 2017. This helped the government because there have been few raises for government employees, which are 32 percent of the workforce. This lack of raises has caused growing unrest but the fact of the matter is there is less money available to the government. Demands that the government make it easier to start and operate a business have long been resisted because allowing that meant more people with economic independence and that sort of middle class is trouble for corrupt governments. But the government is reluctantly allowing those reforms and hoping for the best.

Oil and natural gas exports were down two percent in 2017 compared to 2016. The situation looks better in 2018 as rising oil prices oil revenue was up 35 percent during the first two months of the year. Imports, due to new laws, were down 10 percent in the same period meaning the trade deficit was down 94 percent (from $2.33 billion in the first two months of 2017).

Rich, Safe And Miserable

Despite suppressing Islamic terrorism before 2011 and thus avoiding Arab Spring violence Algeria has rather low (84 out of 156) ranking on the UN sponsored World Happiness Index. The top ten are all the usual suspects (Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia). Ironically Israel is the least miserable nation in the Arab world (being 11th on the world list). However last year Algeria was the happiest state in Africa but this year in third. Number one was Mauritius, which is a tiny (population 1.3 million) island state off East Africa that has been well run and prosperous because of tourism and has been generally peaceful since it became independent 50 years ago. Libya is now number two and has since 2011 been seen as chaotic and an Islamic terrorist haven but in 2017 the situation improved a lot and that was reflected in Happiness Index. Algeria suffers from chronic government corruption and economic stagnation despite all the oil wealth and that does not make Algerians happy.

Generally the Happiness rankings are similar to the corruption survey. Thus the U.S. is at 18th place on the Happiness List, Morocco is at 85, Libya at 70, Palestinian Territories at 104, Egypt at 122, Tunisia at 111, Mali at 118, Niger at 134, the UAE at 2o, Saudi Arabia at 33, Kuwait at 45, Russia at 59, Japan at 54, South Korea at 57, Turkey at 74, Jordan at 90, China at 86, Pakistan at 75, Venezuela at 102, Lebanon at 88, Somalia at 98, Iran at 106, Iraq at 117, Bangladesh at 115, Burma at 130, India at 133, Afghanistan at 145, Yemen at 152, Syria at 150 and at 156 (last place) Burundi. Communist dictatorships like North Korea and Cuba block access to data needed for the survey and were not rated but it is rumored they are not happy places.

March 14, 2018: In Tizi Ouzou (120 kilometers east of the capital) and nearby Boumerdes province army patrols found and destroyed four Islamic terrorist bunkers. Five bombs were found in some of the bunkers. These were examined then destroyed where they were.

March 8, 2018: In Boumerdes province (122 kilometers southeast of the capital) army patrols found 13 locally made landmines as well as firearms, explosives and ammo in two Islamic terrorist hiding places.

 

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