This book builds a theoretical framework through which previously neglected international factors are brought into the analyses of transitions to democracy. It then explores the case of Algeria. It contributes to the literature on democratisation and provides an analysis of Algerian politics during the last two decades. More specifically, it examines how international variables influence the behaviour and activities of Algerian political actors. By bridging the comparative politics and international relations literature, the book offers a new understanding of the initiation, development and outcome of transitions to democracy. International factors, far from being marginal and secondary, are treated as central explanatory variables. Such external factors were crucial in the failed Algerian transition to democracy, when the attitudes and actions of key international actors shaped the domestic game and its final outcome. In particular, the book looks at the controversial role of the Islamic Salvation Front and how its part was perceived abroad. In addition, it argues that international factors significantly contribute to explaining the persistence of authoritarian rule in Algeria, to its integration into the global economy and its co-optation into the war on terror.
In October 1988, Algeria experienced a seemingly sudden explosion of street violence triggered by economic and social discontent. These riots provided the opportunity for President Chadli Benjedid and for the soft-liners within the regime to introduce significant political reforms resulting in an attempt to turn the country into a fully-fledged democratic state which would embrace economic liberalism. However, the process of democratisation failed to consolidate and the democratic experiment came to an end in January 1992 when the Army, traditionally the real wielder of power behind the scenes, staged a ‘constitutional’ coup d'état to prevent the FIS from taking control of the government following their victory in the first round of the parliamentary elections held in December 1991. This book provides an in-depth examination of the Algerian transition, its ultimate failure, and the post-1992 authoritarian turn in the context of the pressures coming from the external environment. It argues that Algeria is instrumental in highlighting some of the shortcomings of the literature on transitions to democracy and links concepts from international relations to the analytical tools of transitology.
The literature on transitions to democracy emphasises three distinct clusters of explanations for their occurrence and development. The first is termed ‘preconditions of democracy’, whereby countries will transit to democracy when specific economic or social conditions are satisfied. The second is preoccupied with the ‘political culture’ of the country under investigation. While the emphasis on political culture has been increasingly discredited, when it comes to analyses of the Arab world, it reasserts its strength quite forcefully. The third relies on explanations purely based on the path-dependent game between domestic actors. This chapter analyses the shortcomings of these three exclusive clusters of explanations and argues that the literature should take into much greater account the influence of international variables, placing greater emphasis on political bargaining. There is comparatively little work on the external constraints, incentives and disincentives to democratisation and it is this gap that needs to be filled. When it comes to Algeria, the near total exclusion of international factors in explaining the failure of the transition is quite puzzling.
This chapter presents a framework of transitions to democracy that includes international variables (external shocks, direct active policies of international actors, and larger trends in the international system) using theoretical assumptions drawn from international relations theories. One of the major problems in the literature on democratisation and its use of international relations theory is its over-reliance on structural economics, particularly when it comes to the Arab world. What should be analysed instead are the international economic and the geostrategic dimensions together. Thus, this chapter focuses on the interaction between structural factors and path-dependent decision-making, which means taking tools of analysis from different theories of international relations and relating them to processes of regime change. Determining where the country is inserted in the international system is vital to understanding how domestic actors and institutions are conditioned in their strategies and their decision-making abilities. For the analysis of Algeria, it is useful to look at rentierism and the geopolitics of the Mediterranean to further specify how the two dimensions work.
This chapter describes the external environment with which Algeria had to contend before, during and after its problematic transition to democracy. In Algeria, the timing of the process of liberalisation coincided with a significant internationally-driven crisis of its rentier state model. After independence, following the policy advice of France's economists, Algeria chose a socialist model of development built around three fundamental priorities: the priority of accumulation of capital over consumption, the priority of industrialisation over agriculture, and the priority of developing capital equipment over consumer goods. The smooth running of the Algerian economy was, and still is, strictly linked to the revenues in foreign currency that the regime can earn through the export of oil and gas. There is a strong link between the internationally driven crisis and the tentative liberal economic reforms initiated in the mid-1980s. The programme of economic reforms and the stance of Western countries towards these reforms are also important elements to analyse in order to understand how the process of democratisation determined the strategies and choices of the different domestic actors.
The first element that needs to be analysed is the role played by the economic crisis of 1985–1986 in ‘forcing’ the ruling elites in Algeria to open up the system. Government revenues fell due to the oil counter-shock, resulting in widespread impoverishment among the general population, which in turn led to the October 1988 riots. The question that should be asked is whether the externally driven downturn in the economy had a causal link to the decision to liberalise. The FIS contends that it was the lack of political legitimacy rather than the economic crisis that led the ruling elites to try a new strategy of re-legitimisation. This chapter discusses external shocks and direct active policies and their impact on Algeria's transition to democracy, focusing on the war in Afghanistan and its consequences and repercussions on Islamism in the country, the 1990–1991 Gulf War, the end of the Cold War, the West's promotion of democracy, promotion of political Islam, and the role of financial institutions and multinationals.
The international dimension of the failed process of democratisation in Algeria indirectly addresses very important contemporary issues about the prospects of democracy in the Arab world. It is around the emergence of the FIS as the largest opposition movement in Algeria that the whole transition to democracy turned. The early 1990s attempt of the FIS to gain power through elections resonates in 2008, as both the academic and the policy-making communities are still grappling with the problematic relationship between Islamism and democracy. The emergence, the appeal and the electoral successes of the FIS in what can be considered free and fair elections both in 1990 and 1991 highlighted the practical difficulties for secular domestic actors and for the international community of applying traditional democratic standards to the Algerian events. It is very difficult not to see a very strong link between the cancellation of the elections, the ensuing repression of the FIS, and the explosion of violence.
The integration of authoritarian Algeria in the international system
The international dimension played a significant role in the origin, development and conclusion of Algeria's failed transition to democracy. The process of democratisation might have ended even if the FIS had been allowed to govern, as there were serious doubts about its democratic credentials and commitment, but this situation did not arise because of a preventive military coup, which was externally sanctioned and welcomed. This chapter examines the role of the international community in sustaining Algeria's transformation from a radical socialist republic to a compliant ally of the United States and France, supporting neo-liberal economic policies and repressing the most popular domestic political force in the name of values it does not actually practice. It examines three rewards received by Algeria from its newfound international allies, namely: financial and economic rewards, the international legitimisation of the regime borne out of the cancellation of elections, and the realm of security. The chapter concludes by discussing the existence of facade democracy and crony capitalism in Algeria.
Most theories on transitions to democracy still regard domestic factors as the only explanatory variables, but this book has challenged such an approach by arguing that transitions do not occur in a vacuum and that international variables are a necessary part of the explanations because they have the capacity to influence the strategies and the choices of the domestic actors. The evidence also suggests that at times it seems that the external environment does not leave domestic actors much choice in terms of the options available in the construction of a new political order. This is due to the fact that the sanctioning of the international community is a key element that domestic actors need to take into account and that diminishes the range of choices available. Through the use of theoretical insights from international relations theories and globalisation it is possible to examine the links between domestic and international politics, thereby analysing formally internal processes as part of wider international trends. Algeria is quite representative of wider trends affecting liberalisation and democratisation in the wider Arab world.