Spring-Loaded Algeria

ALGIERS – More than a year has passed since the Arab Spring dawned in the Maghreb, yet the promised political renaissance in the region has not materialized. Although Tunisia, the movement’s birthplace, held multi-party elections in November 2011, disillusionment runs high. And, while presidential elections are expected to be held in Egypt this month, Tahrir Square remains a theater of bloody protests against the military council that has ruled since former President Hosni Mubarak’s fall.

For Libya, where general elections will be held next month, the situation has become alarming. The National Transitional Council, Libya’s interim government, has lost control of the country. Tribal and militia leaders in oil-rich eastern Libya declared autonomy in March, and violent clashes between armed groups persist.

Meanwhile, Algeria, often touted as the next country that would get swept up by the Arab Spring, seems to have taken a different tack, favoring a slightly modified status quo over full-blown revolution. Indeed, although protests began on December 29, 2010, and went so far as a wave of self-immolations in January 2011, the spark of revolution faded after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was wise enough not to stifle unrest with force, made concessions – including, most importantly, an end to the 19-year state of emergency.

Further concessions by Bouteflika’s party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), which has ruled Algeria since independence in 1962, included decreasing oil and sugar prices, pumping billions of dinars into the ailing economy in order to sustain rises in salaries, subsidies, and other income assistance to the population. Moreover, the FLN pushed much-needed political reforms through parliament.