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Algeria - Politics

Oil-rich Algeria was known for its huge social problems and widespread corruption, with human rights groups accusing the regime of oppressing the political opposition and stifling press freedom. Unlike many of its neighbors, Algeria did not experience an Arab Spring moment, even though the key ingredients were present — notably high youth unemployment. Algeria needed to create jobs in this country where a quarter of the youth population was unemployed. Although Algeria has enjoyed macroeconomic stability, faster and more inclusive growth was necessary to provide enough jobs for the country’s youthful population.

Radio and television are government-owned and broadcast coverage favorable to the government. During nonelection periods, opposition spokesmen generally were denied access to public radio or television. Some opposition parties were denied access to television. These limitations were less evident for radio. Political parties and independent candidates received the same amount of radio access time during the three-week campaign period prior to the 09 April 2009 presidential election and prior to the 2007 legislative and local elections. Several opposition parties said that their daily media allotment during the three-week period was the first time they had been allowed media access since the last election cycle.

The country's print media consisted of numerous publications that supported or opposed the government to varying degrees. According to Ministry of Communication statistics, 29 newspapers circulated in excess of 10,000 copies each. The government owned two French-language and three Arabic-language newspapers. Many political parties, including legal Islamic parties, had access to the independent press and used it to express their views. Opposition parties also disseminated information via the Internet and published communiqués.

Algeria has more than 45 daily newspapers published in French and Arabic, with a total circulation of more than 1.5 million copies. There are 20 domestically printed weekly publications with total circulation of 622,000 and 11 monthly publications with total circulation of 600,000. In 2001, the government amended the Penal Code provisions relating to defamation and slander, a step widely viewed as an effort to rein in the press. While the Algerian press was relatively free to write as it chooses, use of the defamation laws significantly increased the level of press harassment following President Bouteflika's April 2004 re-election victory and, as a result, the press began to censor itself.

In July 2006, President Bouteflika pardoned all journalists convicted of defaming or insulting state institutions. The pardon effectively dismissed the charges against 67 people. Critics point out that, according to the criminal code, insulting the president was punishable by prison sentence. Nevertheless, the pardon was widely seen as a significant step toward democracy. The government holds a monopoly over broadcast media; however, Algerian newspapers are widely seen to be among the freest in the region. Editors of major Arabic- and French-language print dailies often complain of the government's reluctance to share information, grant interviews, or relax its defamation law. Under this law, a joint criminal-civil lawsuit can be brought against a newspaper's publisher, editor in chief, and the reporting journalist, which can result in fines, a jail sentence, and civil liability.

The law permits the government to censor, levy fines, and imprison members of the press. The government directly and indirectly censored and intimidated the media into practicing self-censorship. The government used defamation laws to harass and arrest some journalists, and some members of the press faced retaliation for criticizing government officials. Other journalists and many political cartoonists, however, regularly criticized the government.

With civil society and opposition on the ropes, Bouteflika's control over the system appeared secure, albeit with no discernible vision for a progressive political future. Without unveiling such a vision through dialogue between citizens, civil society, opposition parties and government, the fate of the disillusioned 72 percent of Algeria's population under the age of 30 remained in doubt, and with it, the long-term stability of the country. As the UN's Mbaye put it, Algeria was "sitting on a volcano."

In the context of stagnation in economic and political reform, Algeria's institutions were corroding from within, losing many of their best cadres of workers and civil servants. There was a growing gap between what ordinary Algerians see as their key needs and what they perceive the government was offering in terms of wages and quality of life. As a result, fewer Algerians are willing to help the government. Algerians had been through far worse than this, and internal divisions should not be mistaken for instability. The regime values stability above all else, and was consequently both fragile and stable at the same time.

There was precious little discussion about how to address long-standing political alienation and social discontent throughout the country. Housing was woefully short, while unemployment and underemployment are endemic (at least 50 percent among young people). In a relatively new phenomenon, many young people are trying to flee the country, by small boat if necessary. The average age at which Algerians marry was now into the mid 30s - a vivid indicator of how unhappy the twenty-somethings are. Meanwhile, most world food price hikes were passed to consumers, for a time in 2008 resulting in strikes by different labor groups almost weekly. This was not the quaking state of the early 1990s. The government was firmly entrenched. However, much of political and social elite sense that Algeria was drifting.

Algeria recalled veteran crisis manager Ouyahia as Prime Minister on 16 August 2017, a job he first held in the 1990s when Algeria was battling an insurgency. The move came after Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika sacked Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune, less than three months after appointing him. Ouyahia will likely be seen as a steadying influence as Algeria tries to carry out economic adjustments to cope with a fall in oil prices that has slashed state revenues. He is also leader of the National Rally for Democracy, a party close to the presidency that increased its number of seats in May's parliamentary election.



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