AD140: Algerians’ darkening outlook on economy and democracy predates recent anti-austerity protests

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Graph: More negative economic assessments | Algeria | 2013-2015
Dispatches
2017
140
Thomas Isbell

Six years after protests swept Northern Africa in the Arab Spring, Algeria entered 2017 with unrest in the streets. Like many other petro-economies, Algeria relies heavily on high state spending and subsidies. But in recent years, plummeting oil and gas prices have hit the county’s economy hard. Algeria generates about 95% of its export earnings from oil, and faced with dwindling revenues and reserves, the government has been tasked with reducing state spending by 9% in 2016 and another 14% at the beginning of this year (Falconer, 2017; Stratfor, 2017; Wrey, 2017). With the passing of a 2017 austerity policy that included cuts in state spending and subsidies and increases in value-added, income, property, and tobacco taxes, some protests turned violent, leading to arrests as shops and bank offices were looted (Falconer, 2017). As Carboni, Kishi, and Raleigh (2017) note, the number of recent protest events has already surpassed those of 2011, “raising concerns that local grievances may give rise again to wider collective actions,” with implications beyond Algeria, as Stratfor (2017) remarks: “Because Algerian stability is important to overall North African security, the protests bear watching.” 

In comparison to Tunisia and Egypt, Algeria saw fairly weak support for the Arab Spring in 2011, and no regime change took place. But with an aging regime and an economic downturn, might Algeria return for a spring of change?

Afrobarometer survey findings in Algeria suggest that popular discontent is not merely a response to the most recent austerity moves but has been building for some time. Data collected in May-June 2015 show that Algerians were considerably more negative in their assessments of the country’s economic situation and their government’s performance than in 2013. Findings also raise questions about Algerians’ perceptions of elections as a solution to their problems: Most saw political party leaders as self-serving, few perceived the political opposition as a viable alternative, and few considered elections an adequate mechanism for replacing non-performing leaders and ensuring that the interests of the people are reflected.