From December of 2010 to January 2012 Algeria took part in the Arab Spring. Protesters gathered around the country to speak out against economic hardships and a repressive government, within a year the protests had ceased as a result of effective crowd control tactics, strategic concessions, and a collective desire to avoid the violence and death of the countries recently ended civil war.
Algeria has been no stranger to widespread protests for democracy, attempts at holding democratic elections in 1989 saw Islamists win early on, and following these results the military stepped in out of fear of Islamists taking power. Upon the intervention of the military Algeria descended into a civil war for ten years where some 150,000 Algerians died (Gelvin, 94). Ten years later Algeria would see more protests after its citizens became inspired by their neighbors in Tunisia. Algerians were frustrated with the lack of economic opportunities available to them, with younger Algerians fleeing the country (illegally) to seek opportunities elsewhere in Europe complaining of corruption and poverty (Daoud). On top of the economic problems they faced, they also lived under a repressive regime that had forced them to live under a state of emergency for 19 years. The President of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been the countries longest reigning President since 1999, and would unfairly win elections by wide margins or even campaigning. The only place a person would see President Bouteflika’s face during a “campaign” would be on posters. Protests began initially with a focus on calling for a decrease in pricing on subsidized goods, but eventually expanded to call for more economic and government reforms (Volpi, 107). Unlike the old protests turned civil war 10 years ago, the Algerian protests were not plagued with widespread deaths. The lack of Islamist involvement in these protests caused the police to take a more tame approach in handling protesters; the most common technique used was blocking small groups from linking up with others throughout the city. This was able to be accomplished with the police forces outnumbering the protesters in every instance. Although the protests were contained, the voices of the protesters were acknowledged and heard by the government. Selective concessions were made by the government to appease the population while not losing its control over the country. The state of emergency was eventually lifted although certain aspects of it remained in place and allowed the military to continue its involvement in domestic security (Al Jazeera). On top of all this, there was a lack of enthusiasm to protest out of a fear of it leading to more lives lost fighting against the government.
Coverage of the Algerian protests was not as expansive as those in Tunisia and Egypt, but there were several articles that really broke down what went wrong for the protesters. The article by Al Jazeera covers the lifting of the State of Emergency law after protests called for its end. It highlights the last real concession made before protests eventually petered out. At the same time the article calls to light how the ending of the state of emergency wasn’t a full one and what aspects remained in place. Kamel Daoud’s article “The Algerian Exception” really highlights what caused the revolution to fail, especially on the part of state-run media and the police as well as hearkening back to the violent civil war that left many lacking enthusiasm for another revolution. The Journal of Democracy issue on the Algerian revolution places more of a focus on the protests themselves, where they occurred, how the government responded, and what their grievances were as well as looking at some of the people who were responsible for organizing certain protests. It provided a really detailed breakdown of the response to the protests and highlighted the more light handed approach taken towards handling and containing the protesters.
“Algeria Repeals Emergency Law.” Al Jazeera English. February 23, 2011. Accessed October 30, 2016.
Daoud, Kamel. “The Algerian Exception.” The New York Times. May 29, 2015. Accessed October 30, 2016.
Gelvin, James L. The Arab Uprisings: What Everyone Needs to Know. New York: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.
Volpi, Frédéric. “Algeria versus the Arab Spring.” Journal of Democracy 24, no. 3 (July 24, 2013): 104-115. Accessed October 30, 2016. doi:10.1353
Ian Hines is a Communications Major studying at Champlain College.
Rob Williams, Ph.D., Champlain College Faculty Advisor