The tens of thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets for an eighth straight week aren’t the only crisis roiling Algeria. Helping to drive the unrest in Africa’s largest nation—and posing a serious challenge to any future government— is the economy.
Two months of mass demonstrations continued Friday, as Algerians pushed for a broader overhaul of the country’s system, despite elections set for July 4 by newly appointed interim leader, Abdelkader Bensalah. The protests have been largely peaceful, although there were some clashes reported this time along with scores of arrests, and police used water cannons and teargas in the capital Algiers.
“Bensalah, clear off, FLN clear off,” protesters chanted, referring to Algeria’s ruling party.
But many are also calling for a fundamental reboot of the country’s ailing, energy dependent economy that has failed to diversify and deliver jobs to its majority-young population. The unrest, in turn, is adding to Algeria’s economic headaches, analysts say.
“The economy is not in good shape,” said Paris-based Algerian analyst Alexandre Kateb. “The protests are the last straw, but the economic problems go deeper than that.”
Critics have long accused a power elite surrounding former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika of mismanagement and corruption, arguing a large chunk of the wealth is pocketed by a privileged minority. But for years, Algeria’s oil- and gas-rich economy served as a salve for a restless nation, helping to bankroll housing and other social subsidies.
It may be one explanation, some say—along with the country’s devastating 1990s civil war—why the broader Arab Spring uprising of 2011 failed to take off in Algeria.
Falling oil prices
But plummeting oil prices several years later helped to thin wallets and sharpen grassroots anger. Today, more than one-quarter of people under 25 are unemployed, and many Algerians work in the country’s vast informal sector. Successive governments have failed to privatize and capitalize on promising sectors for development such as tourism and agro-industry.
Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund downgraded the country’s 2019 forecasted growth to 2.3 percent, from a previous 2.7 percent last October.
“The main motivation is still political,” analyst Kateb said of the protests. “But if the economic situation was better, probably the momentum would be less important. We would not have seen the magnitude of the protests that we see now.”
In the immediate future, Algeria’s economic woes may take a back seat. Besides the popular uprising at home, the current rulers must also keep an eye on regional hotspots, including neighboring Libya.
“From an interim government perspective, it’s just about maintaining stability and avoiding any real crisis beyond where we are at the moment,” said Adel Hamaizia, a North Africa expert for London-based think-tank Chatham House.