Algeria: Love It Or Leave It

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October 26, 2020: The declining Islamic terrorist activity in Algeria finally reached zero in 2020. Covid19 restrictions played a part in shutting down the remaining Algerian Islamic terrorist groups. The decline began in the late 1990s, with the end of a horrific Islamic terrorist campaign against the government and civilians that opposed Islamic rule. Since that conflict ended, Algerians have been hostile to any group that backs or participates in Islamic terrorism.

The army continued its aggressive patrolling in areas where with recent Islamic terrorist activity. All of Algeria’s neighbors (Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Libya and Tunisia) still have active Islamic terror groups while there are none in Algeria. That might change because some neighbors, like Mali, Libya and Niger are currently dealing with a lot of Islamic terror activity. All the Algerian Islamic terrorists who were not killed or captured have fled to neighboring countries to continue their violent ways. Those exiles will continue to avoid Algeria as long as they can find countries where it’s easier and safer to be an Islamic terrorist.

Many of the surviving Algerian Islamic terrorist fighters and leaders fled into European exile. Some continued their Islamic terrorism, others switched to non-violent Islamic politics. The most prominent example of this is the Moslem Brotherhood. While the Moslem Brotherhood has been successful at getting elected, they soon lose power when their radical fringe demands a religious dictatorship. Islamic party leaders insist they can prevent that from happening, but most Algerians don’t believe it and don’t believe Islamic party politicians will be any better at dealing with corruption and bad government than more secular Moslem politicians.

As a reminder of all this the European and North African media regularly report on Algerian Islamic terrorists caught operating outside of Algeria. Any of these Algerians who gets arrested gives interrogators the same story; that it is too dangerous for Islamic terrorists in Algeria.

Supporters of Islamic radicalism or terrorism also fled after the 1990s. Most went to Europe, especially France. Nearly a century of French occupation left most Algerians with some knowledge of the French language and customs. Nearly a million Algerians have gone to France, legally or otherwise, since Algerian independence in 1962. Most of these Algerians went to France for economic reasons but in the 1960s most went because they had supported French rule in Algeria. A second surge began in the late 1990s and continued for nearly a decade as Algerians fled to escape the Islamic terrorist violence or because they were Islamic terrorists or known supporters. These two purges rid Algeria of most people who supported French rule or an Islamic dictatorship. This frequent “flight rather than fight” activity has become part of Algerian culture. A current dispute over what is in, or not in, the proposed new constitution has led to critics of the constitution being told to leave the country if they cannot abide the new constitution. The vote on the new version takes place on November 1st and many Algerians feel that document does not go far enough in making the country less corrupt and prone to incompetent government.

The new president has jailed over a hundred people for continuing to participate in the weekly demonstrations that began in February 2019 to overthrow the FLN party, which had held onto power since the 1960s. That protest movement put the current president into office, although many Algerians were unsure of how much a reformer the new leader was. The actual demonstrations were halted in March with the imposition of covid19 quarantine and suspension of court appearances for arrested protestors. That did not stop all the protestors as many continued their activity online, especially on Facebook. There the discussion was more detailed and diverse than the agenda the weekly protests backed. With the courts closed, the government allowed the police to arrest and detain “anti-government” suspects for indefinite periods.

Weekly demonstrations forced out the long-time FLN party president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika and that led to free elections at the end of 2019. These weekly demonstrations, nicknamed the Hirak, continued and were outlawed by the new government. This convinced many Hirak supporters that the demonstrations should continue because there were still government practices that needed to be changed. About the same time the actual demonstrations were halted by covid19 the government was demonstrating more hostility towards the complaints, many of them justified, that Hirak participants had.

The Facebook page of Hirak featured Islamic parties more prominently as many of the leaders of those parties spoke from exile in the West (mainly France) and were unable to participate in the physical Hirak. No so in the online version, which upset many Hirak members from Algeria. The Islamic parties still reminded Algerians of the bloody 1990s war against Islamic terrorists, whose goal was to establish a religious dictatorship. The Islamic parties had won a fair election in 1990 and the FLN refused to be replaced by Islamic politicians. The fighting was horrific and destroyed most popular support the Islamic parties once had. That conflict left many Algerians supporting a constitutional change that would eliminate recognizing Islamic primacy in Algeria.

The current government has devoted a lot of effort to identifying all the participants in these online Hirak activities and sought to arrest those still in Algeria. France won’t even consider arresting and extraditing the Hirak posters living in France. Free speech and all that. The irony is not lost on the Algeria-based Hirak members. In Algeria it is still popular to criticize France for its colonial era crimes. Yet France remains a model for what Algeria would like to be. The newly elected government is going after corrupt officials and businessmen but has not yet proved that the new officials are any more effective and less corrupt than the old bunch. Arresting Hirak online critics and journalists who appear to support those critics does not inspire confidence among most voters.

The November 1st vote will not prohibit future constitution modifications but the new constitution will take some time to experience and decide if is an effective solution to anything.

The Cash Crisis

In addition to the unsettled political climate Algeria is still suffering from the collapses of oil prices in 2013 and 2019. The 2019 crash was caused by the covid19 virus sharply reducing demand while a feud between Russia and Saudi Arabia kept production high. After 2013 oil prices fell from $100 a barrel to $50. The 2019 crises took the price down to $20 a barrel. That hurt Algeria which now expects GDP to decline at least three percent in 2020 after growing nearly one percent in 2019. The old government was replaced a year ago in part because it was not successful enough in dealing with the resulting economic crises. The most visible sign of that failure is the growth of government debt from 26 percent of GDP in 2018 to nearly 50 percent in 2020. Oil prices are at record lows and government plans to increase oil and gas production and diversify the economy are still underway. The government has not got spare cash for any new undertakings. Now the government is under pressure to go to the IMF, which has a reputation for imposing strict conditions on its loans which usually include some basic changes in how the debtor will operate their economy to ensure the IMF gets paid back.

The Covid19 economic recession alone caused some major economic problems for the new constitution to deal with. These include a constitutional change which allows more foreign participation (and foreign money) to be used to expand the oil industry. These new laws also make it easier to attract foreign investment. This was something the original constitution was hostile to and it has hurt the economy ever since.

October 24, 2020: The government offered support for the new, more comprehensive ceasefire agreement in neighboring Libya. An August ceasefire was only a pause in the fighting because Turkey continued to enlarge its forces there and preparations for a major offensive. That Turkish threat was diminished in part because Turkey has commitments in so many other foreign conflicts. These include Syria, Iraq, Azerbaijan, the eastern Mediterranean (against Greece and NATO) and Somalia.

 

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