Conflict analysis of Algeria

Local and regional protests about a diverse range of socio-economic issues have been taking place in Algeria since 2011. However, much of the literature suggests that Algeria was not greatly affected by the protests emerging from the ‘Arab Spring’. The Algerian government has succeeded in preventing protests from escalating to the levels witnessed in neighbouring countries through a number of short-term economic measures. Algeria’s historical legacy and conflict in neighbouring countries have also led to a reluctance to engage in violent protest.

There is a moderate amount of literature dealing with drivers of conflict in Algeria since the onset of the Arab Spring. The majority of this literature is qualitative, and there is a heavy emphasis on terrorism and on trans-national criminal activities in the Sahara-Sahel region. The literature largely consists of policy papers produced by US-based and European think tanks. The literature dealing with terrorism and criminal networks is relatively consistent, although there is some divergence with regard to the extent of the involvement of Islamist groups in criminal activities.

Algeria faces a diverse range of interrelated security threats. Key drivers of conflict and potential drivers of conflict are Islamist terrorist groups, trafficking and kidnapping, protests, tensions in the Sahrawi camps in Tindouf, and a range of economic and political factors.

  • Islamist groups: Both (AQIM) Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and MUJAO (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) are active in Algeria. AQIM has split into northern cells and southern cells, with the former sticking more closely to its jihadi origins and the latter increasingly turning to criminal activity.
  • Trafficking and kidnapping: Algeria and the wider region are affected by organised crime. Drug and arms trafficking, as well as cigarette and fuel smuggling, are a significant problem. Kidnapping for ransom, which is a major source of funding for Islamist groups, has also been on the increase in the region.
  • Protests: Protests continue on a daily basis and are generally motivated by a lack of basic services and unemployment. The regime has taken steps to appease protestors, which has prevented the protests from escalating in the same way that they did in other countries in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region.
  • Weak economy and high unemplyment: Algeria is heavily reliant on hydrocarbon exports, which poses a long-term threat to stability. Unemployment remains a problem, and underemployment is on the rise.
  • Political system: The ruling party, the FLN, has been in power since Algeria’s independence. President Bouteflika has been in power since 1999. He is in poor health and this has caused concern over succession. Presidential elections will be held in 2014 and there is uncertainty about who the candidates will be. The military and the intelligence services are extremely powerful and retain control over decisions in key areas such as defence and security and public expenditure.
  • Polisario camps in Tindouf: There has been some criminalisation among young Sahrawis in the camps due to a lack of opportunities. However, while there have been some concerns regarding the potential radicalisation of the Sahrawi youth, these appear to be largely unfounded. A continuing lack of opportunities for young people could however be a cause of long-term instability.
  • Tuaregs: The Tuaregs are becoming increasingly religious, but at present there appears to be a minimal risk of radicalisation.
  • Berbers: The government has made a number of concessions to Berber communities following discontent over its arabisation policies. Berber protests tend to be related to broader social issues rather than focusing on Berber rights and identity alone, thus the threat of Berber separatism becoming a problem is currently minimal.
  • Migration from sub-Saharan Africa: Although non-violent manifestations of racism are prevalent, more anger is directed towards the growing Chinese population in Algeria.

International and local responses to conflict in Algeria include:

  • Counterterrorism activities: Algeria’s counterterrorism strategy to date has been a hard-line military approach. Other countries such as the US and Algeria’s neighbours have launched joint initiatives but some analysts and academics argue that cooperation between states in the region is still far below desirable levels.
  • Anti-corruption initiatives: There have been limited efforts by the Algerian government to tackle corruption, such as ratifying the United Nations Convention against Corruption. However, accusations of corruption have been on the rise and are being used as a means of eliminating political opponents.
  • Economic diversification and inclusion: The government increased public spending on infrastructure and public services in the aftermath of the initial Arab Spring protests. There has also been an increase in the number of infrastructure projects being undertaken. Cooperation with the EU appears to be increasing in this field. However, the government currently lacks a coherent economic strategy.
  • Tackling transnational crime: Efforts to tackle transnational crime often overlap with counterterrorism efforts. Some regional cooperation initiatives have been launched in this area, but to date they have had limited success.

Practical recommendations from the literature include calls for:

  • less focus on counterterrorism activities and more focus on dealing with the root causes of radicalisation
  • a common position on ransom payments, ideally leading to a complete ban
  • support for the diversification of the Algerian economy
  • support for regional cooperation initiatives on security issues, but also on the economy.

Suggested citation

Strachan, A.L. (2014). Conflict analysis of Algeria. Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.