Algeria’s revolutionary history is tarnished by its regime

Algeria’s revolutionary history is tarnished by its regime
Algeria’s independence from France was globally celebrated, but the 60th anniversary will likely be overshadowed by decades-long corruption, backdoor deals with the former coloniser, and political repression by the regime, writes Abdelkader Cheref.
5 min read
04 Jul, 2022
Algeria proclaimed its independence after the signing of the Evian Accords on March 18, 1962. [GETTY]

On July 5, 2022, Algeria celebrates the 60th anniversary of its independence from France.

Sixty years have elapsed since the Algerian War of Independence (1954 – 1962) triumphed. And the victory remains a jubilatory episode in modern Arab history.

The Algerian Revolution was a national armed struggle whose ultimate objective was to bring down the French settler colonial rule which prevailed for more than a century (1830-1962).

Not only it was a major event in the MENA region and worldwide, but it also impacted the decoloniSation movement in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Many historians believe that the “savage war of peace” claimed the lives of some 1.5 million Algerians.

Yet, the after-effects of the Revolution continue to raise questions regarding the current political and socio-economic situation in Algeria.

''Sixty years after a hard-won independence, scores of analysts have a hard time accepting that Algeria - an oil-wealthy country – is struggling with poor infrastructure, high unemployment, limited civil liberties, cronyism, hundreds of political prisoners, and a muzzled opposition.''

Despite the fact that the country was “the Mecca for revolutionaries,” the post-independence leaders were more concerned with power grab than alleviating the miserable conditions of the Algerian people. And fixing the devastation caused by the eight-year war of independence was the least of their worries.

A case in point is former ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who many analysts view as a putschist and one of the architects of the Algerian authoritarian regime.

The man was a key player in dissolving the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic (GPRA), and in organiSing the June 1965 coup d’état. A coup which deposed Ahmed Ben Bella, Algeria’s first civilian elected President, and instated Colonel Houari Boumediene as a de facto president.

That coup not only allowed the military top brass to dominate the political scene, but it has also enabled a bunch of National Liberation Front (FLN) apparatchiks to confiscate power and impose an authoritarian corrupt regime with a democratic façade.

And when the October 1988 riots occurred, the powers that be were compelled to draft a new constitution and allowed the emergence of a relatively free press. They also permitted the legal existence of secularist and Islamist political parties.

But when the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was poised to win the first free parliamentary elections in December 1991, the military stepped in, cancelled the elections, stopped the democratic process, jailed thousands of Algerians in concentration camps in the Sahara desert, and triggered a dirty civil war which pinned Islamist militants against the Algerian military.

The civil war claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Algerians and foreign nationals.

It should be mentioned that despite Algeria’s vast oil wealth, the various post-independence governments have all exercised power in a tribal fashion, based on systemic corruption, nepotism, embezzlement, cronyism, and resistance to change.

By some estimates, more than a trillion US dollars of oil revenues were either stolen or misspent during former president Bouteflika’s 20-year reign.

The intransigence of the system has been so full of twists and turns that Algeria has had multiple crises with the former coloniSer as well as neighbouring countries in the Maghreb.

Though Algeria and Morocco share a common historical and cultural heritage, the hostility vis-a-vis Morocco goes back to the 1963 border conflict, called the Sand War. That territorial dispute which took place less than a year after Algeria obtained its independence, claimed the lives of hundreds of people on both sides, and eventually defined the two sister countries' spiteful relationship.

Since the signing of the Evian Accords on March 18, 1962 – which ended the Algerian war and paved the way for independence from France, Algeria has had a craggy type of relationship with the former colonial power.  

Though France was permitted to carry out 17 of its nuclear tests in the Algerian Sahara Desert until 1966, and former French president de Gaulle managed to strike a secret deal with Boumediene and Bouteflika to authoriSe chemical weapons tests until 1978, the regime’s anti-French discourse has been primarily for domestic consumption.

For many observers, Paris has always had good relations with Algiers. The intelligence and military cooperation taking place without public knowledge has been remarkably fruitful. In January 2013, Algerian authorities allowed French military jets to use the country’s airspace to reach Mali when the French were battling Jihadists. Such proximity with the former colonial ruler did not go well among Algerians. 

If for the former French ambassador to Algeria, Mr. Xavier Driencourt, whose recent book - The Algerian Puzzle, highlights the complex and complicated relation between Algeria and France, for Luis Martinez, a political scientist at Sciences Po university in Paris, “despite appearances and criticism, there has been a stable, very balanced relationship.”

However, this neo-colonial enterprise was rejected by the Hirak.

Protestors showed that the French establishment interfering in Algerian affairs has only been made possible by “hizb frança” (The Party of France) – those Algerian officials who spare no effort to defend French interests at the expense of Algeria’s. 

Given the Algerian Revolution’s seismic effect on the post-colonial world, the current corrupt and authoritarian regime has tarnished Algeria’s standing.

Do the Algerians deserve to be in such an impasse? What happened to the Algerian fighting spirit? Did the glorious Revolution rise like a rocket only to fall like a stick? These questions are worth posing.

Sixty years after a hard-won independence, scores of analysts have a hard time accepting that Algeria - an oil-wealthy country – is struggling with poor infrastructure, high unemployment, limited civil liberties, cronyism, hundreds of political prisoners, and a muzzled opposition.

It should be mentioned that many view the Hirak as “a struggle for post-dictatorial independence after the struggle for postcolonial independence.”

Will the Hirak, as a continuation of the Algerian national movement, succeed in bringing down the regime which confiscated Algeria’s independence? Time will tell.

Dr. Abdelkader Cheref is an Algerian academic and a freelance journalist based in the US. As a former Fulbright scholar, he holds a PhD from the University of Exeter, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies. His research interests are primarily politics in the MENA region, democratisation, Islam/Islamism, and political violence with a special focus on the Maghreb.

Follow him on Twitter @Abdel_Cheref

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.