The increasingly confrontational political climate will make this November a critical month. The current mood suggests that the regime-imposed 12 December election will be forced through, although many analysts and commentators still believe it will have to be cancelled.
There were also rumours in the week or so leading up to the 26 October submission date that the two apparent front-runners and former prime ministers — Ali Benflis and Abdelmadjid Tebboune — might withdraw because of the hostile public reaction. In the event, however, both men’s files were submitted and, as things stand, they still appear to be the leading candidates.
If the election is cancelled there will be a period of uncertainty during which Algeria may move to a more democratic transitional phase and perhaps ultimately to a ‘second republic’.
If the election goes ahead, however, the country will find itself with a largely illegitimate president and in a far more radicalised, ungovernable and dangerous state than it already is.
General Ahmed Gaïd Salah — the current strongman and effective dictator — would appear to be fully aware of this eventuality, as illustrated by his recent moves to create a more efficient, powerful and ruthless police state. These could have extremely dangerous implications for Algeria’s future and internal security.
In this very alarming scenario, a key name to watch is Nabil Benhamza who was recently appointed as head of the Direction Centrale de la Sécurité de l’Armée (DCSA).
The current political crisis will have short, medium and possibly even long-term economic implications, which could cause severe difficulties for at least the next five years. One outcome — if the crisis is not resolved soon or deteriorates further — is that foreign investment is likely to be in very short supply.
The new draft Hydrocarbons Law appears to be very similar to what IOCs would have expected but the widespread opposition to it — which is largely because may yet lead to its adoption being delayed from this November. Protests about it were already topping the Hirak’s banners and slogans during its march on 11 October, two days before the Council of Ministers met to approve it. Then, on the morning of 13 October, thousands of protesters gathered in the streets of downtown Algiers, trying to move on the National Assembly building to protest against the bill. In other cities, such as Constantine, Ouargla and Béjaïa, the protests were the same.
The messages from placards and banner slogans were very clear: ‘The sovereign people reject the new Hydrocarbons Law’; ‘Algeria is not for sale’; ‘They [the government] have sold the country’; ‘Algeria [has been] sold by traitors’; ‘Assassin regime’; ‘Get out’; ‘You, gang of thieves, have robbed the country’ – and more of the same.
The massive protest was, however, political rather than technical. Its main thrusts were twofold. Firstly, the bill was proposed by Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui’s government and it is Bedoui, and his government, that the people want removed. Secondly, and related to the first, Bedoui, his government and the regime as a whole are not trusted. Meanwhile, the fact that major IOCs, such as ExxonMobil and Chevron, are engaged in discussions with Sonatrach can only be seen as positive.