Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 06/2013

The Price of Stability in Algeria

Lahcen Achy

April 2013

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


At first glance, Algeria gives the impression of a country that has succeeded in bypassing the turmoil of the Arab Awakening that has rocked the Middle East over the last two years. Social unrest appears to be largely under control. The country is enjoying a large current account surplus, a limited budget deficit, and very low external debt. Recent parliamentary elections were conducted without interruption and were officially open to participation by all political parties. But despite this reassuring veneer, many of the social, economic, and political challenges that triggered uprisings in neighboring North African countries fester just beneath the surface in Algeria. The government in Algiers staves off unrest by relying on its large hydrocarbon revenues to finance a redistribution system that buys the regime quiescence and loyalty from key constituencies while leaving the bulk of the population in misery. But this system cannot be sustained indefinitely. If left untreated, latent grievances threaten to rapidly escalate into political demands and jeopardize the regime’s stability.