Fighting corruption in state institutions and the public sector remains the top priority in Algeria this year as it hopes to improve the domestic situation and prevent the return of the mass protests seen since 2019. The anti-corruption drive continues to shape much of the public debate in the country of nearly 44 million people. It became a national theme in the wake of large public discontent across Algeria with protesters accusing the political elite of corruption, embezzlement and rights abuses. Street protests first ignited to prevent the former, now late, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from running for a fifth term in office. The protest movement, known as Hirak, reminded the political elite of the 2011 Arab Spring that swept the region, from which Algeria survived almost unscathed.
When current President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected in December 2019 he inherited a fragmented political scene with a failed opposition, distrustful public, desperate youth and humdrum external relations failing Algeria itself. With this in mind he had to adopt a more open and anti-corruption policy. Despite the jailing and prosecution of many former officials, though, Hirak went on with almost daily street protests demanding more reforms.
Local elections were organised in November last year following June’s legislative poll. In both cases fewer Algerians appeared hopeful of seeing any real change; this was reflected in the low turnout. Only 23 per cent of voters cast their ballots in the local elections, while between 34 and 36 per cent turned out for the legislative contest. That was not promising for the new president.
Nevertheless, in the hope that he could weaken Hirak or end the protests altogether, Tebboune continued his reforms. He praised Hirak repeatedly and appeared to adopt much of its agenda; slowly but surely the cycle of protests was broken. However, the economic crisis persisted and if the right policy is not implemented, then 2022 is unlikely to be any different to previous years.
Algeria’s oil revenues, contributing some 20 per cent to the GDP, are expected to increase this year as the international hydrocarbon market revives after the slump it suffered in 2021 due to Covid-19. Oil production is expected to remain around the same level as last year, at just under 900,000 barrels per day, nearly a third of which is used locally while the rest is exported. This year, Algeria’s economic growth is forecast to be around six per cent, but this is not the kind of sustainable economic expansion that could absorb any significant number of the unemployed in the country. Algeria’s unemployment rate remains high, at around 13 per cent, and the hardest hit are the young, university graduates and first time job seekers. The private sector in Algeria, as in most oil producers in the region, contributes little towards creating sustainable jobs. The country is oil dependent and is unlikely to see any major shifts towards economic diversification away from this, maintaining the rentier economy as the favoured model well into the future.Externally, Algeria faces serious issues requiring special handling if the government is to reposition itself as an important diplomatic player in the region and return to its once active diplomacy. It is hosting the Arab League summit in March, when President Tebboune, taking part for the first time, will preside over the 22 heads of states and governments. Arab League summits have long since become a debating club with little substance, but for Tebboune the occasion is important not only to assert himself among his Arab peers, but also to relaunch Algerian diplomacy. On the agenda, among other things, will be Syria’s return to the league having been expelled a decade ago. Not all members support this cause which Algeria has been advocating for years. Many league members see the return of Damascus as a reward for President Bashar Al-Assad despite everything that has been happening in Syria. They believe that he should stay out as long as there is no political settlement in the country’s decade long civil war. It is hard to see a compromise on this issue for now, even though some Arab League members, such as Saudi Arabia, are already reaching out to Damascus.
Last August, Algeria severed diplomatic ties with neighbouring arch-rival Morocco. This was followed by the suspension of the gas pipeline transporting Algerian gas to Spain via the Kingdom. Algeria is angered by the increased normalisation of ties between Morocco and Israel. Particularly worrying for Tebboune is Rabat’s purchase of Israeli drones. Algiers-Rabat relations were strained further by Washington’s recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara, a dispute at the heart of the decades-long dispute between the two capitals. Former President Donald Trump took the unusual step on 10 December 2020 in return for Rabat’s formal normalisation of relations with Tel Aviv. While the US move has little legal impact on the disputed Sahara region, it represents a failure for Algerian diplomats. It is highly unlikely that US President Joe Biden will reverse his predecessor’s decision.
The new UN envoy for the Western Sahara dispute, Staffan de Mistura, visited Rabat on 15 January and plans to visit Algiers in renewed efforts by the UN to find common ground between the Sahrawi people, Algeria and Morocco. De Mistura is the former UN envoy to Syria, where he failed badly; he is likely to end up failing in his new mission as well.
Algerian diplomacy is also criticised for not doing enough to deal with its troubled neighbour to the east, Libya. Algeria reopened its Consulate in Tripoli last week, which had been closed since 2014. This renewed Algerian interest in Libya is long overdue. Its absence created a void that was filled brilliantly by rival Morocco, making Rabat the de facto regional mediator in the Libyan conflict.
Moreover, Morocco is likely to join the African Union’s Peace and Security Council. The council is an important body responsible for peace and security policies across the continent. Rabat only rejoined the AU in 2017 after a 33 year absence, during which it doubled its economic and diplomatic presence across Africa, replacing Algiers as the preferred go-to wise man for many African countries. The irony here is that Libya, Algeria’s neighbour, gave up its seat on the council for Morocco, in what was seen as a slap in the face for Algerian diplomacy.
If Algeria scores even modestly on any of these issues it could look back next year and claim that 2022 has been a success.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.