February 2020 represents the year mark since the Hirak protests began in Algeria, and eventually ended the 19 year reign of now-former President Bouteflika. President Bouteflika has now been replaced by the newly elected President Tebboune a highly controversial election, covered in a previous Grey Dynamics Intelligence Report. The Hirak protestors that forced Bouteflika from power disputed the legitimacy of the elections, and boycotted them, resulting in a 41% turnout.
- Tebboune is trying to rid himself of the Hirak movement, and get on with governing Algeria in the wake of Bouteflika’s removal. Ending the Hirak movement is a key part of restoring stability, which is a requirement to secure foreign investment.
- The demands of the Hirak movement, in combination with its mostly peaceful nature, make it very hard to deal with for the new government. Bulldozing them out with the military and police would be unpopular, yet agreeing to demands will undermine Tebboune’s own position within the government.
- Trials of prominent Bouteflika regime figures, including former President Bouteflika’s brother are likely symptomatic of cleaning up potentially disloyal figures within the former regime, rather than clearing out the corrupt (though it certainly helps that they were probably corrupt).
In the eyes of the Hirak protestors, little has changed in Algeria. There may be a new president, but he took power in an illegitimate election that they themselves boycotted. Furthermore, Tebboune had the support of the army, and allegedly, elements of the old Bouteflika regime, who wish for cosmetic changes to the government, with a general status quo. Until the Hirak protests are smashed, or give in, they will likely continue to demand major reform and resignation of major public figures.
There are, however, some major changes afoot in Algeria. Former President Bouteflika’s own brother has been arrested and sentenced by a military court for 15 years. Alongside him, two intelligence chiefs have been sentenced by the courts, convicted of “undermining the authority of the army” and “conspiring” against the state to bring regime change. Given former President Bouteflika’s advanced age, it seems likely that his brother and several other figures had been mostly running the country, and exploiting it financially.
There are two ways to read this development. It could be a genuine repudiation of corrupt individuals that really did try to undermine the state and take control of the country. Also possible: President Tebboune is clearing up the government of those he suspects has divided loyalties, both in an attempt to appease Algerians and the Hirak movement, and also to secure his own position as President.
The second move made by President Tebboune has been the mass release of thousands of prisoners, though not those guilty of terror, corruption, espionage and treason, or Hirak protestors. This is another calculated move, likely to eat away at the support-base of the Hirak movement, without being seen to accede to their demands and compromising his authority. It is also a conciliatory move, likely to be seen as the act of a moderate, and not an authoritarian. Just over 100 Hirak protestors remain in detention, which though not a great number, likely includes those identified as leaders and coordinators.
We assess, as before, that Tebboune is making reasoned decisions in order to end the Hirak movement, restore stability, and so that he can get on with governing the country. Algeria may have a bright future; it is one of the richest per-capita nations of Africa, has substantial mineral resources, and a decent economy. The challenge for Tebboune will be to ensure that a wider section of society benefits from his governance, and to provide opportunities to a sizable and well educated young population.