Why not Algeria, too?

Yesterday on Twitter Steven A. Cook and several others engaged the following exchange.

A lot of space has been spent on articles and commentary about why Algeria did not see the kind of upheaval that struck Tunisia, Libya and Egypt (and now Syria and Yemen). Much of this was of poor quality to recycled the same arguments and rationales. This blogger never found that conversation particularly interesting and generally avoided it. He is not going to attempt to explain why or why not Algeria has or will or might have an uprising. He is interested in the process of things inside Algeria more than big, hypothetical outcomes, at the moment in any case. What is more interesting is to look at what actually did happen in Algeria in 2011 as opposed to what outsiders think ought to have happened based on considerations about very different polities with very different political regimes from Algeria’s. A lot of time has been spent attempting to frame events in Algeria and virtually every other Arab polity as part of a single narrative — the “Arab Spring” — at the expense of looking at events as functions of the internal logic of very sophisticated and complex societies with actors operating in specific political contexts. While the countries that saw uprisings in 2011 had regimes and leaders with strong structural and psychological similarities these were nonetheless very particular situations. Algeria resembles Morocco or Egypt in more ways than it resembles Ben Ali’s Tunisia, Qadhafi’s Libya or Ba’thist Syria.

But Algeria has a distinct political background and demography that is sometimes downplayed in discussions about the Arab uprisings, which includes the civil war during the 1990s, an opposition that is pitifully fragmented and a regime made up of remarkably cunning political strategists and tacticians. Much of the writing about the events that took place in the Arab world focuses on forces as opposed to individual actors; the force of Tahrir Square, the force of social media, the force of the example of Mohamed Bouazizi, the force of symbols and avatars. One of the reasons uprisings became successful was that they forced regimes into reactive positions where they   were forced to react in aggressive and impolitic ways. Questions of agency and causality seem to be relegated largely to mystical forces as opposed to decisions and specific circumstances. A popular revolution or uprising is treated not only as likely, but inevitable and existential. However likely some kind of uprising may be in Algeria, it will have in three dimensions, not one and not two (as some would like it); and like the other uprisings its trigger will be local and will have built over time, resulting from decisions and circumstances largely sui generis. There are many reasons Algeria’s leadership and opposition and masses have not come together in the kind of cocktail that has hit many other Arab countries over the last year; this is not surprising to people who follow Algeria closely, even those who tend to believe that at any given time Algeria is at something like a 60% chance of exploding into unrest. One of the things brought out very clearly by events in 2011, though, was that things usually are as they are until they are not. Algeria is constantly confusing and offering analysts surprises. This observer sees no reason to believe that it will stop doing so any time soon.


10 thoughts on “Why not Algeria, too?

  1. I agree. This compulsive need to try to fit Algerian events within some kind of grand MENA paradigm is becoming boring and unproductive. This includes trying to predict the fallout of today’s legislative elections (regardless of what the official results end up being).
    One question: What do you mean by this ” However likely some kind of uprising may be in Algeria, it will have in three dimensions, not one and not two (as some would like it);” ? Not sure I get the meaning.

  2. There is a poor knowledge about Algeria in the world and especially in western countries that do picture Algeria by its region or its main religion etc.. Now October 88, we had an uprising mainly in the capital Algiers that was piloted by the secret services. Talks between president Chadli (former Algerian President) and Francois Mitterrand ( former French President) months ago were in line with that scheme..when Algeria chose change and was looking for NO INTERFERENCE from its economical partners. The uprising in the “Arab world” was in 2011 with interference, do the math, you will see how far advanced Algeria is from these countries.. and more importantly measure the results to try to understand that that first degree equation adding Algeria faking all its parameters, to the Arab World is just completely false.

  3. What to say about this?

    11.05.12 Algeria Focus Seven Algerian hostages up for ransom

    Since last week’s report, when it appeared that the seven Algerian hostages looked likely to be freed soon, their situation appears to have taken a turn for the worse. The alleged kidnappers, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which is believed to be an offshoot of AQIM and with leadership links to the Algerians DRS, is now demanding Euros 15 million for the diplomats, along with the release of prisoners held by Algeria. It is also demanding a further Euros 30 million for the three European aid workers abducted from Tindouf on October 22-23.
    This new demand was made on Sunday 29 April by MUJAO spokesman Adnan Abu Walid Sahraoui during an exchange with AFP. Sahraoui said that negotiations with Algiers had broken down and that the lives of the Algerians were in danger.
    This reversal comes after a MUJAO spokesman had told AFP that “we have agreed (together with the Islamist group Ansar Dine) to the release of the seven people arrested on Algerian soil [i.e. the Algerian consulate] in Gao.”Ansar al-Din is led by Iyad ag Aghaly has been closely linked with the DRS since at least 2003. This message was followed by a statement from Algeria’s foreign minister saying that the seven were in good health, that Algerian authorities were in contact with the kidnappers, and that “we expect this will soon bear fruit”.
    The circumstances of the original abduction and the subsequent ‘negotiations’ are highly suspicious. Not only is the abducted Consul believed to be a DRS Colonel, but all the groups associated with the abduction and subsequent negotiations are known to have leaders linked with the DRS.
    Some sources in Algeria believe that the situation is being manipulated by Algeria to provide for the justification, if necessary, of Algerian military intervention in Mali.
    For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus andAlgeria Politics & Security.
    © 2012 Menas Associates

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