John Keiger John Keiger

France – and Europe – could become the frontline in Algeria’s latest crisis

As the European parliament elections approach, the continent’s navel-gazing is ever more myopic. Even its two most outward focused states, France and Britain, are consumed by domestic crises. And yet in Europe’s backyard – across the Mediterranean, in Algeria – radical change is taking place with potentially serious ramifications for the European Union and France.

Every Friday since February the authoritarian Algerian regime has been the target of tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators on a scale unknown since the country’s troubled independence from France in 1962. The spark was 82-year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s announcement that he would seek a fifth term as president, despite being chronically debilitated by a stroke since 2013. Popular anger, shouldered by army pressure, forced Bouteflika’s resignation on 2nd April.

But the demonstrations have not relented, with calls for the removal of the entire corrupt Bouteflika clan from political and economic power. The purge so far however is too slow and too limited for the people. Elections planned by the authorities for 4th July have been rejected. As the holy month of Ramadan begins who knows how long popular discontent will retain its composure or the army its restraint.

Why should change on the southern Mediterranean rim provoke apprehension when the 2010-2011 Arab spring was contained?

First, strategically, Algeria is the tenth largest country in the world by area, tenth in the world for natural gas reserves, sixteenth for oil and third for shale gas.

Second, with its 42 million population – 45 per cent below the age of 15 – and chronic unemployment, Algeria is a powder keg just off Europe’s shores. Based on an archaic rentier state development model for six decades, 90 per cent of export revenue is from hydrocarbons, making economic and social stability perilously dependent on world oil prices.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in