Algeria's Birth of a New Democracy

Constitutional amendments and recent reforms in intelligence and security in Algeria are indeed substantial, if not revolutionary.
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Algiers the capital city of Algeria, Northern Africa
Algiers the capital city of Algeria, Northern Africa

Co-authored by Samy Boukaila, Visiting Scholar, Center for Transatlantic Relations SAIS

International media outlets substantially covered news on the recently-endorsed constitutional amendments in Algeria. Think tank groups, analysts, and political experts provided various opinions as to what the impact of recent reforms and constitution amendments will be. The opposition to the ruling FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) party stated that "imminent change is doubtful." But the fact is, constitutional amendments and recent reforms in intelligence and security in Algeria are indeed substantial, if not revolutionary.

Arguments by some political analysts that changes are meant to reinforce the "same old" and to strengthen those military elites around the Presidency (or according to some, around Said Bouteflika, the president's influential brother who supposedly created new oligarchs in the country) are weak, simply because the changes made are inevitably going to change Algeria with a new political class of post-independence leaders.

They will potentially emerge before the end of President Bouteflika's term as he wished for, already in 2014, in his famous speech in Setif. They are equally good for all political parties, and for the people of Algeria. For example, parity in employment between men and women is now guaranteed by the State; freedom of speech, freedom of gatherings, and legally-mandated TV and radio time for political parties to support pluralism, including financial support for political parties by the State according to parliamentary representation. In addition, the right to peaceful demonstrations is guaranteed as is press freedom without any censorship within the limits of human dignity and liberty for all.

Respecting religious, moral, and ethical values are but a few milestone achievements setting a solid foundation for improved democracy and equal rights in Algeria.

Religious freedom and freedom to practice other religions save Islam is also guaranteed. Tamazight, the root language of natives of Algeria prior to the Arab invasion, became the second official language of the country.

Changes were also made in the election process of the president. The presidential term is set for five years with the possibility of a single re-election. Presidential candidates can be only citizen of Algeria - no Algerian with dual citizenship can run for the office. This prevents most diaspora Algerians from standing. The new Article 51 is considered highly controversial, as it also bans Algerians with dual nationality from running for any higher political office. (Following the diaspora's protest, Bouteflika has ordered clarification of the amendment and to outline, through legislation, which of the higher political offices are too sensitive for those Algerians with dual nationals.)

Changing Business Environment

Constitutional amendments also addressed the fight against corruption and need for any publicly exposed person (political and military) to fully disclose his or her property prior to and after taking office. Freedom of investment and trade is guaranteed by the law as well, with the government in charge to regulate the market and protect consumers and forbidding monopolies and unfair competition.

The State also encourages women to take on high level responsibility jobs either in government or in the business sector. Privacy of life of the citizens is guaranteed and no incursion or violation is admissible unless strictly through legal authority. The implementation and interpretation of the law will still be a challenge, along with forming a justice system truly independent from political or military influence or pressure, in order to ensure impartial justice for all citizens regardless of their position, status, or role in society.

A vote on the constitutional amendments was called by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika at the end of January. The changes were approved with 499 members of parliament in favor, two opposed, and 16 abstained. Amendments were publicly announced on January 5th by Ahmed Ouyahia, the president's chief of staff.

Major Reform of Intelligence Department Bouteflika's recent dismissal of intelligence chief General Mohamed "Toufik" Mediene, who held the post for 25 years, marked the beginning of a well prepared and well executed reform in the powerful security and intelligence offices in the country. Although - and quite rightly so - various branches of the intelligence community in Algeria will remain very powerful, powers of the office of the president grew proportionally with these changes.

The long-established Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS), also known as the State Intelligence Agency, had been dissolved and replaced by three departments under the direct supervision of the president: the General Directorate of Internal Security, General Directorate of External Security and Documentation, and General Directorate of Technical Information. The Technical Information Service will deal with cyber warfare and other technical issues related to advanced intelligence and military technologies.

Algeria has placed over 75,000 soldiers along its border, which is still far from well protected. ISIS and other terrorist groups' infiltration into Algeria are a daily occurrence. The strong military and intelligence apparatus is repelling threats successfully.

Nobody argues that with oil prices so low, Algeria - heavily dependent on oil and gas export - needs to diversify its economy and enhance education. Awareness of this is growing day by day in Algeria. But people tend to forget that this nation, after a long struggle to become an independent country from colonial French rule, just after proclaiming independence on July 5th 1962 had but only several hundred university students.

What a daunting task to build a new country that was thirty years later ravaged by a civil war. It is much easier to criticize then to praise and there is plenty of room for (constructive) criticism on Algeria. But we should applaud recent reforms and encourage Algerians to continue developing international cooperation and transatlantic relations.

A testament to that: in December last year, Algeria's ambassador to the United States Madjid Bouguerra and the Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, Anne W. Patterson, signed an agreement to create an American International School in Algiers. That brings yet another new bright dawn emerging on Algeria's horizon.

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