Algeria remains one of the few countries in the Arab world that has retained the ability to conduct an independent foreign policy and has not been affected by destabilization. The situation in this country remains relatively stable, despite the noticeable deterioration of its economic situation and the decline in the cost of energy resources on world markets, the fall of Algerian gas production.
According to the nature of articles published recently in the Algerian press, an approximate list of political threats to Algeria today includes the following external actors:
- Terrorist groups, including Daesh and al-Qaeda (both banned in Russia);
- France and its allies, political and military organizations, Egypt and the UAE;
Regarding the first two points, to a certain extent the explanation is clear: Algeria has not forgotten the long and arduous civil war with Islamic radicals, the consequences of which are sometimes still felt today in the form of terrorist attacks. The Islamist groups in that war were supported by al-Qaeda and Morocco.
As for France, the roots of mistrust of it should be sought in the history of Algeria, which was its colony and managed to achieve independence only as a result of a bloody war. Therefore, in Algeria to this day there remains a negative and very wary attitude towards it, which has only increased in recent years against the background of France’s participation in the overthrow of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and its subsequent role in the Libyan conflict, as well as the actions of French allies in it, including Egypt and the UAE.
One recent example of the rejection of Paris’s imperialist ambitions is, of course, the withdrawal by the Algerian authorities of the accreditation of the TV channel France 24 on June 12, on the eve of the early parliamentary elections. The reason was given as “explicit and repeated hostility toward Algeria and its institutions, failure to comply with the rules of professional ethics, disinformation and manipulation.” Earlier, on March 13, the Algerian Ministry of Communications had already issued a warning to France 24, pointing to its “blatant bias” in its coverage of opposition marches in the country, which have been taking place in Algeria since early 2019, demanding the implementation of fundamental reforms and the change of the ruling elite.
As for Algeria’s vigilance toward Egypt, it should be noted that the country is an entire separate issue for Algeria. In June 2020, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi threatened that the Egyptian army would invade Libya if pro-Turkish forces attacked Sirte. An Egyptian invasion of Libya could be followed by a serious undermining of Algeria’s interests, a change in the balance of power in North Africa, and Libya could cease to be the buffer that currently separates the two regional powers from each other.
Algeria’s relationship with Turkey is also rather complicated. On the one hand, both countries supported the former Saraj-led Government of National Accord and, initially, Algeria was even sympathetic to Ankara’s actions when it decided to send military aid to Saraj in early 2020. But at the same time, Algeria has of late been very wary of Turkey’s neo-Ottoman policy in Libya, clearly fearing that Ankara may establish a permanent military presence in the neighboring country, including on the Libyan-Algerian border, and also fearing a new escalation of conflict in central Libya through the fault of the Turkish leadership’s policies.
As for Algeria’s internal political vectors, on February 18, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced the dissolution of Parliament to hold early parliamentary elections. In his National Martyr Day speech, the head of Algeria called for “free and fair elections without corrupt money” and said that all the demands of the popular Al-Herak movement were “included in the constitutional amendments, and the voice of civil society will be raised after it has been marginalized.” The Algerian president noted that this decision was made in response to the demands of the Al-Herak movement, which, after a year’s hiatus, resumed its activity with weekly rallies every Friday, refusing to participate in the elections and demanding the departure of the ruling regime.
On the eve of Algeria’s “unique” parliamentary elections, held on June 12, the Arab media analyzed the political situation in the country, pointing to the participation of 28 parties and more than 800 independent candidates. This vote was unique in that it was the first in Algerian history to be overseen by an independent electoral commission, something the opposition had sought. The new constitution and then the new election law gave the commission full authority to organize the plebiscite. In addition, this past election shows the return of some political parties that have boycotted and objected to the new electoral process since it began in December 2019. First of all, the largest opposition party, the Movement of Society for Peace. In addition, parties such as the Justice and Development Front, Ennahda and others also returned to the elections.
Nevertheless, these early parliamentary elections were held with a record low attendance: just over 30% of the 24 million Algerians eligible to vote went to the polls. According to Western media reports, attendance in some parts of Algeria did not even exceed 15%, and in Kabylia, which is considered a stronghold of the opposition, the attendance was only 1%. For comparison, the attendance at the 2017 elections exceeded 38%, while in 2012 it was 42%.
According to the data published by the media, the ruling National Liberation Front remained the leader with the most seats in parliament, having received 164 deputy mandates, although this time it has noticeably surrendered its positions.
The moderate Islamist movement, the Islamist Movement of Society for Peace, which is ideologically close to the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood (banned in Russia), came in second place, with 80 seats in parliament, greatly increasing its representation (last time it won only 33 seats in parliament). This time they declared an alleged landslide victory the day after the vote, without waiting for the preliminary results, which led the chairman of the Algerian Central Electoral Commission, Mohamed Shurfi, to issue a special statement denying the Islamists’ attempt to pass off the results as their complete victory in the election.
In any case, there is a decrease in the influence of those associated with the ruling elites and an increase in the weight of the Islamists. In general, the elections were calm, at least without clashes with security forces or serious violations at polling stations, with the exception of Kabylia, where ballot boxes were lost. As for the possible influence on the future policy of Algeria of the strengthening of the parliamentary positions of the Algerian Islamists and through them Turkey, the near future should clarify this situation.
Since its independence in 1962, Algeria has been a unique power in the Arab world. While other Arab countries have changed their ideology and foreign policy principles several times to suit the changing world situation, Algeria refuses to follow their example, defending the ideas of national sovereignty, secularism, anti-imperialism and cooperation with all Arab and African states, while remaining neutral and refusing to join any military blocs.
Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.