Through coups and counter-coups, the elimination of internal opposition, a brutal civil war in the s and the regular simulation of tightly controlled elections, an opaque system of rule has survived for almost 60 years. The widespread public opposition to a fifth presidential term by the year-old Bouteflika, whose health has clearly been deteriorating for several years, triggered a flurry of reactions from members of the ruling regime and its supporters. Some were close to cartoonish.
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In early March, as the protests gained momentum on the streets of Algiers, the army chief of staff, Lt. When Algerians rioted against high prices and unemployment in October , the brutal response by security forces killed some people. Following that tragedy, the regime was forced to hold contested elections. But once it became clear that an Islamist party, the Islamic Salvation Front, was about to win, the generals canceled the elections and took over in January The ensuing backlash sparked a civil war that lasted throughout the s, killing perhaps as many as , Algerians and ripping the country apart.
Algerians seem to have finally had enough. During the last presidential elections, held in , state television showed Bouteflika slowly being pushed in his wheelchair close to the ballot box to cast his vote, presumably for himself. The first is that the various factions that wield power were unable to map a path forward by choosing a successor to Bouteflika.
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Algerians are unlikely to accept a transition to democracy handled by the same people that have for so long usurped it. The miscalculation has forced the regime to offer concessions. But those are unlikely to quell discontent. On Monday evening, after Bouteflika withdrew his candidacy, Algerians were back on the streets. They were partly celebrating, and partly demanding that their president step down immediately. The regime has a lot of experience with shutting down dissent. It has done so by repressing protesters and using riot police to close off public spaces.
More recently, during the uprisings that brought down dictators in neighboring Tunisia and Libya, and beyond that in Egypt, Algeria was able to navigate its own wave of unrest. It raised public wages and eased access to cheap loans. But lower revenues from its oil and gas exports and a resistance to foreign borrowing have pushed Algeria to live off its financial cushion.
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This is still a comfortable level of reserves, but the reduction has been stark. The regime has much less room to maneuver. I know about every form of safety that you can have.
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