The Essence of  Political  Reforms in Algeria(*)

Ammar Bouhouche (**)

On July 30, 1991, one month after becoming Algeria’s prime minister, Ahmed
Ghozali organized a 3-day meeting between his government and 45 political
parties. His aim was to diffuse political tension in the country and to elaborate
rules for the upcoming legislative elections. What was interesting about this
meeting was the conversation that Ghozali had with Noureddine Boukrouh, the
leader of the Party of Renewal in Algeria (PRA). Ghozali reminded the PRA leader that his government was neutral and wanted only to hold a free election. Ghozali, however, also presented his government’s long- and short-term plans that would require at least 20 years to realize. Boukrouh sensed that Ghozali intended, in fact, to stay in power beyond the elections and asked him to refrain from using the economic crisis as justification for staying in power. The leader of the PRA indicated that Ghozali’s plan had existed since 1979 and that the prime minister was seeking revenge against his opponents.1

This anecdote reflects the nature of the Algerian political-process since 1954,
which has been a constant cycle in which each leader imposes the rules of the
game, makes decisions on most matters, resists challenge, and topples his
opponents from power. This was the case of Messali El-Hadj, Ahmed Ben Bella,
Houari Boumediene, Chadli Bendjedid on January 11,1992 and Liamine Zeroual  who was the last to be forced out of office on April 27, 1999 by the same people who had made him president. Leaders were forced out of office-or killed as Boudiaf was—as a result of a lack of consensus on policies and also because of the persistence of the autocratic pattern of government.

To understand the serious turmoil that Algeria has been experiencing for a few years now, it is necessary to find out why the country has not been able to solve its various problems as they were encountered. The violent madness in which Algeria has been engulfed since 1992 cannot be understood without analyzing its history and the nature of power and how this power has been exercised since independence.  By the Spring of 2006, more than 200 000 people had been killed in this conflict that has been opposing an Islamist rebellion to the state, but not sparing anyone in the country. Women, children, the elderly, journalists, professors, doctors, tax collectors, foreigners and bystanders have been killed, often in the most horrible way. On the economic front, the country has been ailing since the steep drop of oil prices in 1986. Since then, many reforms were attempted, without success. The latest one was the 1994 structural adjustment program designed with the help of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Why haven’t all the reforms attempted not been able to solve Algeria’s most important problems? Knowing that Algeria has all the natural and human resources it needs for a developmental take-off. This paradox may seem puzzling if one does not study the nature of these reforms, their purpose, and the people who promoted them. This chapter proposes to do just that, in the hope of shedding some light on what is happening in Algeria today.

From the outset, it is suggested here that reforms in Algeria have been primarily meant to strengthen the personal power of each leader, not to serve the interests of the country and its citizens. Various aspects of Algeria’s political history show this clearly. As a consequence of this pattern, whenever a leader leaves the political arena, his reform program disappears with him, and a new process of trial and error starts again. William Quandt explains that what has contributed to this instability, or lack of continuity, “was the fact that no one within the elite other than the army had the support of powerful groups within the society.” For him,” the Algerian political elite bas been composed of numerous clans, factions and cliques, none of which has been powerful enough to dominate me entire political System.”2 In the end, elite positions depended primarily on personal relations with powerful elements of the regime. This can be clearly seen in the developments that Algeria has known since the death of President Houari Boumediene, even though some of the patterns go back to the early years of independent Algeria.

This chapter traces the origins of these patterns and examines their evolution
through the crisis that Algeria has been facing in 1990s. The main argument
remains that most political and economic reforms in Algeria were primarily the
result of power struggle and were used as means to maintain their initiators in
power and to defeat political opponents.




In the first republic of Ahmed Ben Bella (1962-1965), the main task was not
reform but rather to maintain law and order. The new leaders of Algeria did not have, however, a common strategy for the future. They disagreed on the nature and power of the new state institutions. As chief of state and head of government, Ben Bella


believed that the executive must have the upper hand in policy-making and that the role  of parliament should be limited to giving opinions on government-initiated bills and policies. For Ben Bella, the deputies were to be selected by the single party, the
National Liberation Front (FLN), which approves policies initiated by the government. This view was rejected by those who saw the assembly as the source
of authority in the political System. Farhat Abbas advocated the separation of
powers, with the Constituent Assembly in charge of drafting the new constitution
and making laws that would be executed by the govemmerit.3 Abbas argued that
the party militants had no right to approve or disapprove the constitution since they
are not elected by the people and, therefore, had no right to deprive the Constituent
Assembly of its legislative powers. An attempt by Abbas to establish an independent parliament failed, and the FLN party established a list of candidates to the new
parliament. In the end, Abbas had to resign on August 14, 1963.

In the same manner, Ben Bella used his majority support in the Political Bureau
to exclude Mohamed Khider from the party on April 17, 1963. Mr. Khider who
was the architect of Ben Bella’s victory in 1962 was in charge of the FLN up to
April 1963, and he succeeded in winning the support of the newly elected members
of the congress of the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA) in January
1963. For the first time, the labor forces had accepted the authority of the Political
Bureau of the FLN. However, when Khider advocated extending the authority of
the party to the public sector and state employees, Ben Bella decided to subordinate
the party to the executive branch of the government. Furthermore, Ben Bella
played various party factions against each other, and was able to weaken them.4 For
example, in order to isolate Khider, Ben Bella sought the alliance of Houari
Boumediene and the leftist groups. He informed Khider that he was against the
idea of allowing the party (FLN) to control the activities of the state; he remained
silent about Khider’s proposal to get the army out of politics. He had thus taken
sides with Boumediene. Ben Bella gained the support of the left after having
declared in his speech of April 3, 1963 that he favored the policy of self-management. This constituted a final setback for Khider who had thus failed to win the
support of the Political Bureau. He was, thereafter, forced to resign from his post
of Secretary General of the Party on April 17, 1963.5

After successive attempts to bring both parliament and the party under his
control, Ben Bella secured the full powers he needed to implement his economic
and political reforms without any major challenge from these institutions. In the fall
of 1963, Ben Bella turned his attention to a third source of potential opposition: the
leader of the army.


On November 16, 1963 Ben Bella announced his intention to hold the first
congress of the FLN and, two days later, he installed a committee of 44 members
for the preparation of the new political platform, the Charter of Algiers. He
intended to strengthen his powers at the expense of those of Boumediene and his
colleagues who opposed the timing of the congress. The military opposed any move that would weaken the army and exclude it from power, especially after its
bitter fight with the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic (GPRA,
1958-1962) over placing Ben Bella in power.

On April 16, 1964, the congress of the party opened, and Ben Bella invited his
rivals to attend, with the hope that they would support him in his power struggle
with the army. Unfortunately for him, most prominent personalities, like Ben
Khedda, Abbas, Khider, Bitat, Boudiaf, and Aït Ahmed, refused to attend the congress of the party, leaving Ben Bella and his left-wing advisors face to face with
Boumediene and his group.

In July 1964, Ben Bella began his reforms in the area of national security. He
created a new military force that would function under his authority, and he
separated it from the Ministry of Defense. Headed by a former military officer, the
new militia was supposed to strengthen his power as head of state. The President
then decided to weaken Boumediene by dismissing his close friends from the
government. He instructed all Walis (governors) to report directly to him instead
of the Ministry of interior, stripping thereby the military of their authority over the
police. On May 26, 1965, he sent Boumediene to Cairo to attend a conference and,
in his absence, dismissed Abdelaziz Bouteflika, an ally of Boumediene, from his
post as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In brief, by June 1965, Ben Bella had not worked on the economic and political
reforms, the country needed, but focused rather on becoming the ultimate power
holder. He became prime minister, Minister of Interior, Minister of Finance,
Minister of Information, and General Secretary of the Party.6 On June 19, 1965,
he was overthrown by colonel Houari Boumediene, and the struggle for power
between the army, on one hand, and the party and the government on me other, was
over for good. Ben Bella’s efforts to transfer all power to the civilian presidency
had failed.








Political Adjustment

The biggest change in this era was the governing style. In the beginning,
Boumediene seemed interested in getting rid of personal power, excluding left-
wing advisors from government and creating a collective decision-making
structure. The creation of a 26-member Council of the Revolution, on July 5,1965,
reflected his distrust of civilian cadres. Boumediene had hoped that the council
members would replace the head of state and act as the supreme policy-making
organ. The policies made by the Council of the Revolution were to be executed by
a Council of Ministers. However, the Council of the Revolution never functioned
as a collective body and consensus among its members was hard to achieve. The
council served only as a symbol of supreme national authority and its members
played merely a ceremonial role. In a way, it resembled the Political Bureau of the
Ben Bella’s era. Real power was in me hands of the Council of Ministers, which was
controlled by its head, Houari Boumediene.

After the coup, Boumediene suspended the constitution, the Political Bureau
of the party, and Parliament. He reduced the party to a mass organization and did
not rely on its members for support. He counted, instead, on the Commissariat
Politique of
the army, which had become involved in ideological, social, and
economic work at the grassroots level.

Boumediene’s approach to political and economic reforms was very different
from that of Ben Bella. Boumediene used nationalism to unify the Algerians. He
nationalized foreign banks and mines in 1967, and oil in 1971. He promoted state
investments in heavy industries and created jobs in all sectors. This brought him the
support of workers. To secure the support of peasants, he introduced an agrarian
reform in 1971. He devoted 35% of the state budget to education and professional
training and provided free education to everyone. The soaring oil price in 1973
facilitated these undertakings. At the political level, up to 1976, Boumediene
enacted very few political reforms.

President Boumediene succeeded in getting rid of foreign advisers
who wished to spread their diverse ideologies in Algeria, and he was also able to
save the interests of the army by getting rid of the personal rule of Ben Bella.
However, because he did not have a political base outside of the armed forces,
Boumediene could neither institute a collective leadership nor rally behind him the
support of various political forces. Left-wing militants turned against  him and


insisted on a follow-up on the socialist policies of Ben Bella. When Boumediene
refused to yield to their pressures, they defected to the opposition, and he had to
turn to technocrats for help in solving the economic problems of Algeria.7

Another trouble for Boumediene came from within the military leadership,
mainly the   chief-of-staff, Colonel Tahar Zbiri, who accused Boumediene in 1967
of consolidating his personal power and relying heavily on the advice of the
“Oudjda group” —those national independence warriors who had worked with him
outside of Algeria until 1962.  In the same year, there was an attempt to assassinate
Boumediene who thereafter had to govern through the Council of Ministers and
had to rely heavily on the military officers he had appointed to important civilian

Boumediene’s era was a period of building a state bureaucracy. Ministers were
given power to run the country; they reported directly to him, and no one was
allowed to evaluate their performance except Boumediene himself. When the
industrialization program and the agricultural revolution failed to meet the needs
of the people and the policies ran into difficulty, the ministers became divided on
most issues and turned critical toward their leader. Because many of his friends and
allies turned against him, Boumediene found himself isolated by 1976. Four years
earlier, Kaid Ahmed lost his job as the FLN party chief after he criticized the
president’s inability to revitalize the party and unwillingness to give him a share
of authority. In 1974, the Minister of interior Ahmed Medeghri disappeared from the
political scène after having called for a parliamentary System and more power for
the Walis (heads of Wilayat, or provinces) who were under his authority. In the
same year, the left accused the Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdelaziz Bouteflika of
representing the bourgeoisie and the corrupt officials who were interested in
material gains—at the expense of the state and the people. Boumediene responded
positively to these attacks in a speech given on June 6, 1974 in Constantine, in
which he indicated that “we have to be aware of the bourgeois tendencies which
are beginning to infiltrate our society,” and he said the revolution needs a party of
credible individuals who are militants and socialists.9

Genuine political reforms in the Boumediene era came only m 1975 and 1976.
In a speech given on June 19, 1975, Boumediene promised a National Charter, a
new constitution, a new parliament, and a presidential political system. A 1976
popular debate on the National Charter revealed the weaknesses of the regime and
the president’s entourage. People were allowed to attack the officials’ inefficiency
and corruption. Boumediene used such criticism as a pretext to get rid of his critics
by sending them either to the party or to the newly created parliament. In 1977, he


appointed Colonel Mohamed Salah Yahiaoui coordinator of the FLN party and
asked him to revitalize the party and mobilize popular support for the regime. In
fact, in Boumediene’s mind, “the FLN was to be confined to symbolic fùnctions.”10

The new 252-seat parliament (Assemblée Populaire Nationale, or APN) was
created on February 25, 1977, but it played no role in policy-making, as the
Presidency remained the only power wielding state institution. To acquire a popular
legitimacy, Boumediene was elected by the people in a single-candidate vote held
in December 1976. By then, and thereafter, Boumediene had emerged as the sole
architect of the development and reforms policies and as a statesman of international stature.”11


The Socialist Economy and Its Consequences

Mismanagement of the Algerian economy was one of the main reasons behind
the overthrow of President Ahmed Ben Bella by Houari Boumediene in June 1965.
The former was accused of relying too much on foreign advisers for economic
reform, especially regarding the workers’ self-management experiment.

In early 1966, Boumediene asked his Algerian advisers to design a new
economic development strategy. He wanted me municipal institutions to play an
active role in local development, with the material and financial help of the state.
In 1967, Boumediene enacted a reform that was meant to give some initiative to
local officials in handling their problems themselves, and in an adequate fashion,
rather than rely on distant state offices.

The second most important decision made by Boumediene in 1967, which had
an important impact on the social and economic development of Algeria, was the
nationalization of all banks, mines, and foreign firms. It was believed that state
ownership of the means of production would help the country rely on itself, end
foreign economic control, and stimulate the development of national industries.
This policy was expected to lower unemployment and allow all Algerians to benefit
from their country’s natural wealth, mainly oil and natural gas.

The third most important economic decision made in 1967 was the introduction
of economic plans. The first three-year economic plan coincided with a huge state
investment program in industry and local development projects. In this plan, the
state devoted 3.5 billion Dinars to the creation of jobs for 760,000 out of the
2,480,000 people who were seeking employment.12 Two four-year plans (1970 to
1973 and 1974 to 1977) followed. Both exhibited the state’s capacity to mobilize and


invest important resources. From 1977 to 1978, investment went from 9.2 billion Dinars to 52 billion Dinars.

All of these economic measures proved very useful, in the sense that thousands
of Algerians found new jobs and oil revenues quickly reached 97% of the state
revenue. This new wealth helped national corporations pay workers even if the
latter were not productive. When Boumediene died of illness on December 27,
1978, Algeria’s workforce was 4 million strong. The positive aspects of Algeria’s
economic strategy were short-lived, however. The negative consequences began to be felt right away after Boumediene’s death. Three major aspects of Boumediene’s
policies are examined here. As a result of devoting 40% of all investments to the
industrial sector alone, many young people had to seek employment in administrative offices and in state firms, which paid relatively well. This contributed to an
important urban migration from rural areas where many fertile lands were merely
abandoned. The agricultural revolution started in 1971 remained only a set of
slogans and led to little rural development. By the 1980s, agriculture became
unable to produce all food needed and Algeria started depending on important food
imports. By 1984, $2.3 billion were spent on food imports.13

A second negative aspect was the development of a huge state bureaucracy. The
state service sector (administration) alone employed 72% of Algeria’s workforce.
Bureaucrats constituted not only a burden for the state budget, but also a real
political authority that decided prices and other things. For example, they
maintained the price of agricultural products so low that many peasants were
discouraged from producing sufficient quantifies to fill the demand of urban

Finally, the third aspect was the institution of a state monopoly over foreign
trade. Since the state and private firms could not compete with foreign producers,
the state issued laws that impeded competition in the international market. The
monopoly over trade encouraged mediocre national products and services and
discouraged foreign investments.

When Boumediene died, for many people his death meant the end of an era of
charismatic leadership in Algeria. It was a well-known fact that Boumediene was
from the start committed to socialist policies and did not appear willing to revise
his economic strategy which proved later to be unproductive and unrealistic for Algeria. As both head of state and head of government, Boumediene sought popular support for his policies and succeeded in winning it from a large percentage of the population. People appreciated his policies since they made it easy for the poor to


receive, in many forms, a share of the national wealth. In fact, Boumediene’s popularity among the masses was mostly due to his strong and sincere belief in helping every Algerian to receive free education, free medical care, and a regular income, regardless of productivity in the work place.




When Boumediene died, it was clear that his successor has to com from the Council of the Revolution. The task at hand was to select a moderate person who accepted the principle of collective leadership and was not powerful enough to dominate the political arena as Boumediene did. Chadii Bendjedid was accepted as a compromise candidate for the job. On January 27, 1979, the first Congress of the FLN approved his nomination as President of Algeria and Secretary General of the FLN. On February 7, 1979, Bendjedid was officially elected by me people.

Since he was chosen by his colleagues in the Council of the Revolution and the
party, and confirmed by popular vote, Bendjedid did not mind working within the
framework of the party. As a matter of fact, he even appreciated debates over
policies and attempts to create consensus within the party over crucial issues.
Unlike his predecessor, Bendjedid favored the creation of a Political Bureau and
a Central Committee, and he encouraged the party militants to get involved in
public policy debates rather than wait for presidential instructions and initiatives.

By accepting the idea of sharing power, Bendjedid had changed the political
practice in Algeria. He was also willing to pursue Boumediene’s policies and to
rely on Mohamed Salah Yahiaoui who was named coordinator of the party by
Boumediene. The biggest problem faced by Bendjedid was not the new method
of using the party as instrument to curb and control the bureaucracy, but rather the
question of how to deal with his colleagues in the political leadership.14


Consolidation of Political Reforms

Real political reforms in Algeria began at the first Congress of the FLN held on
January 27, 1979. It was at that meeting that the party decided to modify the 1976
constitution and establish new rules. According to the new rules, the party would
hold its regular Congress every five years; the President would be elected every 5
years (instead of 6); and the Central Committee of the FLN would become the
supreme authority of the party with a political bureau that executes its decisions.
Furthermore, the 3,298 delegates to this Congress agreed to policies that would


rectify anomalies in the agricultural sector, and urged the government to promote
economic efficiency.

In March 1979, Bendjedid formed a new government that retained only 4
ministers (out of28) from the previous government. Influential personalities in the
Boumediene’s era, like Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Ahmed Bencherif, and Sid Ahmed
Ghozah, Minister of Energy and Petrochemical Industries, were removed from the
Cabinet. President Bendjedid had, thus, begun to assert his authority and seemed to
enjoy the support of the 600 military officers who were at the first party Congress.
He also had the support of Colonel Mohamed Ben Ahmed Abdelghani who was
Prime Minister.15

Immediately after starting to tackle economic reforms, Bendjedid was
challenged by his former colleagues in the Council of the Revolution, Bouteflika
and Yahiaoui. In the Political Bureau of the FLN, Bouteflika pressured Bendjedid
to liberalize the economy and to promote the private sector, while Yahiaoui sought
to strengthen the party by establishing its political control over the administrative
apparatus of the state.16 This struggle virtually paralyzed the Political Bureau and made it very difficult for Bendjedid to undertake any action, especially at a time
when he faced a growing tension among university students who were demanding
the total Arabization of university teaching , the Arabicization of high schools
was already completed by then. In Kabylie, the northern capital of Berberist
sentiments, more unrest was unfolding regarding the recognition of Berber as a
second national language.

To deal with these crises, Bendjedid called for an extraordinary meeting of the
Congress of the FLN. During this congress, which was held June 15 to 19, 1980,
the president succeeded in persuading the 4,000 delegates to revise the party
statutes and to get rid of Yahiaoui, the coordinator of the party.

Another major change was Bendjedid’s nomination in June 1980 of Abdelhamid Brahimi as member of the Central Committee of the FLN and his appointment, later, as Minister of planning. Bendjedid relied heavily on this man who was to become the architect of his economic policies in the 1980s. An economist who was critical of Boumediene’s socialist policies, Brahimi worked closely with Bendjedid on the elaboration of a 5-year development plan (1980 to 1984) that reflected Bendjedid’s intention to liberalize the economy, encourage the private sector, and induce foreign enterprises to invest in Algeria. Furthermore, Brahimi was entrusted with restructuring public enterprises by reducing their sizes and making them efficient.


After having eliminated the post of Coordinator of the party, which left
Yahiaoui without any function in the party , Bendjedid named Mohamed Cherif
Massadia as head of the Permanent Central Committee. He replaced Kasdi Marbah,
one of Boumediene’s strongest men, with Mostefa Beloucif as Secretary General
of the Ministry of Defense. He also replaced colonel Abdellah Belhouchet who is a
trusted ally as the head of the first military region of Blida. In another move,
Colonel Mohamed Ben Ahmed Abdelghani, a powerful individual in Boumediene’s time, was replaced by Boualem Ben Hamouda as Minister of Interior.

In the end, all of Boumediene’s men were removed from key positions and
replaced by elements loyal to Bendjedid, who had the functions of head of state,
Minister of Defense, Head of the Council of Ministers, and Secretary General of
the Party (FLN).

After this massive leadership purge, Bendjedid turned to the leftist and rightist
elements within the party, who resented his reforms and criticized him openly in
a Central Committee meeting in December 1980. At that meeting, the party decided
to apply article 120 of its statutes which prohibits any member of the FLN from
belonging to another party. All members of mass organizations had to officially
commit themselves to the FLN or they would not be eligible for any elected office.
In fact, because the FLN had the monopoly over political representation, total
loyalty to it was a necessary condition for any political office. This policy went
against what Boumediene and Yahiaoui wanted to achieve, that is, a certain degree
of popular control over the state apparatus. However, Bendjedid’s policy was
meant to subordinate the popular will to the party apparatus.17 Bendjedid also
strengthened his position by appointing 31 heads of party Mohafadat (departments)
in the Wilayat. These officials became the chairmen of the 31 Councils of Coordination, and as such, they made local policies and coordinated relations
between state agencies at the local level. These Councils of Coordination included
the chiefs of the military sectors and the presidents of the elected provincial
assembly (Assemblée Populaire de Wilaya, or APW). The party had thus acquired
the upper hand in policy-making, while the Wali (local governor) served as the
executive authority. Bendjedid also induce  the Central Committee to create a Discipline Commission that would punish members who did not conform to party decisions. As its chairman, Bendjedid used this commission to dismiss his opponents from the party and sent their files to the economic state tribunal (Cours des Comptes), which is specialized in trying officials suspected of stealing public money. Through this process, Bouteflika was accused of stealing 60 million Dinars and Taybi Laarbi of stealing 2 million Dinars. Some of the people who had opposed Boumediene during his tenure were released from jails, others were pardoned, and those in exile were


allowed to return to the country. Ahmed Ben Bella was released from prison in April 1979 and put under house arrest. He became completely ‘free in October 1980. Mr. Tahar Zbiri returned to Algeria after being pardoned.18


Economic and Social Reforms

After being elected president in February 1979, Chadli Bendjedid decided to
rectify some of the anomalies he saw in the economy. He decided to shift from the
policy of heavy investment in industry, which had made the country unable to
feed itself, to a policy that gave priority to agriculture. However, in this new
orientation, one important question was raised :who was willing to go back to the rural areas from the overcrowded urban centers and to work the land? Bendjedid did not seem to see that people wanted to be regular employees in state institutions in order to have a guaranteed and regular income at the end of each month; they had given up their agricultural activities because of the uncertainties created by drought and because their production was often sold at prices that were kept artificially low by state bureaucrats. The greatest political and economic shifts came in the beginning of 1984. On January 16, Bendjedid appointed Abdelhamid Brahimi as Prime Minister and asked him to make the economy meet the needs of society. The official slogan was then “For a better life, a better future.”

Mr. Brahimi opted for shifting investments from the heavy to the light industry.
The new government focused on improving productivity in agriculture and on
providing better services in housing, medical care, and education. In December
1984, it was decided to bring the administration closer to the citizens by raising the
number of Wilayat from 31 to 48. It was hoped that the shift from a state-centered
development strategy to one that relied on a greater role of private initiative and a
better use of natural resources would achieve food self-suffîciency.19

In his 5, year Plan (1980 to 1984), Bendjedid aimed also at making state
enterprises more efficient and productive. Very large state companies were broken
up into smaller ones that specialized, each, in producing specific outputs. It was hoped that restructuring would make state enterprises more efficient and self-reliant
rather then keep them unproductive and waiting for the state to bail them out of
their deficits. However, this policy of restructuring caused rift and rupture in the
operation of the state companies. It was clear from the start that the problems
caused by overstaffing, lack of skilled technicians, appointment of managers by the
state, and state monopoly over raw materials, would lead to inefficiency and low
productivity. Moreover, without state subsidies, most companies would have been
forced to lay off most of their employees.


Bendjedid’s policy also consisted of encouraging national private businessmen
and foreign investors to work with state firms and to invest in consumer industries,
which were not considered strategic to the country. However, state control over
hard currency, heavy taxes and restrictive rules on the import of raw materials,
discouraged private investment. The state went even as far as allowing and
encouraging its own companies to get into joint ventures with foreign companies.
However, foreign companies were reluctant to do so because they did not want to
deal with industries owned and controlled by the state and managed by state


Lack of Consensus and Emergence of New Power Contenders

A turning point occurred in 1986 when the prices of oil dropped drastically and
the state suddenly found itself unable to provide the basic needs of the people.
At the same time, there was a fierce power struggle within the regime. Résistance
to Bendjedid’s reforms came from the state bureaucrats who disliked the growing
political strength of the party. As indicated previously, the party had become
involved in policy-making and was eager to move to the arena of policy execution
to overcome the slow implementation of economic reforms.

By September 1988, the President was overwhelmed and pressured by different
poles of power, each seeking to impose its views. On October 5, 1988, people moved
to the streets in the first major rioting since independence. The uprising was caused
by major shortages of food and failed economic reforms that had resulted in labor
layoffs for the sake of efficiency in state enterprises. The social grievances came
as a direct result of both mismanagement of the economy and the dramatic drop of
oil revenues in 1986. The budget of the state could no longer afford the food import

What made things even worse for Algeria’s economy in 1986 was the
international debt to public and private creditors. The state revenues, which came
mainly from oil(97%) were no longer sufficient for importing intermediate
industrial products and food. In early 1984, only 25% of Algeria’s food needs were
being satisfied by domestic production. The rest was filled by imports that had to
be paid with a scarce hard currency.20

In the October 1988, rioters, dissatisfied masses joined strikers and young
demonstrators who caused disruption across the country. Angry groups ransacked
the offices of the party and created spontaneous authorities in different localities.

The disappearance of police forces from the streets reflected the weakness of the


regime and prompted the president to call in the army to re-establish order and
security in the country.

Bendjedid, who seemed very shaken by the violent outbreak of public anger,
seized this occasion to make sweeping changes. He replaced Abdelhamid Brahimi
with Kasdi Marbah as Prime Minister and Cherif Messadia with Abdelhamid Mehri
as leader of the party. The Ministry of interior, which had failed to quell the riots,
lost control of the sector of national security, and the president and his close
associates emerged as the leading force in the country.

In the aftermath of the October events, Bendjedid changed his governing style.
According to a new constitution approved by referendum on February 23, 1989,
the executive power would be shared by the president and the Prime Minister. The
President would be in charge of foreign policy and would supervise all policies,
while the Prime Minister and his ministers would work with parliament and execute
the policies approved by the other two institutions. The Prime Minister could be
dismissed from office if he failed to win the approval of the president or the
support of parliament. The president would remain the head of the Council of

At the sixth Congress of the FLN, held in November, 1988, Bendjedid proposed
a new method of work . He did not believe that the FLN should remain the party of the
state or should control social and professional organizations (organisations de masse). He also proposed that divergent political views and tendencies be tolerated within the party in the hope that they would be harmonized.21 However, the strategy of trying to create unity among diverse tendencies did not work out.

The former barons of the Boumediene era, who were rehabilitated and admitted
in the Central Committee, had other objectives in mind. They wanted a debate over
the party program, specifically the parts related to economic and political reforms.
Moreover, they wanted to substitute new, credible, and competent leaders to those
heading the party at that time, including Bendjedid himself. However, and
contrary to all expectations, Bendjedid outmaneuvered his opponents and succeeded in winning the support of the majority of delegates; not only was he re- elected as chairman of the party but he was also nominated as the only presidential candidate.

Later after the Congress, having sensed that leading party personalities remained hostile to his reforms and his clumsy method of running the country,
Bendjedid proposed the inclusion of multiparty in the 1989 constitution. This
important decision was never discussed or approved at the sixth Congress of the


party. People approved by referendum the proposed constitution, and the multiparty System was welcomed by all the groups that wanted to work outside of the FLN and to offer their own reform programs to the people.

After the introduction of the multiparty System in 1989 and Bendjedid’s
decision to allow the mass media to denounce corruption in the political system,
everything got out of hand. This last decision worked against the president, as a
new independent press revealed major scandals and corruption in the regime. These revelations hurt the credibility of the regime and stimulated a popular desire for a
radical system change.


The Adverse Effects of Bendjedid’s Reforms

Because they introduced radical structural and institutional changes and ushered
in a new era, the reforms of ChadIi Bendjedid of 1988 and 1989 stimulated great
hope among people. The reforms were intended to strengthen the state by creating
a multiparty system, allowing a free press, establishing a Constitutional Council,
writing a new constitution, calling for new parliamentary elections, and making the
president share his power with the prime minister. As the president of ail
Algerians, Bendjedid reserved for himself the role of arbitrator between the various
political players, that is, the new opposition political parties, the FLN, the Prime
Minister, and parliament.

In March 1989, Bendjedid influenced the army to get out of politics and
relinquish its seats in the Central Committee of the FLN. in July 1990, he
appointed general Khaled Nezzar Minister of Defense, thereby ending a 25-year
practice according to which the president was also the head of the military

One of the first problems caused by the various changes initiated by President
Bendjedid had to do with Prime Minister Kasdi Merbah. By the summer of 1989, it
became clear that the two could not agree on the reforms. Merbah was accused,
through the press, of hindering the implementation of the reforms and of not having
done much to overcome economic inefficiency, mismanagement, and waste of state
resources. Finally, on September 9, 1989, Merbah was dismissed from his office.
Mouloud Hamrouche was made Prime Minister and asked to form a new
government of technocrats committed to the reforms. Bendjedid had finally learned
that members of the old regime, such as Merbah, were opposed to his liberal


When the new government began implementing the reforms dictated by the law
of January 12, 1988, several adverse effects prompted résistance from various
sectors of the state and society. For example, the new autonomy given to public
enterprises meant that the latter would have to rely on their own income, rather
than state subsidies, as they had up to then. Most enterprises were not in a position
to function adequately under this new arrangement. Moreover, many factories were
almost paralyzed because the state, which had the monopoly over imports, did not
have enough hard currency to import the raw or intermediary materials needed for
industrial production.

Invited to give an opinion on economic reform in Algeria, IMF experts
recommended a devaluation of the Dinar and a deregulation of prices. As these
recommendations were implemented, the cost of living soared, and people’s
dissatisfaction with the regime, the FLN, and the economic reforms increased as
well. Sensing the need to defend the interests of their constituents, the FLN deputies in thee parliament tried to slow down the drastic reforms that had aggravated the  unemployment level and cost of living of the masses. This set them in a collision course with the government of Hamrouche who had threatened to dissolve parliament if the latter became an obstacle to his reform program. In the end, they lost the battle, especially after Rabah Bitat, the president of parliament, resigned m October 1990, he later joined the opposition to the FLN.23 Bitat was replaced by Abdelaziz Belkhadem, a young individual who was very loyal to the president. This meant that parliament stopped being in opposition to the government.

In the midst of all this, the FLN’s in-fighting between heterogeneous groups
increased, breaking the party apart. Abdelhamid Brahimi (prime minister from
1984 to 1988) declared in March 1990 that $26 billion dollars were given by
international firms as bribes to several government officials in the past 20 years.24
Kasdi Merbah (prime minister from November 1988 to September 1989) withdrew
from the FLN and created his own political party, the Algerian Movement for
Justice and Development (MAJD). He called for early presidential elections and
wished to unseat Bendjedid. Kasdi Merbah was assassinated in the summer of
1993, and Abdelhamid Brahimi went into exile in Great Britain.

By the time the first multiparty municipal elections were held on June 12,1990,
many disillusioned Algerians were prepared to vote for the new political parties
and to oppose the FLN. At that time, the mood of the voters and their resentment
were underestimated by both the president’s aides and the FLN leadership. Out of
12,841,769 registered voters, only 7,984,788 voted (65.2%). The new Islamist
party, the Islamic Front of Salvation (FIS), obtained 4,331,272 million votes


(55.5%). Out of a total of 1,541 municipalities, 856 fell under its control. The FLN
obtained 2,245,798 votes (31.6%) and maintained the control of486 municipalities
only. Independent candidates won in 106 municipalities (6.9%), while the Berberist
party, the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), won 87 municipalities (5.7%)
only. Six remaining municipalities went to small political parties like PNSD, PSD,
and  PRA.25


The Islamists

The success of the Islamic Front of Salvation in the municipal elections of June
1990 and in the first round of the legislative elections of December 26, 1991 can
be attributed to several factors. Before presenting these factors, it should be noted
that for Algerians Islam bas always been a strong basis of collective identity, and
that the Islamic sentiment served as a major instrument in the anti-colonial
résistance. Islam has thus been a unifying factor, but it has been also exploited by
the state and by parties for political purposes.

It should also be noted that, along the years, the Algerian elite built a distance
between it and the people. Most of the politicians were educated in French schools
and remained committed to European values and culture. This created a cultural
gap between people and their leaders. In the 1980’s, Algeria was living a cultural
and educational crisis that carried important consequences. Even though education was Arbized (provided almost entirely in the Arabic language), power, authority, and influence remained in the hands of the Francophones (educated in French). Those who were educated in Arabic were excluded from jobs, and power, and they felt frustrated. They were viewed by many members of the French educated elite as backward and culturally tied to the Arab countries of the Middle East. As a consequence, many young Arabophones (educated in Arabic) embraced Islam as a means to fight the political regime that had educated them in Arabic and then excluded them.26

When the political System was opened in the late 1980’s, it allowed the emergence, from within society, of new leaders who communicated directly and well with their dissatisfied constituents. The new grassroots leaders, who despised officials of the one party System and their material wealth, promised to meet the needs of the people and to speak for the poor.27

The idea of democracy was understood by people as a change of leadership by way of vote. It was thought that elections would help rid the country of the entrenched politicians of the old System, in municipal and legislative elections of 1990 and 1991. It was evident that many people were going to vote for the party or parties that would


displace the existing regime. The FIS understood that and included it in its political strategy.

The Islamists took full advantage of not only the political opening but also the
economic crisis that served as an ideal opportunity for them to provide social services for the unemployed youth and the poor. The Islamists collected money from worshipers in mosques and donors and invested it in small social service
projects. They also distributed money, clothes, and food to poor people during
Muslim holidays. These activities helped build sympathy and support for the

Moreover, and because the state had a monopoly over the media, the FIS had to use the mosques for political debates and preaching. The Islamists gathered large
audiences, and their political message was effectively delivered. Also, because of
their dullness, state media programs undermined the state’s influence on society,
while the Islamist speeches attracted people because they were critical of the
regime, very informative, and rich in substance.

Finally, the FIS benefitted greatly from animosities and power struggles that
were taking place between factions of the FLN party. The FLN’s prestige was
damaged by the defection of many politicians to the FIS and by the revelation of
important information on corruption and other regime fallacies. Several scandals
discredited state officials while the FIS was given credit for providing the public
with information on the causes of the crisis in the country.


Bendjedid’s New Strategy

The defeat of the FLN in the municipal elections of June 12, 1990 prompted
President Bendjedid to revise his strategy. He realized that his economic reforms
had worsened the unemployment situation and the standards of living of most people. He decided, therefore, to slow down the pace of implementation of the reforms and to push his party to compete effectively against the opposition parties for popular support.

In short, Bendjedid’s political strategy after June 1990 can be delineated as

  1. He had to leave the FLN in order to prevent its barons, former strongmen of Boumediene’s regime, from continuing to obstruct change. He, therefore, resigned from his post of chairman of the party and claimed to be representing all Algerians,


rather than a given political party.

  1. He sought the support and loyalty of young FLN reformers. Because he wanted them to compete for votes and to win seats in the planned parliamentary elections, he decided to alter electoral laws and to increase the number of deputies from 295 to 542. He also hoped that the FLN would work with secular opposition parties to defeat the Islamist candidates.28
  2. He had to compete against the Islamists for the support of the youth, the unemployed, and the dissatisfied.

This political strategy seemed to be based on me assumption that the legislative
elections would result in a coalition of the FLN with other secular parties. In this
scenario, Bendjedid would act as an impartial arbitrator in a pluralist political
landscape.29 However, as soon as this strategy started and implemented, it faced
strong résistance from me Islamist and secular parties.

Under me leadership of Cherif Belkacem, several barons of me FLN united
their ranks and decided to work together on me electoral project. However, some
FLN elements decided to run as independent candidates, thereby weakening the
FLN’s electoral potential.30 What really damaged the chances of the FLN in the
elections were the deliberate attempts of Prime Minister Sid Ahmed Ghozali to
discredit FLN officials whom he accused of not taking the reforms seriously31 and
of lying to the people.32 In contrast to this, the FIS’s unity and determination
proved to be very solid and hard to break.

However, by April 1991 the strategy of Bendjedid seemed to be succeeding in
weakening the FIS and strengthening the FLN. At that time, the biggest challenge
to the FLN was expected to come from the secular opposition rather than from the Islamists who were unable to win the support of workers, especially after the
failure of a call made by the FIS on May 23,1991 for a general strike. This call for
a general strike was part of the FIS’s strategy to disrupt the economy and to block
me reforms. The FIS also demanded the abrogation of the new electoral laws and
the organization of legislative and presidential elections at the same time.

The political offensive of the FIS, which included the gathering of striking
workers in popular rallies and sit-ins in strategic places of the capital, was effective.
It disrupted the economy and created disorder in many parts of the country. After
negotiation between the government and the FIS did not succeed in solving the
crisis, the army was asked to intervene again, on June 5, to re-establish order and
security in the streets of Algiers. This military intervention was followed by the imposition of martial law, the dismissal of the prime minister, and the postponement of


the legislative elections that were originally scheduled for June 1991.

These fast-paced events led a de facto political dominance of the army in the
Bendjedid regime. After this last showdown, President Bendjedid felt isolated and
dependent on the armed forces that had just saved his regime from collapse. The
military leaders, who had become impatient with his failure to end the national
crisis, seem to have pressured Bendjedid to dismiss Prime Minister Mouloud
Hamrouche because he worked very closely with the FLN and contributed to the
Islamist unrest and violence of June 1991. He was replaced by Sid Ahmed
Ghozali, a holdover from the Boumediene era. The appointment of Ghozali as
prime minister was hailed by the democratic parties and revived the hope that the
democratic process would continue. Ghozali was perceived as being strongly
committed to liberal reforms and to the independence of the state from the FLN.
It was hoped that Ghozali would be able to get the Islamists to refrain from using
violence for political purposes. The new head of government started negotiation
with the FIS immediately and responded favorably to their demands. He promised
that the FLN would not be allowed to control the electoral process that would take
place before the end of 1991, and that the presidential vote would be held before
its scheduled date of December 1993. He also conceded that the workers dismissed
during the failed strike would be reinstated and that the electoral law would be
revised. In exchange for these concessions, Ghozali hoped to obtain the cooperation of the FIS in restoring order.33

The optimist mood generated by the appointment of Ghozali did not last,
however. Quickly after he took office, tension with the FIS mounted again. On
June 28, the FIS leaders threatened to call jihad (holy war) if the state of siege,
martial law and curfew were not lifted. The government reacted to this threat by
arresting, on June 30, the two leaders of the FIS, Abassi Madani and Ali Belhadj; they were later judged by a military court and sentenced to a 12, year jail term for
threats against national security (Abassi Madani was released on July 15,1997). On
September 29, 1991, the government announced the lifting of the curfew and the
scheduling of the parliamtary elections for December 26. Furthermore, the
government honored its promise to revise the electoral law and reduced the number
of seats in the parliament from 542 to 430. In spite of the fact that its two leaders
were in jail, the Islamist party decided to participate in the vote.


The 1991 Parliamentary Elections

On December 24, Bendjedid declared to journalists that he was ready for
cohabitation (governing with the opposition) and sharing power with the future


parliament, regardless of which party or coalition controls it. He indicated that, in
all cases, he would serve as arbitrator between the head of government and parliament.34

When the first multiparty parliamentary elections finally took place, everybody
was surprised by the results of the first round of December 26. The FIS had won big: 188 seats (44%). The Berber-based party, the Front of Socialist Forces (FFS)
won 25 seats, whereas the FLN, which had ruled Algeria alone since independence
in 1962, came in third with 15 seats only. There was no doubt that in the run-off
elections scheduled for January 1992, the FIS would win the seats needed to secure
a parliamentary majority. President Bendjedid’s political reforms had produced 62
political parties, 49 of which had participated in the parliamentary elections; these
parties proved to be “too weak and far too divided to compete against the Islamist
movement, which continued to gather power.”35

Most of the democratic parties, which won little or nothing in these elections,
turned against the democratic process that had allowed the Islamists, not them, to
win. Some of them even asked for a military intervention to deprive the Islamists
from their legitimate right to rule the country. This was also the point of view of
Sid Ahmed Ghozali whose government had jailed the leaders of the FIS. The army
was also opposed to the transfer of power to the Islamists for the following reasons.

  1. If there is a struggle between the elected president and parliament, the army can be ordered to intervene again, and it did not wish to do so.
  2. The existence of a weak president and a strong parliament could have created a power vacuum.
  3. If FIS-controlled parliament, it could alter the role and powers of the army through legislation.
  4. As in Tunisia, the military leadership wanted a president who was strong and loyal to them.

Another alternative was to allow the democratic process to go on and to
establish the tradition of a peaceful leadership succession. This was the view of
Bendjedid, the FFS, the FLN and, of course, the FIS. Bendjedid advocated the
respect of the will of the people and counted on his constitutional power to dissolve
the government and parliament in critical circumstances. The leader of the FFS,
Hocine Aït Ahmed, called for allowing the FIS to come to power. He explained
that, once in power, the Islamists would face the hard reality of Algeria’s problems
and lose their credibility, because they would not be able to solve them. in fact,
their experience in the municipal institutions had proven to be catastrophic for
them.36 The new leader of the FLN, Abdelhamid Mehri, shared the views of the


president and Ait Ahmed and indicated that his party was willing to share power
and even create a coalition with the FIS.37



In the beginning of January 1992, President Bendjedid conceded the FLN’s
defeat and began secret negotiations with FIS leaders for a possible cohabitation.
This alternative was not acceptable to the military who wanted the president to
resign, explaining that if the Islamists came to power they would put an end to
democracy in Algeria. They told the president that they did not want the country
to have the same experience that other countries in the Middie East and East Africa had. Bendjedid assured them that he would still have the power to dissolve both
parliament and the government in case the Islamists violated the constitution. After
having failed to convince his military partners, president Bendjedid was asked to
resign from power on January 11, 1992. Two days later, a High State Council
(Haut Comité d’Etat, or HCE) was established to assume presidential powers until
the end of Bendjedid’s term in December, 1993. Historical leader, Mohammed
Boudiaf, who was in exile in Morocco, was invited to return to Algeria and head
the HCE. In April 1992, Boudiaf inaugurated a new Consultative Assembly of 60
members, which replaced the dissolved parliament. On June 29, 1992, he was
assassinated by one of his security men.

His successor, Ali Kafî, and Prime Minister Ghozali were both unable to deal
with the crisis effectively. Ghozali’s strategy of isolating the Islamists did not work,
mostly because all other political parties and movements were too weak and
divided to assume the role of an effective opposition to both the Islamists and the
conservative elements of the FLN.

When Ghozali was replaced by Mr. Belaid Abdesselam in the summer of 1992,
everyone thought that the latter could win back the support of the FLN, re-establish
law and order, and strengthen the state. However, Abdesselam, who wanted to win
back the support of the members of the FLN only, not their leaders, ended up, in
a speech given on June 23,1993, antagonizing most party leaders and the press. He
also alienated most groups that had previously supported his government. His
prompt resignation was inevitable. In the summer of 1993, he was replaced by
Foreign Minister Redha Malek who wanted to create a national consensus on a
solution to the political crisis and to the international debt problem. in October
1993, the High State Council created a National Dialogue Commission, whose
main task was to develop, on the basis of consultations with all parties and civic
associations, a platform for a three-year transition back to the democratic process


(1994 to 1996). The platform for transition was debated and approved by a national
conference held January 25 to 26, 1994. However, well before that conference
took place, many parties indicated that they would not attend it, either because the
draft platform did not please them or because they wanted the Islamists to be
invited as well. This stemmed from the belief that there could not be a national
consensus without the FIS. Even the FLN and moderate Islamists boycotted the
conference along with the FFS, al-Tahadi, and the Movement for Democracy in
Algeria (MDA) parties. The conference ended up including mostly representatives
of civic associations and professional organizations, including the UGTA. The
conference approved the platform but did not designate a new leader. This task was
left to the National Security Council, which a few days later, appointed Defense
Minister Liamine Zeroual as the new president of Algeria for a three-year transition
period. The HCE folded, and many people hoped for a quick end to the crisis.
However, everyone doubted it could happen because this leadership change was
perceived as superficial, since the regime remained identical to the one that had
governed the country since independence.

Liamine Zeroual acknowledged from the start that security measures alone
would not bring about a solution to the crisis, and that only a political dialogue among all social forces (including the Islamists of the FIS) could save the country.
He engaged in secret talks with the FIS leadership but without much success, as
each side imposed conditions for a settlement of the crisis that were unacceptable
to the other. In the meantime, political violence had gained momentum, and
thousands of security personnel and civilians were killed. A new and violent
Islamist group vowed to continue the fight until the regime fell. Known as the
Armed Islamic Group (GIA), this entity was created by people who had fought in
the war of Afghanistan and seemed independent from the FIS.

On the economic front, negotiations with the IMF continued for a debt
restructuring agreement that would ease Algeria’s heavy debt servicing burden.
Zeroual appointed, on April 11, 1994, a 54-year-old technocrat, Mokdad Sifi, as
Prime Minister to replace Redha Malek, and, in early May, he made major changes
among the military leadership, notably nominating new and younger officers to
major posts of leadership.

Even though he seemed committed to finding a political solution to the crisis,
Zeroual faced great political and economic challenges. He had to continue the
military pressure on the Islamist armed groups while seeking a negotiated solution.However, dialogue with FIS leaders failed to lead to a compromise, and the
hardliners within the regime pursued a policy of eradication of the Islamists. At the


same time, he had to quickly enact an effective program of economic stabilization
that guaranteed the implementation of the agreement signed with the IMF in early
1994. That agreement, which diminished the debt-servicing burden through
rescheduling, was also expected to encourage foreign capital to help Algeria meet
its economic growth needs.

Sooner than expected by many observers, Zeroual decided to end the transition
period by calling for a presidential election that was held on November 16, 1995.
The vote was boycotted by the opposition parties that met in Rome in January of
1994 and proposed a new National Platform for solving the crisis (including the
FLN, FIS, FFS, and me MDA). Three candidates challenged incumbent President
Zeroual: Mahfoudh Nahnah of the moderate Islamist party HAMAS, Said Saadi
of the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), and Noureddine Boukrouh of
PRA. With voters’ participation close to 75%, Zeroual won the elections by 61%
of the vote.

Strengthened by a popular legitimacy, President Zeroual found in his position
a new momentum for further political reforms. He replaced Prime Minister
Mokdad Sifi by Ahmed Ouyahia, a young former diplomat who seemed eager to
work hard for the implementation of the President’s programs. Feeling strong after
his electoral victory, President Zeroual did not respond to several calls of the FIS
to enter into negotiations over me future of the country. In the summer of 1996 he
even called the FIS question a “closed issue” and invited all other opposition
parties to participate in a conference of “National Entente” that was held September
14 to 15. While the moderate Islamist party HAMAS, along with the FLN and
other political formations accepted the invitation, the FFS, the RCD and the MDA
refused, claiming that the real intention of the regime was not a democratic
opening, but rather a consolidation of authoritarianism under a democratic façade.

The conference was attended by 1,000 participants from political parties, unions,
professional associations and other political formations. Its final product was a
“Platform for National Entente,” which outlined the principles on which political
reforms were going to re-set, including the rejection of parties or movements based
on religion or ethnicity or regionalism, and the affirmation of Islam as the religion
of the state. It also included a commitment to multipartism and democracy. On the
basis of these principles and others, President Zeroual organized, on November 26,
1996, a referendum on a constitution revision that included the following elements:

  1. Recognition of Islam and the Arabic and Amazigh (Berber) heritage as “fundamental components” of the Algerian people.


  1. Prohibition of parties based on “religions, linguistic, racial, gender, corporatist, or
    regional” principles and issuing partisan propaganda based on these elements.
  2. Confirmation of Islam as “the state religion.”
  3. Creation of a second parliamentary chamber, “the Council of the Nation” (Conseil de la nation). One third of its members are appointed by the president and the remaining two thirds are elected by indirect suffrage at the level of municipal and departmental councils.
  4. Limitation of the presidential mandate to two terms, and increase in the powers of the president. The president has the power to legislate by ordinance in case of a vacancy of the National Popular Assembly, during parliamentary recess, or during a state of emergency, to promulgate the Budget (Loi des Finances) if it is not adopted by parliament within 75 days after its submission, and to nominate and appoint the Chief of Staff of the Government, the Governor of the Banque d’Algérie, the justices, the chiefs of security organs, the Walis (prefects), and one third of the members of the Council of the Nation.
  5. Prohibition of all constitutional amendments that counter the republican nature of the state, Islam as state religion, and Arabic as the national and official language.

Many critics of the constitutional reform indicated that it gave too much power
to the president at the expense of parliament and ignored the demand of the
Berberist movement for the recognition of Berber as an additional national and
official language.

New parliamentary elections were held on June 5, 1997 according to a
proportional representation System and produced Algeria’s first multiparty
parliament. The main winners were members of a new party that was created three
months before the vote for the purpose of supporting President Zeroual, the
National Democratic Rally (Rassemblement National Democratic, RND), which
won 155 seats out of380; the Movement of the Society for Peace (MSP, formerly
known as HAMAS) which won 69 seats; the FLN, which won 64 seats; and al-
Nahda, which obtained 34 seats. The FFS and the RCD won 19 seats each. The
RND and FLN constituted a pro-government coalition that controlled an absolute
majority and each obtained seven ministerial posts. The vote for the municipal and
provincial assemblies (APC and APW) took place on October 23, 1997. Two
months later, the winners of this vote elected two thirds of a 144-member Council
of the Nation, the new upper house of parliament, while the remaining third was
appointed by the president for a six-year term. This completed the institutional
reforms promised by Liamine Zeroual when he took over in 1994.


At the closing of the sixth year of the crisis, and in spite of the most recent
political reforms and elections, many observers remained skeptical regarding the
end of the crisis, notably because political violence has survived all attempts to
quell it. More importantly, citizens seemed to have lost faith in both the regime’s
and the opposition’s will and ability to solve the political and economic crises. In
the midst of this apathy of a population whose life bas become extremely difficult
along the crisis years, the current regime’s legitimacy would come to rest not on
the reforms alone, but more on the ability to end the political violence that had
claimed the lives of over 70,000 people since 1992.





Undoubtedly, Algeria is in a deep economic and political crisis, and it is very
difficult to predict even the near future. There is, however, an urgent need to
change the political regime and the political class. As indicated previously. The
reforms enacted in Algeria since independence have been decided, in general, by
single individuals who successively controlled the state. These reforms were mostly
geared toward increasing the amount of power held by these individual leaders in
order to allow themselves to enact whatever political objectives they had. It even
became a tradition that the holders of power exploit the economic and political
crisis for the purpose of remaining in power. However, whenever these reforms
failed, the loss was not only that of their initiator alone but also that of the whole

To get out of its current crisis, Algeria needs a change in attitudes and a
national consensus on the most critical issues facing the country. Since it bas
become clear that the leaders of all political parties have been behaving like
spoilers of the regime, the only practical solution left is to rely on technocrats to
define new tasks for the state and the means of carrying them out.

Whatever the intention, good or bad, of Algeria’s successive leaders since
1992, the halting of the constitutional rule in January of that year was a setback for
the democratic process, multipartism and power sharing. A return to the former
policy of centralized authority and the reliance on the left to run the country cannot
achieve the results sought by the elite in power. What is really needed today is a
consensus on policies, a decentralization of power and a reliance on strategies
designed by technocrats. Moreover, the exclusion of any social force from the
political process will widen the gap between an elite that is attached to Western
values and languages and the masses. Therefore, success will depend on the ability
of the leaders to change the governing style, on the establishment of a participatory
public policy-making process, and on a credible leadership that would inspire
everyone to work diligently to meet the needs of the country and its people. To end
the current carnage that has been hitting particularly the rural outskirts of Algiers,
both the Islamists and state leaders must be willing to resolve the crisis peacefully.



  1. Al Massa [Algerian daily newspaper], July30, 1991.
  2. William B. Quandt, Revolution and Political Leadership: Algeria, 1954-1968
    (Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press, 1969), 11-12.
  3. Ibid, 182-183.
  4. Hugh Roberts, “The Politics of the Algerian Socialism” m Richard Lawless and Allan Findlay, eds., North Africa: Contemporary Politics and Development (London: Croom HeImLimited,1984),9.
  5. Harvé Bourges, L’Algérie à l’épreuve du pouvoir (Paris: Editions Bernard Grasset, 1967), 98.
  6. Ibid., 117.
  7. Harold D. Nelson, Algeria: A Country Study (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1986), 85.
  8. Ibid., 86.
  9. El Moudjahid [Algeria], June 28, 1974.
  10. Nelson, Algeria: A Country Study, 86.
  11. Roberts, “Thé Politics of the Algerian Socialism,” 24.
  12. Mohamed Taher Ben Saada, Le Régime Politique Algérien (Algiers: E.N.A.L.,
    1992), 129-130.
  13. John P. Entelis, Algeria: The Revolution Institutionalized (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1986), 132.
  14. Ibid, 36.
  15. The Guardian, February 1,1979.
  16. Roberts, “The Politics of the Algerian Socialism,” 36.
  17. Ibid., 38.
  18. Le Monde, November 1,1980.
  19. John P. Entelis, Algeria: Thé Révolution Institutionalized, 149.
  20. Ibid., 132.
  21. Harvé Terrel, “Le FLN, Objectif: Conserver le Pouvoir” Les Cahiers de L’Orient 23 (199l): 66-67.
  22. Robert Mortimer, “Islam and Multi-Party Politics in Algeria” Thé Middie East
    445 no. 4 (Autumn 199l): 577-583.
  23. Ibid., 69-70.
  24. Elizabeth Levy, “La Démocratie à Couteaux Tirés,” Jeune Afrique (December 19, 1990), 8.
  25. Arun Kapil, “Portrait Statistique des Elections du 12 Juin 1990: Chiffres Clés pour une Analyse,” Les Cahiers de l’Orient 23 ( 1991 ), 45.
  26. Mireille Duteil, “L’Avenir en Cinq Questions,” Le Point 981 (July6, 1991), 21.
  27. Mortimer, “Islam and Multi-Party Politics in Algeria,” 577.


  1. Kapil,”Portrait Statistique des Elections du 12 Juin 1990: Chiffres Clés pour une
    Analyse,” 58.
  2. Mortimer, “Islam and Multi-Party Politics in Algeria,” 577-583.
  3. Jeune Afrique 1583 (May 1-7,1991), 60.
  4. Le Soir d’Algérie (August 2-3, 1991).
  5. Al-Massa (December 26, 1991).
  6. Ibid., 590-591.
  7. Ibid.
  8. The New York Times, December 28, 1991.
  9. Le Monde, January 23, 1992.
  10. Ach-Chaab [Algeria], December 30, 1991.






























AZZEDINE LAYACHI is Associate Professor of Politics at Saint John’s
University, New York. He is the author of State, Society and Democracy in
Morocco: The Limits of Associative Life
and The United States and North Africa:


A Cognitive Approach to Foreign Policy. He also published several articles and
book chapters on North African politics, including: “Hot Spot: Algerian Crisis,
Western Choices,” Middle East Quarterly, September 1994; “Reinstating the State
or Instating Civil Society: The Dilemma of Algeria’s Transition,” in I. W. Zartman,
Collapsed States: The Disintegration and Restoration of Legitimate Authority;

“The Organization of African Unity and the Western Sahara Conflict,” in Yassin
El-Ayuti, ed., The Organisation of African Unity: 30 Years; “National Development and Political Protest: Islamists in the Maghreb Countries,” Arab Studies
14: 2-3, Spring/Summer 1992; “Domestic and International Constraints
of Economic Adjustment in Algeria,” in Dirk Vandewalle, ed., The New Global
Economy: North African Responses.

AMMAR BOUHOUCHE teaches Political Science at the Institut des Etudes
Politiques of Algiers University, Algeria. He is the author of a book on ” History
of Algerian Political Thoughts”
and of several articles on Algeria. He was a
Fullbright Scholar at the University of Wisconsin in 1991 and 1992 and visiting
Professor at AL al-Bayt University, Amman, Jordan in 1997 and 1998.


(*)  Published in Azzedine Layachi, Economic Crisis and political change in North Africa. West wort conn.: preger 1998 PP 7-30.

(**)   Professor of Political science at the university of Algiers .


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