Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Bouteflika’s Last Election

by Elliott Abrams
April 18, 2014


Yesterday was election day in Algeria, and President Bouteflika of course won re-election. Unfortunately, it is almost unheard of for an Arab president to run and be defeated– one of the reasons the “Arab Spring” uprisings took place. Opponents of the regime are alleging irregularities in the election, which is of course accurate: it was anything but a level playing field. In any free society, with open multi-party political competition, a very sick 77-year-old would not be running for and winning re-election.

Bouteflika has not recovered from a stroke last year that caused him to spend months out of the country under medical care and left him unable to campaign. The Bouteflika era is ending. We will soon find out whether that stroke also left him entirely unable to govern, and how long his declining health will permit him to serve as president. News stories suggest that very soon parliament will create the post of vice president, so that a smooth succession is in place should Bouteflika have to resign or should he die in office.

But who will choose his successor? “Le Pouvoir,” the powerful group of military and intelligence officials who have run Algeria for decades. This year’s election did not move the country any closer to democracy; it did not give the citizens any role in the governing of the country. The question now is whether the political and economic protests occurring in Algeria, including widespread labor unrest, continue to mount or are contained by the government. Can the current system last, when the military refuses any serious political or economic reform? The electoral charade this week suggests that “Le Pouvoir” has decided not to give an inch. As I noted in this blog in February, Algeria is a rich country with a poor population; almost half the population is under the age of 24, youth unemployment is high, and so is poverty. This is not a formula for long-term stability.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Aziz

    Type your comment in here…it’s so un acceptable for a sick man to run once again for president . The legal system should have stoped this un civilized act but the army’s interests are with boutafliqa .
    They could be the next in line for un pleasant uprising . Never know.

  • Posted by EMT

    Mr. Abrams,

    Thank you for bringing up this subject. Are we giving the world a good example? Yes, we have a democratic system, but since Obama came to power, I can no longer say that we are an example of Democracy.

    It has been over forty years since I came to the United States as an immigrant and a businessman, who created business in the United States with my arrival. To our dismay, I can no longer say that we are an example of a democratic state.

    You mentioned the election in Algeria. I know this country very well, from the time when France was controlling the events. You seem to criticize Algeria, which is right, from our point of view of Democracy. But we are not an example either.

    You mentioned the Arab Spring. I’m not sure how well you are informed about what happened. According to my local sources, we, the United States have played a significant role in the uprisings. Alas, this role was premature, and we wanted to democratize the entire Middle East and North Africa at once. Didn’t Obama tell Mubarak, Ben Ali, and Gaddafi to “get out”? I cannot say that the Arab Spring was a spontaneous movement. The US had its hand in it. I don’t recognize the United States as I have known it when I first came here. It changed entirely.

    Your observations are correct, but who are we to criticize other countries or to impose our ways on them? Don’t you think that is going too far? And now the Europeans are also starting to mix themselves into other countries’ affairs. All while the US is not able to do a thing as a counter-move to Russia’s and China’s moves. Now the US is abandoning the Middle East to divert its attention to Asia Pacific. I have visited China, and the son of Deng Xiaoping, Deng Pufang told me at that time, “You the Americans do not know what you are doing.”

    Obama’s policies have not worked in all the Arab countries, and now we want to get between Israel and the Palestinians, while we do not know their history, their capacity and their suffering. Furthermore, now the Europeans are emboldened to step in, while it took them centuries to create honest systems in Europe. Not to forget their attitude in the past. Just to mention a few of them, The Dreyfuss Affair, and Hitler.

    As an 83-year-old, I see things much clearer. Neither the Europeans nor the USA should interfere in Israel’s policy. We should let those people live in peace for centuries to compensate for their suffering. As for the Algerians and the Arabs, they too will find their way, to whatever system they will choose to live in peace and prosperity.

  • Posted by diana

    Though the berbers are the majority of the population they are divided into several groups with different languages. (the indigenous Kabylie, Chaoui, Tuaregs , Shenwa, and a minority consisting of Turks, called Kouloughlis) . Similar to the rest of the Arab countries, with maybe the exception of Egypt, they have in common a tribal culture that fights constantly (mostly about water) and tries to dominate the other tribes. It’s the same as in Syria, Jordan, etc. etc. Yemen is trying presently to address the tribal problem but it may take several generations until the Arab countries learn how to function as a state with respect to a central Law that tries to equalize the treatment of its citizens, rather than having one tribe control and oppress the other tribes that make up a particular Arab country.

  • Posted by agustin lopez-santiago

    Hopefully these elections granted stability to Algeria.

    Europe does not need more instability. Instead, here in Spain, we need the gas from Algeria. Especially now that the Russian gas may be interrupted.

    Do not forget that according to U.S. intelligence the three strategic assets in Spain are Gibraltar, the pharmaceutical company Grifols, and gas pipeline linking Algeria with Europe.

    While he was President of the General Assembly of the UN in the mid-’70s, Palestine joined as a full member of the Assembly, which earned him the sympathy of the Palestinians.

    In any case, Europe, and America needs a stable Algeria.

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