The POMED Wire, Project on Middle East Democracy (Washington, DC, June 28, 2012) — In POMED’s latest policy brief, “Silent Complicity: The International Community and Algeria’s Democratic Façade,” John P. Entelis argues that the U.S. cannot continue to prioritize oil and security over democratic reform in its relationship with Algeria.
Civil unrest that occurred alongside the uprisings of the Arab Spring pushed the Algerian regime to make political concessions, such as legalizing new political parties and holding parliamentary elections. Despite the apparent value of these concessions, Algerian opposition members argued these were largely superficial, as they failed to penetrate the structure of le pouvoir that actually controls the state. Prior to the elections, it was predicted that voter turnout would be low (following the nation’s chronological trend ) and Islamists would see electoral success (following the region’s electoral trend). The reported results defied both of these predictions: voter turnout was high and the pro-regime alliance enjoyed overwhelming success.
Despite cries of fraud coming from within Algeria, the U.S. and other members of the international community congratulated the nation on its elections. By doing so, the U.S. reaffirmed its prioritization of stability over genuine democratic reform in Algeria.
The policy brief recommends that the U.S.:
1) Publicly acknowledge allegations of fraud,
“…congratulatory remarks on recent elections in the face of blatant fraud undermine U.S. credibility in the eyes of the eyes of the Algerian public. Future statements… should not only raise concerns about the elections, but should also acknowledge the relative powerlessness of the legislature and the importance of evolving authority to elected institutions.”
2) Establish good governance and democratic assistance for Algeria,
“…Algeria receives a very small amount of US bilateral assistance, but this is allocated entirely for security programs. …the U.S. should help push for transparency and market-oriented reforms in Algeria. In addition, the United States should begin providing democracy and governance assistance.”
3) Encourage resolution of the Western Sahara conflict with neighboring Morocco,
“…failure to do so will both sustain terrorist activity in the region and forestall the transition to a genuine democracy in both countries. …Algeria also needs to be held accountable for arming and training Polisario fighters on its territory. It can help deescalate the conflict by withdrawing support for the guerrilla movement.” The policy brief notes a House foreign appropriations reference to “Al Qaeda’s growing ties with members of the Polisario.”
4) Encourage Algeria to strengthen regional economic ties.
“…creation of a free trade zone among the Maghreb countries could increase intraregional trade fivefold… economic integration would serve to strengthen each country’s comparative advantage, creating economies of scale and turning the region into an attractive investment hub for the U.S. and Europe. Cooperation in the political sphere is also crucial to dealing with transnational threats such as Al Qaeda. …for the Algerian people, meanwhile, increased interaction with Moroccans and Tunisians would provide more exposure to successful democratization.”
John P. Entelis is a Professor of Political Science and Director of Middle East Studies at Fordham University. He is editor of The Journal of North African Studies.
Click here for the full text of the policy brief.