It is hard not to be awestruck by events in Algeria over the last three weeks. Once again, a Middle Eastern autocrat tried to put one over on his people. By now, anyone with even a passing interest in the headlines knows that the country’s behind-the-scenes leaders decided to put the incumbent president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, forward for a fifth term. The hubris of Algeria’s generals and other power brokers to hand the presidency to a man who had a debilitating stroke in 2013 was clearly too much for people. Having no institutional mechanism to oppose this decision, Algerians put their foot down, declared they were not going to take it, and headed out to the streets en masse. With each Friday, larger and larger crowds showed up in cities across the country to demand an end both to Bouteflika’s candidacy and to a system that made it possible for a man who is so ill to stand for election again.
The demonstrations and the Algerian leadership’s response to them have been fascinating—and no doubt exhilarating for those involved—but also chillingly familiar. In the span of a few days, members of the National Liberation Front resigned, judges refused to observe elections in which Bouteflika was a candidate, veterans of the fight against French colonial rule—the mujahideen —joined the opposition to the president’s re-election, and the armed forces issued a statement declaring that the Army and the people “shared a vision of the future.”
Is the Arab Spring back, as some protesters, activists, and analysts have declared? The uninspiring answer is a qualified maybe.
In comparison to 2011, when columnists were writing paeans to the “lion-hearted Egyptians” and others were proclaiming an “Arab revolutionary moment,” the commentary on Algeria—occasional references to the Arab Spring aside—has been tempered. Still, as events unfold in North Africa there is the risk that the romance of the barricades might unintentionally push aside actual analysis. Consequently, it is worth keeping the following facts, analysis, and tidbits in mind.
The full text of this article can be found here on CFR.org.