Algeria Table of Contents
Mosque in traditional style in Ghardaia, in north central Algeria
ALGERIAN POLITICAL CULTURE and government reflect the impact of the country's colonial history and its cultural identification. The legacy of the revolutionary War of Independence (1954-62) and its lingering implications are still evident in recent political events and in the evolution of political processes. A strong authoritative tendency and the supremacy of the military, both remnants of the war for liberation, have resulted in a sharply divided society in which the political elite remains highly remote from, and generally unaccountable to, the masses of its impoverished, unemployed, and dissatisfied citizens. State-supported socialism, largely fed by petroleum exports, and "depoliticization" of the masses during the 1970s replaced any real source of legitimacy for the regime and left the masses almost no form of political expression short of violent confrontation.
The consequences of this political tradition materialized in January 1992 when a conservative military coup overturned four years of significant political and economic liberalization undertaken by President Chadli Benjedid in the late 1980s. Benjedid's extensive political and economic reforms, pursued to restore political legitimacy and public confidence in the government leadership, had opened the way for political opposition. The rise of the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut--FIS) as the most significant opposition group threatened to challenge the secular orientation of the state. The coup took place only days before the second round of the first freely contested national elections, elections that were likely to usher in a new government dominated by Islamists (sometimes seen as fundamentalists). Since then, the virtual elimination of constitutional government and the resurrection of military authoritarianism have returned Algeria to the familiar situation of placing power in the hands of a small elite, nullifying almost all of the democratic freedoms and many of the free-market reforms of the preceding few years.
Algeria's bloody overthrow of colonial rule resulted in independence in 1962 and a legacy of an authoritarian political structure dominated by several competing interests. The main actors in the national revolution continued to govern the Algerian polity after independence, struggling during the immediate postindependence period and throughout postindependence Algerian history for political control. This tradition has evolved into a triangular system of government in which the army, party, and state apparatus share power but continually compete. Benjedid's reforms in the 1980s effectively eliminated the party (the National Liberation Front--Front de Libération Nationale-- FLN) from a prominent position in the political configuration while strengthening his hand as president through constitutional reforms. The military, also having suffered a reduction of authority with the political changes implemented by the 1989 constitution, appeared to have little tolerance for the liberalization visualized by Benjedid and the more liberal faction of the FLN. Resurfacing in the early 1990s to "ensure the security of the state," the military has demonstrated once again that the army remains the dominant arm of the political triangle. Recent political events are as much a reflection as a determinant of political culture in Algeria. The nation in late 1993 was under a state of emergency, its condition since the military coup in January 1992. Martial law ruled, essentially invalidating all political structures and institutions. The outcome of this period will be determined not only by the political leaders but also by civil society, political competition within the state, and by mass culture. If the Algerian state is to overcome its political crisis, it needs to resolve its myriad socioeconomic problems. If it is to successfully conquer its economic problems, it will need to become more democratic and decentralized. The current situation is potentially dangerous because of the explosive nature of the political tensions inherent in the repression of a discontented population.
Data as of December 1993
Algeria Table of Contents