The political scene in Algeria is characterized by the absurd. Understanding and analyzing Algerian politics is difficult, even for those who are familiar with it. Despite this, one can say that the Conference for the Democratic Transition will fail to influence the political landscape in Algeria, at least in the short term, particularly as it has been beset by division even before its first session. The first session of this conference had initially been scheduled for mid-May, only to be postponed until early June on the grounds that further “consultation” was needed. Coincidentally, the decision to postpone came after the regime called for discussions over a new “consensus” constitution. It is clear that this conference—and other opposition initiatives like it—are doomed to division and failure.
This view is based on the nature of political practice in Algeria. Algeria’s politics are characterized by failure. Those in power since the country’s independence have excelled at creating policies that stifle political action, good management and collective dialogue, and proceeded on the basis of exclusion and violence. In Algeria, power is nothing more than the spoils of war, not the outcome of hard work towards achieving a democratic society and prioritizing the people’s best interests.
This stifling of political action means that politics—and politicians—are isolated from the rest of society. This is the main problem Algeria’s political opposition must face, and thus its decision to present itself as the “victim” is patently absurd. After these long years of isolation, Algerians no longer believe in the effectiveness of the political process in the first place. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the huge number of politicians and voters who boycotted the last elections, which saw Abdelaziz Bouteflika keep hold of power. Here, power was again nothing more than the spoils of war, and this political system creates a situation where the regime remains perpetually in power through political patronage and cronyism and by infiltrating and co-opting all other political forces.
Therefore, the Conference for the Democratic Transition and other initiatives of this kind that aim to provide an alternative political vision for the country are ultimately doomed to failure, at least in the short term. The politicians behind such initiatives lack the resources, revenue or popular support to ensure success. Even if those promoting these initiatives had all the money and support in the world, the regime would still be able to foil their plans.
As for those behind this Conference for the Democratic Transition, they adhere to different ideologies and political visions—there is more that divides them than unites them. This conference is comprised of secularists, Islamists, nationalists and various ethnic minorities. Some of them are members of the former regime; others are opportunists seeking positions of power whatever the cost. They have conflicting visions regarding how to build a society and a modern state, not to mention the nature of the political system they support. They have exchanged the worst forms of political insult, accusing each other of being foreign collaborators, traitors and worse. So how can they expect to work together?
This opposition conference includes members who have switched their alliances from the regime to the opposition overnight. So how can this chaotic mix, this shakshouka, as they say in Algeria, unite under one banner?
The political performance of the opposition—or, shall I say, oppositions—limits its ability to reshape the political landscape in Algeria. Although the opposition has demonstrated some improvement, it ultimately lacks political cohesion and maturity.
What did this opposition do after reaching parliament after securing some electoral victories here and there? Absolutely nothing. Even worse, in the eyes of the Algerian people, it reproduced the same practices as those of the regime. There is a well-known Algerian joke that goes that the opposition only opposes itself, not the regime. The opposition leadership are viewed as being no different from the regime, particularly in their policy of exclusion: Algeria’s youth are conspicuously absent from opposition ranks. Some opposition leaders have held on to their party’s presidency come what may. If this is the case with their party leadership, why would they be any different if they came to power?
The counterpoint to this article can be read here.