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How the Algerian military regime is trying to survive

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“How the Algerian military regime is trying to survive” review written by Soufiane Laaroussi

Dalia Ghanem 1024x1024 - How the Algerian military regime is trying to survive
Dr. Dalia Ghanem

Dr. Dalia Ghanem, researcher on Algeria who was senior analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut for nearly ten years, before joining the European Union think tank, the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) where she manages the MENA portfolio published in September by Palgrave Macmillan editions, “Understanding the Persistence of Competetive Authoritarianism in Algeria”.

This book reveals the secrets of the survival of the Algerian regime and the pillars of its longevity. The book explains how authoritarian consolidation took place and why it is likely to continue despite the departure of Bouteflika and the emergence of a new actor: the popular movement, the Hirak. The author highlights the pillars of the sustainability of the Algerian regime which has demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to perpetuate itself through a panoply of mechanisms. Ghanem identifies Algerian authoritarianism as a distinctly competitive and adaptable type, which has better enabled the regime to persist in the face of all kinds of change.

The book analyzes the situation in Algeria and the persistence of the regime far from the premises of a trend towards democratization. His work also contributes to a broader field of study concerning “competitive authoritarianism”, regimes that face national resistance, the question of what and how compels these regimes to change, the nature of their political institutions, etc

“This book impressively dissects how the regime used competition within authoritarianism to thwart civil society and Hirak,” analyzes Isabelle Werenfels, Senior Researcher and Maghreb Expert, Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Berlin, Germany. “To be used absolutely by political scientists, historians and all those who are keen on the Algerian puzzle!” adds Bertrand Badie, Emeritus Professor of Universities at Sciences Po Paris, France.

No trend towards democratization

The nature and course of Algerian history from 1962 to 1989 is little disputed among Algerian scholars. Many Algerian experts argue that developments in 1989, including the promulgation of a new constitution, put the country squarely on the path to democracy. As this book argues, however, Algeria’s transition in 1989 from one-party rule to a multi-party system did not lead to democracy. Ghanem maintains that the Algerian regime has moved from the pure and simple authoritarianism that has characterized it since independence in 1962 to what is known as “competitive authoritarianism”. This book, which is based on frontline research that includes interviews with members of the military, police, business sector, politicians, civil society organizations and ordinary citizens between 2016 and 2021, takes the political system of the country as it is. There is no trend towards democratization. In fact, today’s Algeria is more a continuation of its pre-1989 iteration than some kind of precursor to democracy. This book identifies five pillars supporting the Algerian regime, without which it would have collapsed long ago. The first pillar is the real place of power: the army. The second is the cooptation of the opposition. The third is the fragmentation of civil society. The fourth is the distribution of rents, clientelism and corruption. The fifth pillar is repression.

The army: the real broker of power in Algeria

Ghanem analyzes the role of the People’s National Army (ANP) as the main holder of political power, exerting significant influence on the political scene. The army identifies itself with the nation, which means that it is inconceivable that men in uniform should be confined to the security sector and cut off from politics. The army decides, and the government, its civilian facade, implements. This chapter explains the reasons for military hegemony and its role throughout every political crisis. This chapter analyzes civil-military relations in Algeria and the predominant role of the military in politics, including during the 2019 political crisis when the military sacrificed President Bouteflika and piloted the succession.

Hyperpluralism and cooptation: the secrets of the transformation of the opposition into a pillar of the regime

In 1989, the Algerian regime put an end to the one-party political system in place since independence. This movement allowed the emergence of political opposition and competition between parties. Yet such democratization has proven to be largely superficial. Today, the Algerian regime is characterized by what is indifferently called “authoritarianism electoral system” (Schedler, 2006) and “competitive authoritarianism” (Levitsky, S, Way, L. 2002). It is a hybrid regime, which mixes elements of democracy and authoritarianism. The introduction of pluralism replaced a monolithic facade with a pluralistic facade, but this did not lead to a significant change in the form of government (Roberts, 1999: 386). Rather than representing specific segments of society, several Algerian parties cater to different factions of the state, which retain control over their activities. Elections, rather than serving as a forum for political competition, are seen by the regime as a way to legitimize and re-legitimise itself, a democratic alibi that comes in handy when accused of authoritarianism. The regime sees the political parties ostensibly opposed to it not as rivals, but rather as potential partners that it could coerce into presenting Algeria to the world as a democracy. In this context, election results reflect the battles taking place within the state, more than in the public sphere (Addi, 2002).

Divide and conquer: the atomization of civil society

The book analyzes the third pillar of the regime: the fragmentation of civil society. The chapter explores the Algerian regime’s tactics and strategies (co-option, coercion, legalism, cloning and scapegoating) to fragment the civil society sector, control its activities and keep its activism low. Furthermore, the lack of financial and material resources, dependence on public funds, limited access to international funds and the lack of networking at the national and regional level have weakened the autonomy of CSOs in Algeria. They are therefore vulnerable to government tactics and therefore unable to challenge its policies and actions.

An economic clientelism

A key pillar of the scheme’s apparent longevity is its use of pension distribution. Oil revenue has remained the regime’s tool for buying social peace and perpetuating political allegiances. A process of controlled selective liberalization was put in place by the regime to secure the privileges of incumbents and improve economic opportunities for their clients and supporters, with the regime relying heavily on patronage and clientelism. The latter is the fuel of the system, it is clientelism, of which corruption is a central mechanism. This chapter examines how the system survives through corruption by obtaining important and strategic gains, such as paying those excluded from the system to prevent them from speaking out. This reinforces the actors’ vulnerability and dependence on the center, fragments and domesticates the strategic elite, cuts off the leadership of the masses and ends up discrediting the opponents in the eyes of the people.

A regime of violence and repression

Ghanem analyzes the coercive measures of the Algerian regime which use repression to maintain themselves. The scale of repression in Algeria is high because the state has a large and effective internal security sector. The latter is equipped with extensive intelligence networks, specialized police and paramilitary units capable of engaging society throughout the national territory. The security forces are well funded and well equipped. Since the end of the civil war in 2002, they have demonstrated their ability to suppress protests in all regions of the country, to monitor the opposition and to penetrate society. Moreover, today the Algerian regime is embracing technology to modernize authoritarianism for the modern era. This last pillar is crucial because if the patronage networks could be reduced due to the economic crisis, the last pillar would serve to maintain control, to perpetuate the system and to save the regime.

A bleak future for Algeria

In conclusion, Ghamem gives some perspectives for the future of Algeria. The evolution towards more authoritarianism of hybrid regimes following the succession of one leader by another is not always predetermined. A hybrid regime under new management can go both ways. It can try to reconcile with the opposition, or at the very least move towards more consensual policies, to recover some of its lost legitimacy and reduce conflicts. However, in the case of Algeria, the trend towards more authoritarianism is clear. Four factors are driving the shift towards greater authoritarianism in post-Bouteflika Algeria: strong pro-autocratic state institutions, particularly the military and the judiciary; increasing factionalism within an atomized opposition, including civil society organizations; reduced ability to the regime to buy social peace due to a difficult budgetary situation; and the regime’s increased inability to remain socially and politically relevant.

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