As the Libyan opposition closes in on Tripoli, the Algerian regime worries it could be next. The largest country in Africa with much more oil and gas than Libya, Algeria has all the same problems as the other Arabs. Will the wave of unrest now move further west across North Africa?
The protests that swept the Arab world in 2011 actually began in Algeria in early January. Even before demonstrations rocked Tunisia next door and toppled President Ben Ali, there were unprecedented protests across Algeria. Every Algerian city was rocked by the biggest demonstrations in years. Then they began to ebb. The demonstrations attracted fewer and fewer protestors, and the regime gained the upper hand. Algeria is a haunted nation; fear of a return to the terror and violence of the 1990s is so great it acted as a brake on the Arab spring in Algeria even before winter had ended.
Algeria is acutely vulnerable to the contagion of the antiregime and antiestablishment unrest that has rocked the rest of the Arab world. It has a huge youth bulge, large unemployment and underemployment, and a sclerotic regime that permits virtually no public participation in the decision-making process. It is also home to a violent branch of al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. But the memories of the ”lost decade” are very strong among Algerians, and there is no appetite for a return to the abyss.
The Peoples Democratic Republic of Algeria is the largest Arab country in size, and now that the Sudan has split it is the largest country in Africa. It achieved independence from France in 1962 after a bitter, decade-long struggle in which a million people died.
The old leftist regime was challenged by Islamists in the 1980s. The Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) won local elections in 1990. Then it won in the national parliamentary elections in December 1991 and was poised to form a government. But the army stepped in instead and the generals took control.