Algeriaour silent neighbor, has slammed his fist on the relations table with Spain angry about the change of position of the Government of Pedro Sanchez regarding the conflict of Sahara. The concern in some sectors is maximum due to the economic and diplomatic damage that the announcement from Algiers about the suspension of the friendship treaty with Spain. If the Algerian regime has shown anything, it is the consistency of its words. In August 1994, it announced the closure of its land borders with Morocco and 27 years later, this measure is still active.
To understand a little better who is our most important business partner in the Maghreb after Morocco It is worth remembering some facts about its political system, its recent past, the rivalry it maintains with Rabat for decades and some key elements that define what their society is like.
To begin with, there is no unanimity when it comes to defining the true nature of the political regime that prevails in Algeria. Is it a Western-style liberal constitutional and parliamentary system? Does it have more to do with the Arab autocracies or even with the Putin’s Russia? The 1976 Constitution speaks of a multi-party system and in practice the country is governed by a presidential system.
However, many analysts say that Algeria has positioned itself as an autocratic and military regime since it achieved independence from France after the Evian agreements in 1962with the general De Gaulle at the head of the presidency of France, whose signature is now sixty years old. With 40% of its population under the age of 25, the country is governed by an aging apparatus – a gerontocracy that some have compared to the Soviet of the seventies and eighties- and distanced, say its critics, from the problems of citizens.
It is true that the country is holding presidential elections, but that argument, analysts say, does not serve to validate a system as democratic. Are they democracies? the Venezuela of Nicolás Maduro or the Nicaragua of Daniel Ortega, where elections are also held to elect its maximum leader?
The turning point in Algerian political life came in 2019. Almost a decade late, the country lived that year something similar to what were the arab springs in Libya, Tunisia and Syria in 2011. Thousands of Algerians took to the streets to protest asking for more freedom, employment and prosperity from an ironclad and stagnant regime in the past.
That regime was led by the military Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who, already old and sick (he died in September 2021), had not hesitated to present his candidacy for the fifth to be president again in 2019; but the Algerians broke out, and they did so peacefully, with demonstrations in the streets calling for regime change. In their slogans they denounced the corruption of a paralyzing regime.
The massive mobilization made the military leadership –the great power that dominates in Algeria- will take action on the matter. The then and now deceased chief of the Army General Staff, General Ahmed Gaid Salah, forced the resignation of Bouteflika, who had been ruling the country for 20 years. Finally, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, 76 years old and nicknamed the “rais of the military”, he seized power (in elections with 60% abstention), but there are not a few who believe that the new president owes the position to the military and that nothing can be done without counting on the will of the uniformed men and in particular of Said Chengriha, the current chief of the Army General Staff.
Haizam Amirah Fernández, analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute, He pointed out in a report that “the military does everything possible to maintain its power behind a facade of constitutionalism and an electoral pluralism that is not very credible. For the military, it is crucial to preserve its material interests and its extensive prerogatives”.
Defense budget and war with Morocco
The prevailing regime in Algiers has a lot to do with the tense relations with its neighbor. Morocco and Algeria have maintained a pulse for decades over political and territorial supremacy in the Maghreb region, an aspiration that has caused an unusual escalation in arms in the region in recent years. In Algiers, the military budget has not stopped growing. In 2018 it amounted to about 10,000 million dollars. It should be noted that Algeria has been the fifth largest arms importer in the world between 2014 and 2018.
A giant with feet of clay
Algeria has an area of 2,381,000 square kilometers. It is the largest country in Africa and the entire Arab world and the tenth largest state in the world. However, it only has 44 million inhabitants. 60% of the State’s income comes through its abundant energy resources. Algeria is one of the world’s largest producers of natural gas. A Spain exports up to 50% of the gas we consume. However, the North African country has enormous weaknesses. Almost 70% of what you consume has to be imported and its foreign exchange reserves have been markedly reduced in recent years.
How is Algeria positioned in the Ukraine war?
Algeria has tried to maintain a position of neutrality. In April, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov He visited Algiers, and a few days later General Hans-Werner Wiermann, director of NATO’s International General Staff, made the same trip and met with Said Chengriha. For Moscow, Algeria is a key traditional partner in the region, to which it has sold huge amounts of weapons in recent decades and with whom it has cooperation agreements in many areas. Algiers, however, tries to maintain a certain balance to take care of relations with European countries with which it has energy contracts.
What happened in the nineties
Algeria still has its brutal past of violence in its memory, which has acted as a brake on Algerian society when it comes to raising its demands, many analysts point out. In the 1990s, a kind of civil war spread in Algeria after the annulment of the results in the parliamentary elections that gave victory to the Islamists of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS). The Algerian regime staged a coup to reverse the victory with the blessing of the European Union. Shortly after, a wave of violence was unleashed that sowed the country with blood and death with harsh episodes of repression.