As Algeria's economy struggles and political opponents face repression, the government emulates Turkey in offering foreign policy distractions to a restless population.
Rabat – The government of Algeria is offering a mix of militarism, nationalism, and foreign policy moves to distract from national politics. On Sunday, Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune promised that Algeria’s new constitution will meet the demands of the Hirak protest movement that led to the downfall of Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The announcement was remarkable as it claimed to be advancing democracy even while the creation of the new constitution is underway far from public scrutiny. An unelected, and non-representative “panel of experts” are set to propose the constitution without any transparency or public scrutiny.
The panel will not present the proposals to the public or an independent body, but instead send them directly for parliamentary approval.
These political machinations are occurring amid the continued repression of the press and critics of the government. Algeria’s political elite is likely to entrench its power in the new constitution and appears to be using militarism and foreign policy ploys to build support locally.
Repression at home
The Algerian government appears to be using a campaign of political “doublespeak” to distract and confuse the electorate. Algerian politicians continue to promise that the new constitution will guarantee freedom of opinion and expression. However, the regime is simultaneously promising to punish any action that threatens “national unity and public order.”
Threats to “national unity” or “public order” have become commonplace as methods of reprisal against critics of the government.
Algeria continuously uses these perceived threats as charges against citizens who speak out through social media, journalism or activism. Two jailed activists started a hunger strike in early September to protest such repressive methods that the regime also used to silence journalist Khaled Drareni.
The UN accused Algeria of a “complete fabrication” of an official UN statement. The Algerian government appears to have invented the “UN Dispute Tribunal,” a non-existent UN agency to provide legitimacy to its political repression. The sordid tale appears to be another political move in a long list of Machiavellian tactics used by Algeria’s leadership to maintain the status quo.
The government of Algeria seems to now promote militarism and foreign policy moves in order to project strength nationally. Tebounne’s government has released a torrent of statements regarding the military forces as a source of renewed national pride.
This push for increased nationalism based on military strength is nearly identical to the electoral strategy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The strategy aims to gather nationalists and those who oppose or fear neighboring countries into a voting bloc.
This voting bloc, amid a likely boycott of the constitutional referendum by Hirak-aligned voters, could tip the balance in Algeria.
Motivated by national pride and dreams of glory, the government appears to hope that enough nationalists could vote for the referendum to provide a seemingly democratic mandate for the new constitution.
Algeria has vowed to “restore its reputation” through militarism. It is investing in the navy, building a military base near the Moroccan border, and prioritizing the Western Sahara issue. These costly endeavors occur amid severe economic difficulties and declining living standards for its citizens.
Questions remain over the efficacy of the Tebboune government’s chosen strategy. Only time will tell if the promise of military strength and national glory will woo desperate citizens.
The government appears to present Algerians with a clear choice: Stability through strength versus the “chaos” of political expression, protests, and structural reform that many demand.