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Algeria: A Young Nation Reinventing Itself

What we are hearing now on Algeria's political and economic front is about a young nation on the path to reinvent itself and, if successful, to become a great source of stability, prosperity and democracy in North Africa.
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When Algeria, for the first time ever, passed through the Group Stage at the World Cup in Brazil, streets throughout this North African nation were flooded with people united in celebration of their football team making sports history. The country was speaking with one voice and national pride was all around. This young and vigorous nation of 38 million people went through a terrible civil war in the 1990s after Islamic fundamentalists plunged Algeria into a decade-long fight against extremism and terrorism that cost an estimated 150,000 lives. The military, which staged a soft coup d'état with the resignation of then-President Chadli Bendjedid and declared a state of emergency that lasted until 2011 after the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won the country's first free parliamentary elections back in 1991, remains a powerful force.

The current president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, recently re-elected to his fourth term in office, brought peace to his suffering nation through the reconciliation process. A plan was devised with two processes: the first was "forgiveness and harmony" (El Weaam El madani), which initiated appeasement of old wounds by way of inviting all parties, families of victims, and civil society to consider reconciliation and pardon for the sake of peace and national unity; the second, which came after the overwhelming approval of society expressed through referendum, was the reconciliation process (El Mousalaha El watanya), which gave way to laws allowing the pardoning of terrorists or those who aided them, as long as the past terrorist acts did not spill the blood of Algerians in a way qualified as inhumane or barbaric. These laws gave deadlines to young terrorists to come home without the threat of retaliation, either by the families of victims or security forces who were to protect them by law. This plan proved very efficient, as it did enable security forces to secure prime intelligence later to plan for fighting the residual terrorists, it deterred any major terrorist acts in Algeria's main cities and Algiers in particular, and with the economic growth that the president's plan triggered, most went back to work, accumulating capital through commerce and trade.

It seems the Algerian elite have listened to the wave of protests the country faced from 2010 to 2012 with people demanding better housing, lower prices on essentials such as wheat, sugar and oil, building better infrastructure (in some places, this means the establishment of a sewer system), public lighting and better public health.

Algerians are all too familiar with the threat of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism and are determined to fight it at home, as well as help the region in this struggle.

Government Economic Action Plan 2015-2019

The country, rich in oil and gas, has managed well its natural fortunes, recently revealing a plan to allocate $200 billion in the next ten years for government public spending to building and re-building infrastructure and investing in education. Both are smart investments, especially the latter -- 75 percent of Algeria's population is under 30. The Action Plan 2015 - 2019 anticipates a GDP growth rate of 7 percent, with a focus on modernization of its rather old and used industrial capacities. To reduce the huge number of goods imported - expected to reach $65 billion in 2014 -- the government is setting special incentives for natural resources revalorization, the automotive industry, pharmaceutical, energy and water supplies, and agriculture. The government plans to increase shell oil and gas development and to build two new liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) terminals along with several new petrochemical companies to attract direct investment of $20 billion. The government also envisions the construction of a new East-West highway, some 800 miles in length, and extension of the existing railways and construction of tramway networks in each major city in the country. New dams and hydropower plants are envisioned to increase water mobility, and a million social housing units will be built between 2015 and 2019.

Preventing Political Instability

With the 77-year-old Bouteflika in ailing health, Algerians should prepare for an eventual transition and smooth change of power. Post-Gadhafi Libya next door is struggling to eradicate extremists that used the power vacuum to infiltrate the country and create chaos with day-to-day instability. Any similar scenario in Algeria would prove disastrous for the entire region and beyond. It is comforting to know Algerians understand this only too well.

Algeria seems to be open for business now, but Algerians should do more to reach out to the U.S. and the international community. The 50-year-old nation should look far beyond the "old days" and their strong partnership with the former Soviet Union.

The world could see the determination and strength of the modern Algerian team at the World Cup in Brazil. They impressed the world as a new sporting force to be reckoned with, and although they ultimately fell to powerhouse Germany, they won over the crowd with their verve and daring style of play. What we are hearing now on Algeria's political and economic front is about a young nation on the path to reinvent itself and, if successful, to become a great source of stability, prosperity and democracy in North Africa. If so, they have already won the next World Cup.

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