After a month of protests led by Algeria’s youth, the military rule has been brought to its knees. General Abdelaziz Boutiflika*, practically a ‘zombie’ who probably hasn’t made a decision for himself since suffering a massive stroke in 2013, stepped down, or so his military puppet masters tell us. What happens next? If history is any indicator, nothing good.
Islamists in Waiting?
The last time Algerians were offered free and fair elections was in December 1991. The hard line Salifist ‘Front Islamique du Salut,’ FIS, (Islamic Salvation Front) took 188 seats in the 430 seat parliament in the first round, after having won local elections the previous year. The FIS could have done even better if the second round of voting went ahead as scheduled. The Generals, with French backing, decided they could not have an Islamic government and pulled off a Coup in January 1992 which led to a ten-year civil war and 200,000 dead. Ah, yes, the war so few have heard of.
There was plenty of violence on both sides. Mohamed Boudiaf, who helped found the FLN which led the fight for independence from France, returned from exile to lead the new transition government and was assassinated six months later.
It would be wrong to think the protests against the rule of the generals are a sign the people no longer like the Army. Algerians love their Army, just not the corrupt generals who have been running the show. Algerians see the Army of draftees as the guarantee to the country’s unity.
They have not forgotten the price paid for Independence. Algerians claim the French killed as many as two million people during their war for freedom from France between 1954 to 1962. It was a war in which torture and summary executions were standard procedure and a war which France has yet to come to terms with.
Algeria, in land mass, is Africa’s biggest country with a population of over 42 million. Algeria’s youth are being compared to Tunisia’s which brought down the Ben Ali dictatorship and initiated the Arab Spring in 2011: very educated, dynamic and highly unemployed: officially 30% of Algeria’s youth are jobless.
The country has been living off its ample oil and gas exports which account for 60% of budget revenues (95% of export earnings). This is a luxury Tunisia, with eleven-and-a-half million people, did not have.
The Tunisian Precedent
After Ben Ali was ousted and Tunisia was offered its first free and fair elections, they elected the hard line Islamist Ennahdha party to power. At the same time, some 500-thousand Tunisians celebrated their new-found freedom by leaving the country and illegally entering Europe, mostly France. It is interesting to note that 40% of the 800-thousand residents in France with Tunisian citizenship, many born in France, voted for the Islamists. The Ben Ali dictatorship had banned Ennahdha. Obviously, even after three generations of living in France, half had not integrated the values of the French Republic.
So, can Algeria follow the Tunisian road? Many in France fear so with some pundits on TV warning “ten million Algerians could flood into Europe” to join the millions ** of Algerians already in France.
This is a bad time for instability in Algeria if you are a supporter of European integration and federalism. One major issue in May’s European Parliamentary elections is immigration. ‘Populists’ have gained strength off of a rejection of the massive inflow of illegal migrants from Africa and the Middle East. Europeans are certainly worried that the downfall of Algeria’s military rulers could lead to a new flood of migrants at a time when the globalist European elite are fighting to stop a ‘populist’ win in May.
Expect to see Europe play a big role in what happens next in Algeria.
*If a stomach cancer brought Bouteflika to his knees in 2006, his stroke in 2013 certainly took away his capacity to take care of himself, let alone govern.
** It is hard to know how many Algerians there are in France as the French do not do ethnic census and the Algerians have not said how many of its citzens are listed. Estimates run from two to five million. All those born of at least one Algerian parent are automatically Algerian. My daughter-in-law was born in France as were her two daughters. All three have Algerian and French passports.