In recent months, terrorism has frequently dominated news coverage of Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Developments in neighboring Algeria, which remains largely closed to international media, have been less visible, but the upcoming May 4 legislative elections in Africa’s largest country will occur against a backdrop of growing security problems. Although Algiers is trying to encourage a disillusioned, restive population to get out and vote, the recent uptick in terrorist activity may complicate matters. In the east, terrorists have launched a spate of attacks, most notably a February 26 suicide bombing outside a police station in Constantine. And in the south, where the population has thus far not been seduced by jihadist ideology, Islamist terrorist networks are nevertheless making inroads due to economic opportunism. While U.S. ties with Algeria are not especially close, there is much the Trump administration can do to help maintain the relative stability of one of the few North African states that has largely avoided the ongoing regional tumult.
AN OUTDATED APPROACH
In 2005, Algiers adopted the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, a political roadmap intended to close the chapter on the decade-long civil war between Islamist insurgents and the state. That conflict, which broke out in 1991, ultimately claimed over 100,000 lives. By 2002, most of the Islamist insurgents had been killed, exiled, or reintegrated into society. But the victory was in many ways pyrrhic, with some extremists going underground and eventually forming al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
For its part, the state was long divided between the conciliateurs, who wanted to negotiate a resolution to the conflict, and the eradicateurs, who preferred to annihilate the Islamists. Notwithstanding President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s conciliatory efforts, the eradicateur camp still dominates Algerian military and counterterrorism policy. Accordingly, the state continues to treat Islamist violence as an extension of the 1990s conflict, leading authorities to narrowly focus on eliminating residual domestic threats in a piecemeal, ad hoc manner. “Countering violent extremism” is largely treated as a military endeavor, while terrorism remains a persistent problem.