Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Algeria: structural and other reasons for regime stability

Kal writes:
Richard Phelps argues that Algeria has not seen a popular uprising this year on broad structural lines (‘An Algerian Exception?‘ CMEC Blog): ‘Algerian regime does not have an identifiable leader with whom political power truly lies’.


And the government has focused its strategy toward them based on this reality and avoided the provocative showings of ‘symbolic’ violence that gave fuel to protest movements in Tunisia and Libya and Syria and Egypt (part of this is owed to the government’s relationships with the private media as well). Official and unofficial media has not covered demonstrations extensively to the extent that protesters in one city would necessarily be aware of those in another. The massive showing of ‘force’ at the February demonstrations — which were quite small, using barely a few thousand people if that — was a show of bodies more than anything else, and while protesters were manhandled and some beaten few or none were shot or killed in the way their counterparts elsewhere in the Arab world were. The government issued reforms, after long deliberations, and statements of intent to reform on a range of issues. It acted quickly to buy off organizers and potential participants or to contain and frustrate them rather than making public ‘examples’ of children or attempting to use overwhelming and direct force. The ‘crackdowns’ on protesters in Algeria this year were in large measure qualitatively different from those elsewhere, as were the demonstrations themselves.

Structurally it is important to understand that Algeria’s politics do operate in a diffuse manner, that power is spread through regional and professional and bureaucratic networks which often compete with one another but are also sometimes dependent on one another. (One might quibble with any comparison of the Algerian presidency to the power of any single office in Lebanon or to even its strongest Lebanese za’im; the perception and reality of the president’s power in Algeria is an interesting thing to follow and to try an gage at any one time but the presidency has frequently overwhelmed the military under Bouteflika.) The business class and the military officers and the technocrats and local notables intersect and it would be difficult to ‘purge’ the government as the Tunisians are now trying to do and it would also be difficult to make removing Bouteflika in a coup appear to Algerians as a symbolic act with and the armed forces a trusted ‘care taker’ of some transition process (let alone a ‘savior’) as the Egyptian Army did with Mubarak, since Algerians are generally more cynical and probably distrust their military and opposition more than their cousins in the rest of the region. It is also important to understand the field in which these various networks and factions (‘clans’) interact, overlap and struggle; it involves a great deal of both external and internal opacity and risk. There are enormous uncertainties involved. Longtime Algeria hand John Entelis wrote in September that change of some kind would wind up taking place in Algeria, if only so that the country’s elite could keep its own interests, and that  ’[w]hether this process develops peacefully or violently is ultimately in the hands of le pouvoir’.

But structural reasons are not the only ones Algeria has not seen an uprising. The Algerian military and political class has dealt with uprisings and transitions before and probably had a better idea of how to deal with such problems technically given its experience in the 1988-1990 period and the youth uprising in 2001 and the tens of thousands of youth riots which have struck the country in the last decade. In other words, it is important to recognize that the Algerian regime — like its counterparts elsewhere — made choices this year.

Read the whole post at http://themoornextdoor.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/exceptions-agency-structure/