Republican Reference - Area ( 2,381,741 - Population 35,406,303 - Capital Algiers - Currency Algerian Dinar (DZD) - President Abdelaziz Bouleflika


















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After more than a century of rule by France, Algerians fought through much of the 1950s to achieve independence in 1962. Algeria's primary political party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), was established in 1954 as part of the struggle for independence and has largely dominated politics since. The Government of Algeria in 1988 instituted a multi-party system in response to public unrest, but the surprising first round success of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in the December 1991 balloting spurred the Algerian army to intervene and postpone the second round of elections to prevent what the secular elite feared would be an extremist-led government from assuming power. The army began a crackdown on the FIS that spurred FIS supporters to begin attacking government targets, and fighting escalated into an insurgency, which saw intense violence between 1992-98 resulting in over 100,000 deaths - many attributed to indiscriminate massacres of villagers by extremists. The government gained the upper hand by the late-1990s, and FIS's armed wing, the Islamic Salvation Army, disbanded in January 2000. Abdelaziz BOUTEFLIKA, with the backing of the military, won the presidency in 1999 in an election widely viewed as fraudulent. He was reelected to a second term in 2004 and overwhelmingly won a third term in 2009 after the government amended the constitution in 2008 to remove presidential term limits. Longstanding problems continue to face BOUTEFLIKA, including large-scale unemployment, a shortage of housing, unreliable electrical and water supplies, government inefficiencies and corruption, and the continuing activities of extremist militants. The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) in 2006 merged with al-Qa'ida to form al-Qa'ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, which has launched an ongoing series of kidnappings and bombings targeting the Algerian Government and Western interests. The government in 2011 introduced some political reforms in response to the Arab Spring, including lifting the 19-year-old state of emergency restrictions and ending the state's monopoly on broadcast media. Political protest activity in the country remained low in 2011, but small, sometimes violent socioeconomic demonstrations by disparate groups continued to be a common occurrence.

Update No: 001 - (31/05/12)

The so-called Arab 'Awakening' or 'Spring' has been a phenomenon affecting all Arab countries since January 2011. The awakening cannot accurately be described as a movement. It is better understood as the sudden manifestation of the desire for change in the Arab world after years of stagnant politics. The desire for change in countries from Yemen to Morocco that has given shape to the events of the 'Awakening' in North Africa, carried the hope that the Middle East and North African region might finally experience the kind of reforms able to ensure better resource distribution, more rights and civil liberties and political freedom. However, the desire for change was so great that there were bound to be disappointments. Surely, the revolts have toppled a few dictators like Qadhafi in Libya and removed presidents that had gotten too comfortable in their chairs such as Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia. The revolts have even frightened some kings and generals, in the states of the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia, even in Morocco, to such an extent as to pave the road for constitutional change and widespread social spending, in an effort to diffuse the feeling of malcontent that has driven this demand for change. Nevertheless, the Arab 'Awakening' has been especially successful in promoting the Islamist agenda in North Africa, as much as in the Middle East.

Religious conservatives have taken over the region's political agenda. At first, when the university students and educated elites rose up in Tunisia and then Egypt, it seemed that Western concerns that the call for political freedom would lead to a strengthening of the Islamists were unfounded and exaggerated. However, the Islamists were caught more off guard by the desire for change than Western pundits. The Islamists have been slow to join the revolt, but have 'taken over', that was because they were far more politically experienced than their idealist youth counterparts. Islamist parties led by an older and more socially conservative generation, have unquestionably dominated every major electoral contest from Egypt, to Tunisia and Morocco.

The Islamists, election winners or not, will now have to tackle the very same difficult economic conditions, high unemployment, soaring food prices and the effects of the European financial crisis that fuelled political unrest . The economic woes have forced governments to increase subsidies and price controls in the face of international financial institutions' advice and the free market. Such policies expand budget deficits and worsen finances, and ultimately North African governments will meet increasing difficulties in meeting their citizens' demands, (which could perpetuate the 'street protest' syndrome for many years to come).

Algeria and Morocco are two countries that weathered the political storm of 2011 without radical outcomes. In Algeria, high profits from oil sales enabled the government to sustain social spending and such as to better absorb the impact of social problems. In Morocco, strategic political manoeuvring by the Palace, confident of its legitimacy, allowed it to 'ride' the storm and avoid a 'revolution'. The political freedoms granted by the King in Morocco have led to elections won by the political 'cousins' of the Islamist parties that have also won elections in Egypt and Tunisia.

In Algeria, however, a highly anticipated election failed to reproduce the results seen in its neighboring states. The Islamists have failed to capture the popular imagination as the agents of change and social reform having essentially emerged as the losers of the parliamentary elections held in mid-May.

The Algerian elections, in fact, present the first paradox of the Arab Awakening in that the Islamist parties, which have won parliamentary elections wherever elections have been held, have succumbed to the party representing the ancient regime. In Algeria, the Islamist wave appears to have been crushed, having barely received 10% of the total number of votes in an election marked by a low turnout. This suggests that while there is political apathy, the Islamist parties have completely lost the appeal they enjoyed in 1992, when they defeated the ruling Front National de Liberation (FNL - close to President Bouteflika), setting off a series of countermeasures by the armed forces that culminated in a brutal, quite terrible civil war. The Islamist parties, united in the Green Coalition, contested the electoral results even going as far as blaming Bouteflika himself, hoping perhaps to leverage the events of 1992, but it will be very difficult to find a legal platform that will overturn the results. Indeed, the Green Coalition, or L'Alliance de l'Algerie Verte', blamed the armed forces (the very same which overturned the Islamist win in 1992) for having voted en masse for the FLN and the other secular party of the RND (National Rally for Democracy) which together form the Presidential Alliance coalition.

The elections were monitored by over 500 foreign observers, who did not report any major irregularities. The FLN has regained a significant parliamentary majority - 288 seats out of a total 462. The extent of the Islamist loss is all the more significant because of the confidence they had built up in view of their counterparts' success elsewhere in North Africa. They did not expect to be relegated to a position where at best, they will be in a position to be part of the parliamentary opposition and little more. The outcome was a bit remarkable considering that the Islamist alliance between three parties was expected to take the lead, having been projected to take one third of the assembly. The FLN's sister party RND grabbed 68 seats. These two parties now control over 62% of the Assembly, which means they will set the stage for Algeria's next constitution.

Given the difference between the expected results and the actual outcome, the Islamist Green Coalition will probably begin a process of self questioning, while the FLN is probably still incredulous over its success in an election it surely did not expect to win, or at least win by such a distance. President Bouteflika took an active role, giving a series of powerful speeches, during the campaign to win back part of the voters who used to support the FLN. Algeria's middle and upper classes will no doubt be relieved that the Islamists have finally been stopped. The official turnout was less than 43% according to the Ministry for the Interior, which has been known to inflate figures in the past. Expatriate voters were especially negligent and only 8% of them voted. Rural Algeria also largely ignored the vote.

It may well be that Algerians have remained apathetic because the Arab Awakening of change was led from the 'Street' rather than parliament, which failed to manifest itself in Algeria even if it was Algeria that truly started to shake Arab politics in the 1990's, holding the first truly democratic elections which proved the people's desire for radical change - even if that change slipped away with the civil war. Nevertheless, despite the victory, the elections have failed to truly represent the people's will and rather than bask in success, the winning Presidential Coalition should consider the question of why voter abstention was so prominent. The electoral picture may say "business as usual', when in fact, if we exclude the Islamist defeat, the main factor to consider is the fact that few Algerians have shown trust in the democratic process. The RND-FLN Coalition also failed to offer anything truly new for voters to get excited about, something the Islamists also failed to do. Now, the secular alliance that controls 62% of Parliament should abandon challenging Islamists, in favor of winning over the population with good ideas.




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