Panel 5e The Algerian Exception?

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Chair: Sir Alan Munro, President Emeritus, Society for Algerian Studies

Paper 1: Algeria’s Path to Political Reforms: Dodging the Arab Spring
Dr Yahia Zoubir, Professor of International Studies and International Management and Director of Research in Geopolitics, Euromed Management, Marseille (co-authored with Dr Ahmed Aghrout)

Following the uprising in Tunisia in December 2010 media attention focused on Algeria, which, pundits believed, was to undergo a mass upheaval to bring down the government. This forecast was prompted by the food riots that occurred throughout Algeria in early January 2011 and, until now, Algeria has witnessed social unrest with strikes hitting almost all sectors of the economy. The government has reacted to the Arab spring by lifting the state of emergency in place since 1992. It also announced major reforms which have yet to be implemented. There are many factors that prevent Algerians from rising up against the authorities, primarily the bloody decade of the 1990s which resulted from the botched democratization initiated following the tragic 1988 uprising. However, the authorities are wrong in assuming that the factors that prevented a major uprising so far will thwart forever a social explosion similar to what happened elsewhere in the region.

Paper 2: Stable Instability: How sustainable is the status quo in Algeria?
Dr Hakim Darbouche, Research Fellow, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies

Algeria is so far the only country in North Africa not to have experienced sustained mass protests calling for political change. The government in Algiers has by no means remained indifferent to the groundbreaking events in neighbouring countries, but it is responding to this sweeping wave of change at its own pace. This paper argues that, despite its apparent stability, the Algerian polity suffers from underlying currents of instability that risk undermining the long-term sustainability of the state. It identifies the failure of the country’s political and economic transitions and its implications as the most serious challenge confronting the Algerian state today. Unless a) the process of democratic transition that was initiated in 1989 is refined and put back on track, leading to the advent and consolidation of the rule of law, popular enfranchisement and total civilian control of the military; and b) the efforts to diversify the economy away from hydrocarbons are intensified and made more coherent, Algeria will remain susceptible to future instability.

Paper 3Algeria and its Neighbours: A Comparative Perspective
Dr Claire Spencer, Head, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House

In 2011, Algeria looked increasingly out of step with the political changes affecting the rest of North Africa. This paper will examine the impacts that recent steps towards democracy in Tunisia, the constitutional revision and subsequent elections in Morocco and the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya have had on the continuing ability of the Algerian political system to adapt to rapid change in its immediate environment. Algerian diplomacy has been depicted as reactive and wrong-footed by events in Libya and the rest of the Maghreb, and muted towards the wider Middle East (Syria, Bahrain, Yemen etc). Will the examples of successful elections and reforms elsewhere in North Africa provoke new demands for generational change and representation? Or will appeals to the “Algerian exception” (l’exception algérienne) continue to contain and divide popular demands as in 2011?

These are abridged versions of the abstracts submitted by  the presenters.
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