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M A Y 2 0 1 2 / F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L
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well-paid and well-equipped security forces, as well as
the fecklessness of Algeria’s divided opposition.
Algeria’s remarkably free press serves as a partial
safety valve for discontent, but restrictions on other
media counteract that. The country’s biggest political
challenge, however, lies in the huge pool of disaffected
and angry youth. Their lack of any connection to politi-
cal institutions or parties makes themmore likely to burn
down a town hall than engage in legal politics to redress
grievances.
Whereas such disaffection led youth to challenge the
political order in the late 1980s and — after the military
intervened in 1992 to avert an Islamist victory in national
elections — take to the hills to join Islamist rebels, young
Algerians are more likely now to take to small boats seek-
ing illegal passage to Europe.
Algeria’s aging leadership clings to power even
though its legitimacy, rooted in the war of independence,
diminishes as fewer citizens have any direct memory of
that struggle. Those leaders fear what has happened
elsewhere in the region — especially Syria — for what it
implies about regimes like theirs, which harken back to
the heyday of pan-Arab nationalism. Still insecure more
than 10 years after defeating the Islamist challenge, the
Algerian regime understands that the international com-
munity today might not be as indulgent as it was 20 years
ago were it to have to crack down harshly once more on
what it considers an existential threat.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika offered a series of lim-
ited but potentially significant reforms in April 2010.
But, as most observers cynically expected, the final ver-
sion of the measures bore little resemblance to the orig-
inal proposals. Parliamentary elections are set for this
month, but their significance could well be obscured if
voters express their disdain by boycotting. Presidential
elections in 2014 will say more about Algeria’s trajectory.
In any case, the country’s shadowy, closed and des-
perate leadership is unlikely to agree to the fundamental
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