Algeria has long been the forgotten nation of North Africa. But now, it is bursting into the news as the latest example of popular revolution in the woefully misgoverned Arab world.
After seven weeks of mass street protests, Algeria’s ruler for the past two decades, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, finally faced the inevitable and resigned after a big shove from the army and the governing elite, known as ‘le pouvoir’ (the power).
Algeria is an important nation in spite of its recent semi-obscurity. At the center of North Africa, bordered by the Mediterranean and great Sahara Desert, Algeria has over 42 million people, with an important ethnic Berber minority in the mountains and uplands of the interior. Algeria is a major, world class producer of oil and gas, most of which is exported to Europe. In fact, 90% of government revenue comes from energy exports.
I have a particular interest in Algeria because I nearly went there as a guerilla fighter during its long, bloody war for independence from France (1954-1962). Algerian independence from brutal, exploitive French rule was then a noble cause that inspired many young men and women. Over one million people, mostly Algerians, died in the struggle. Torture and murder were rampant.
I led student demonstrations in Europe calling for free Algeria. As a result, I received my first death threats from La Main Rouge, a supposedly independent organization that murdered supporters of Algerian independence. Later, it was revealed to be a false flag branch of French foreign intelligence.
After independence, the victorious FLN (National Liberation Front) leadership set about killing one another. The revolution devoured its own. So much for youthful idealism and hope.
Post-war Algeria was run by the FLN hierarchy and military until gas and oil prices dropped in 1991 and the regime did not know what to do. It was decided to actually allow a free vote in local elections, one of the first in the Arab word. The moderate Islamic Salvation Front (FIS in French) won a landslide. The dictators, king and soldiers who ran the Arab world under US, British and French tutelage were horrified. The FIS was banned, its leaders jailed,