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Algeria Poses a Serious Economic Challenge to Future Government

Besides the popular uprising at home, the current rulers must also keep an eye on regional hotspots, including neighboring Libya

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politics, africa, algeria
A protester chants slogans during a demonstration against Algeria's leadership, in Algiers, April 12, 2019. VOA

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.”

algeria, politics
Tens of thousands of Algerians are seen gathered for a demonstration against the country’s leadership, in Algiers, April 12, 2019. VOA

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.

Algeria, politics
Young people chant slogans during an anti-government demonstration in Algiers, Algeria, April 10, 2019. VOA

“But whoever comes in really has to finally lead an ambitious economic program,” he added, “which helps Algeria realize its potential, develop an independent private sector, diversify, and attract investment on the correct terms.”

Those challenges are daunting. The ruling National Liberation Front or FLN party, in power since independence, has had little incentive to change a status quo that benefited them, many analysts say. Algeria’s business climate has been a turn-off for foreign investors. A case in point: a rule stipulating 51 percent of company shares must be owned by in-country nationals or businesses.

Although energy production continued to chug on during Algeria’s so called “black decade” of violence in the 1990s, further growth stalled. When he came to power in 1999, Bouteflika was credited for ushering in peace. At the beginning, analyst Kateb said, the former president also tried to reform the economy.

“I think he really wanted to give more freedom to entrepreneurs, he really tried to privatize the system,” Kateb said, adding subsequent financial scandals and the global financial crisis ended hope for change.

Inertia and bureaucracy

Kateb, who later served as an economic advisor to ex-prime minister Abelmalek Sellal, said subsequent reform efforts also stalled.

“If you don’t change the whole functioning of the system,” he said, “whatever you do at the margins will be completely absorbed by this inertia and black hole of government bureaucracy.”

algeria, politics
An elderly woman confronts security forces during an anti-government demonstration in Algiers, Algeria, April 10, 2019. VOA

If July elections go through as planned, Algerians will be strongly pushing for economic deliverables.

“I’m sure the many of the slogans are going to be centered around anti-corruption, inclusive growth, economic justice, diversification, and job creation,” said Hamaizia of Chatham House.

For the moment, there appear few clear candidates to champion such causes. Both the country’s ruling FLN and traditional opposition parties are largely discredited in the eyes of many Algerians.

Earlier this week, however, the interior ministry announced licenses for 10 new political parties, Reuters news agency reported, citing Algeria’s Ennahar TV channel.

Analyst Kateb believes the country needs a technocratic government to steer through needed changes, at least over the next few years.

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He believes there is no lack of talent to staff it, both in Algeria and abroad, where thousands of young professionals have flocked in recent decades for lack of opportunities at home.

“Now they’re not really considered,” Kateb said, “and this has to change.” (VOA)

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“I Shouldn’t Be Dragged Into Politics”, Says Singer Adnan Sami

Soon after Sami was declared one of the Padma Shri recipients of the year, many felt he shouldn't have been given the award because he originally hails from Pakistan

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Adnan Sami
Soon after Sami was declared one of the Padma Shri recipients of the year, many felt he shouldn't have been given the award because he originally hails from Pakistan. Wikimedia Commons

Singer Adnan Sami has lately been on a slamming spree against anyone who has questioned his Padma Shri win. He has now declared that he is a musician and he shouldn’t be dragged into political debates.

Soon after Sami was declared one of the Padma Shri recipients of the year, many felt he shouldn’t have been given the award because he originally hails from Pakistan. It was also pointed out that while Sami opted for an Indian citizenship only four years gao, his father is a Pakistani security force veteran who fought against India during the 1999 Kargil War.

Sami has earlier declared that he shouldn’t be held responsible for his father’s action. Asked how he looked at the fact that Indian Muslims continue to be made accountable for what the Mughals and other Muslim invaders did to Hindus over centuries, he said: “First of all, the best thing about history is that it’s past, and it should be kept in the past because that’s where it belongs. God gave us eyes to look forward and not backward. The most important thing is we should forget all that because nobody from that era is alive today to answer these questions — least of all you (the media) and I, or anybody for that matter.”

“Secondly, this is all about politics. I am not a politician. I am a musician. Just like you wouldn’t ask a politician about Raag Darbari, don’t ask me about politics. All I know is that I am a musician. I spread love through my music. Even those who have issues with me, do listen to my music, and I am cool with that. God bless them and the Mughals, the Britishers, the Mongolians, Alexander the Great — they may have died and they have done their bit, so let them rest in peace. Let’s look towards what we can do for our country instead,” said Sami, at the launch of his new song ‘Tu yaad aya’.

Adnan Sami
Singer Adnan Sami has lately been on a slamming spree against anyone who has questioned his Padma Shri win. He has now declared that he is a musician and he shouldn’t be dragged into political debates. Wikimedia Commons

Ever since his Padma Shri win, Sami has been facing social media ire. Among those who have objected is Congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill, who slammed the BJP government for conferring Padma Shri on Sami, who became an Indian citizen only four years ago. Shergill shared a video on Twitter in which he can be seen lashing out at the government.

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Shergill pointed out that on one hand, while retired Indian Army Junior Commissioned Officer Mohammad Sanaullah has been tagged as a “ghuspethiya” in the NRC list by the Centre, on the other hand, Adnan Sami, whose father fought against India during the 1999 Kargil War, has been honoured with the Padma Shri. (IANS)