Political affairs in Algeria have been dominated by a closed elite based in the military and the ruling party, the National Liberation Front (FLN). While there are multiple opposition parties in the parliament, elections are distorted by fraud, and electoral processes are not transparent. Other concerns include the suppression of street protests, legal restrictions on media freedom, and rampant corruption. The rise of the Hirak protest movement in 2019 has put pressure on the regime, with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigning and the armed forces moving to maintain their grip on power in response.
- February saw the beginning of protracted protests, collectively referred to as the Hirak, sparked by President Bouteflika’s decision to seek a fifth term in office. He resigned under pressure in April, giving way to interim president Abdelkader Bensalah and opening Algeria to a new transitional phase in its domestic affairs.
- After Bouteflika’s departure, the interim government and its military backers, represented by army chief of staff General Ahmed Gaïd Salah, launched an anticorruption campaign that targeted several entrepreneurs and officials previously associated with his administration. Among them was the former president’s brother, Saïd Bouteflika, who received a 15-year sentence in September.
- After Algeria’s Constitutional Council rejected two presidential candidates in June and delayed the election scheduled for July, former prime minister Abdelmajid Tebboune was elected president in a December poll. The Hirak denounced the list of candidates for their ties to the old administration and boycotted the election, which earned a historically low turnout rate.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||1 4|
The president is directly elected to a five-year term for a maximum of two terms. In 2008, these term limits were removed, allowing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to serve four terms, but they were reinstated in 2016 when Parliament passed a constitutional reform package. The 2014 presidential vote was marred by ballot stuffing, multiple voting, inflated electoral rolls, and the misuse of state resources to benefit the incumbent.
President Bouteflika’s decision to seek another term, which would have been his fifth, sparked the Hirak protests in February 2019; protesters originally called for him to step down during their twice-weekly rallies. In April, President Bouteflika resigned, following loss of support from the armed forces. Upper house speaker and Bouteflika ally Abdelkader Bensalah was named interim president and faced immediate protests due to his association with his predecessor. Despite Bensalah’s appointment, army chief of staff General Ahmed Gaïd Salah was considered the country’s de facto ruler in Bouteflika’s stead. In early June, protesters derided the Constitutional Council’s decision to reject the only two candidates who completed timely applications to contest the next presidential election and delay the vote, which was due on July 4.
In September, President Bensalah signed legislation creating a new Independent National Authority for Elections (ANIE), which updated the country’s electoral rolls in October. In November, as the campaign began in earnest, the ANIE announced five candidates for the presidency; nearly all of them served as ministers in President Bouteflika’s cabinet, roiling protesters who called for a new selection of contestants. November was also marked by a crackdown against the ongoing protests, with hundreds of rally attendees and protesters arrested at the height of the campaign. In addition, authorities issued lengthy prison terms to three former politicians two days before the poll.
In the December election, former prime minister Abdelmajid Tebboune won the presidency in the first round with 58 percent of the vote, followed by former tourism minister Abdelkader Bengrina with 17 percent, former prime minister Ali Benflis with 11 percent, and former culture minister Azzedine Mihoubi with 7 percent. Abdelaziz Belaïd, a 2014 presidential candidate and the only contestant not to serve in Bouteflika’s cabinet, won 7 percent of the vote. The Constitutional Council reported a record low turnout of just under 40 percent, while one outside expert suggested a figure as low as 20 percent. Protesters called the election a sham and orchestrated a boycott, and outside observers were not allowed to enter the country to monitor the poll.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||1 4|
The 462 members of the People’s National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, are directly elected to five-year terms. In the 2017 elections, the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) and Democratic National Rally (RND) won a combined 261 seats. Several other parties each won a far smaller share of seats. An unpublished European Union (EU) assessment of the polls, acquired by Algerian newspaper Liberté, noted serious deficiencies in the electoral process, highlighting the inaccessibility of voter rolls and opaque vote-counting procedures. Opposition parties and other observers alleged widespread fraud, and media outlets carried videos recorded by voters that appeared to show ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities.
The president appoints one-third of the members of the upper legislative house, the Council of the Nation, which has 144 members serving six-year terms. The other two-thirds are indirectly elected by local and provincial assemblies. Half of the chamber’s mandates come up for renewal every three years. The ruling FLN secured 29 of the 48 indirectly elected seats at stake in December 2018, with the RND and smaller factions or independents taking the remainder.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||1 4|
Algeria’s elections, which were previously administered by the Interior Ministry, were often subject to government interference, but pressure from protesters forced the government to create a new electoral authority in 2019. In late July, President Bensalah created an expert panel to oversee a national dialogue working group and create what became the AINE, under the leadership of former parliament speaker Karim Younes. In September, Younes’s commission recommended lowering the number of signatures required to add candidates to the presidential ballot from 60,000 to 50,000. The panel also recommended abolishing the requirement for presidential candidates to receive 600 signatures from other elected officials.
The panel’s recommendations were accepted in September 2019, and were incorporated into a reform bill passed by Parliament later that month. However, opposition parties and protesters expressed doubts over the electoral reform package after the AINE announced a slate of presidential candidates tied to the outgoing Bouteflika administration. The absence of election monitors in the December presidential election also fostered continued concern in Algerian civil society.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||1 4|
The Interior Ministry must approve political parties before they can operate legally. Parties cannot form along explicitly ethnic lines. The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which swept the 1990 local and 1991 national elections that preceded Algeria’s decade-long civil war, remains banned. In April 2019, the Interior Ministry legalized ten new parties.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||1 4|
Opposition parties play a marginal role in the national legislature, and their activities are regularly curtailed by the government. Election boycotts by opposition groups are not uncommon.
Since the beginning of the Hirak in February 2019, the government has curtailed the ability of opposition parties to assemble and campaign. In August, the authorities prevented three opposition parties, the Socialist Forces Front, the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), and the Labour Party, from holding a meeting inaugurating their planned electoral alliance.
Opposition leaders have also been subject to detention and prosecution in 2019. In September, military intelligence officers arrested Karim Tabbou, spokesperson for the Democratic and Social Union (UDS), an unrecognized political party, for “undermining the morale of the army.” Tabbou, a former official in the FFS, had publicly criticized General Gaïd Salah before his arrest; he was provisionally released later that month to await his trial. A military court handed Labour Party leader Louisa Hanoune a 15-year prison sentence that same month for “harming the authority of the army” and “conspiracy against the authority of the state.”
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||1 4|
Since President Bouteflika’s resignation, the military has maintained its longstanding influence on decision-making, with army chief of staff General Ahmed Gaïd Salah playing a key role until his death in December 2019. The military is the most influential political actor in Algeria, thanks to its lack of accountability and vast resources.
In recent years, there have been allegations and scandals of corruption and financial influence in the selection of political candidates, and of vote-buying during elections. After President Bouteflika’s resignation, General Gaïd Salah initiated an anticorruption campaign targeting entrepreneurs and officials linked with the former administration, which he claimed was aimed at reducing the influence and corruption of these groups on domestic political decisions.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||1 4|
Parties dominated by the ethnic Amazigh (Berber) community, like the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) and the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), are allowed to operate, but their activities are curtailed by the military. These parties control a handful of municipalities, mainly concentrated in the northern region of Kabylie. However, ethnic Berbers have been targeted by the authorities for engaging in political activity. In November 2019, 19 Amazigh activists were handed six-month prison sentences for carrying Amazigh flags during demonstrations, having been accused of endangering Algeria’s territorial integrity. In a separate trial earlier that month, more than 20 activists were fined and sentenced to a year in prison for “threatening national unity.”
Women have gradually played a larger role in Algerian politics, but they remain reluctant running for office, are often unable to secure meaningful influence within Parliament, and are likelier to lose intraparty debates. In the 2017 legislative election, some parties obscured the faces of female candidates in their electoral materials. Women hold only 26 percent of seats in the lower house, and 7 percent in the upper house of Parliament.
LGBT+ people are politically marginalized in Algeria, and have little practical ability to fight for relevant antidiscrimination laws or the repeal of laws criminalizing same-sex relations. Such acts remain prohibited by Article 338 of the penal code, and those convicted face a two-year prison term.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||1 4|
The military has historically served as the ultimate arbiter of political issues in Algeria, and elected heads of government have relied on their support to maintain office; the loss of that loyalty played a significant role in President Bouteflika’s resignation in April 2019. After the president’s departure, army chief of staff General Gaïd Salah became a vital decision-maker before his death in December, becoming the de facto leader of the country and driving Algeria into presidential elections over the objections of protesters, who called for a longer period of transition.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1 4|
Anticorruption laws, a lack of government transparency, low levels of judicial independence, and bloated bureaucracies contribute to widespread corruption at all levels. Moreover, anticorruption investigations are often used to settle scores between factions within the regime.
The April 2019 capture of Ali Haddad, one of Algeria’s richest men, marked the beginning of a new anticorruption campaign driven by General Gaïd Salah. Haddad was arrested while he was trying to cross the border into Tunisia with large amounts of money in hand. That same month, police arrested five prominent businessmen for corruption; the defendants included Issad Rebrab, head of food, oil, and sugar refining firm Cevital, and the four Kouninef brothers, who were accused of using ties to the president’s brother, Saïd Bouteflika, to win key telecommunications contracts. Rebrab denied wrongdoing and was held in custody through the end of 2019. Prosecutors also summoned former prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia and former finance minister Mohamed Louka to appear in court. Ouyahia was arrested in June along with former prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal; both men were convicted on charges of corruption in December.
In May, Saïd Bouteflika and two former intelligence chiefs, Generals Bachir Athmane Tartag and Mohamed Mediene, were arrested on charges including “plotting against the state” and “undermining the army.” Labour Party leader Louisa Hanoune was tried alongside Bouteflika; all four defendants received 15-year sentences from a military court in late September.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1 4|
The country lacks legislation that guarantees citizens’ access to official information. There is considerable opacity surrounding official decision-making procedures, the publication of official acts is rarely timely, and rules on asset disclosure by government officials are weak and poorly enforced.
|Are there free and independent media?||1 4|
Although some newspapers are privately owned and some journalists remain aggressive in their coverage of government affairs, most papers rely on government agencies for printing and advertising, encouraging self-censorship. Authorities sometimes block distribution of independent news outlets that are based abroad or online. In June 2019, the government blocked access to news websites Tout sur l'Algérie and Algérie Part without explanation, and more websites were blocked in August. Viewers can access unlicensed private television channels located in Algeria but legally based outside the country, though these are subject to government crackdowns.
Authorities use legal mechanisms to harass the media and censor or punish controversial reporting. As a result, journalists and bloggers face brief detentions, short jail terms, suspended sentences, or fines for offenses including defamation and “undermining national unity.” In March 2019 a court freed Merzoug Touati, a blogger who had been arrested in 2017 for conducting an interview with an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson and publishing it online.
Since the beginning of the Hirak protests, police have intensified arbitrary arrests to intimidate journalists. In February 2019, a dozen journalists were briefly arrested at a sit-in against media censorship. In July, a journalist accused the police of using physical and verbal violence against him during his brief arrest in the port town of Annaba.
Foreign correspondents have found themselves expelled from Algeria on several occasions in 2019. In March, Reuters journalist Tarek Amara was expelled after reporting on a protest against former president Bouteflika. In April, Aymeric Vincenot, an Agence France-Presse (AFP) bureau chief, was forced to leave the country after his accreditation was not renewed. In May, a Moroccan journalist was briefly detained and subsequently expelled.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||1 4|
Algeria’s population is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim. Members of religious minorities, including Christians and members of the Amazigh community, suffer from state persecution and interference. Proselytizing by non-Muslims is illegal. Authorities have cracked down on the small Ahmadi minority, claiming that its members denigrate Islam, threaten national security, and violate laws on associations. Religious communities may only gather to worship at state-approved locations.
In June 2019, a Protestant Algerian was sentenced to pay a 50,000 dinar ($420) fine because he set up a tent to host weekly services, after the closure of the local church. In August, the Algerian Protestant Church (EPA) reported that five of its places of worship were closed at the government’s behest. This was a continuation of government activity against the EPA, which began its campaign in late 2017. Before this crackdown, the EPA had maintained its status as a legally recognized organization since 1974. Another three Protestant churches, all of them located in the Amazigh-dominated region of Kabylie, were ordered closed in October, with their congregants forcefully removed.
In April 2019, human rights lawyer Salah Dabouz was arrested over of a series of Facebook posts, in which he criticized the court in the northern town of Ghardaïa over its discriminatory attitude toward the Mozabite Berber minority.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||2 4|
Authorities generally do not interfere directly with the operations of universities, but debate is circumscribed in practice due to restrictive laws that target the entire population. Academic work is also affected by state censorship of domestically published and imported books. Student organizations have been active in the ongoing Hirak protests that began in February 2019, with members calling for political reforms. The authorities have occasionally resorted to violence to repress these demonstrations.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3 4|
Private discussion can take place relatively freely when it does not focus on certain sensitive topics. The government monitors internet activity in the name of national security and does not disclose information about the program’s targets or range, which is thought to be extensive. Social media users and bloggers, particularly those with higher profiles, are sometimes subject to prosecution for critical comments.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||2 4|
Restrictions on freedom of assembly remain in place, but are inconsistently enforced. The Hirak protests, which have been ongoing since February 2019, have sometimes been tolerated by the authorities. However, security forces have resorted to the use of tear gas, water cannons, arbitrary arrests, and the excessive use of force to preempt or disrupt some of these rallies. A separate ban on demonstrations is also in force in the capital city of Algiers, but this has been largely ineffective in stopping the Hirak’s activities.
Members of the Amazigh community have also seen their ability to assemble curtailed; in June, the government instituted a new ban on demonstrators carrying flags other than the Algerian national flag; the ban was aimed at protestors carrying the Amazigh flag.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||1 4|
The 2012 law on associations effectively restricts the formation, funding, and activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Permits and receipts of application submission are required to establish and operate NGOs, but organizations often face considerable delays and bureaucratic obstacles when attempting to obtain such documents, leaving them in a legally precarious position.
NGOs must notify the government of staffing changes and submit detailed reports on their funding; those that accept foreign funding without government approval risk fines or imprisonment. In early 2019, NGOs demanded the repeal of the law on associations.
Authorities have taken a particular interest in Rassemblement Actions Jeunesse (RAJ), a human rights organization that has supported the Hirak. In September, over 20 RAJ members were arrested for participating in an unauthorized meeting in the northeastern city of Bejaïa. In October, the NGO’s president, Abdelouhab Fersaoui, was arrested and detained in the Harrach prison in Algiers. Co-founder Hakim Addad and eight other members were already imprisoned in Harrach by the time Fersaoui was arrested. Meanwhile, in August, a Middle East and North Africa representative for Human Rights Watch (HRW) was detained and expelled.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||1 4|
The country’s main labor federation, the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), has been criticized for its close relationship to the government and for its failure to advocate for workers’ interests. The UGTA has also involved itself in Algeria’s ongoing political crisis, organizing a pro-government rally in the capital of Algiers in late November 2019.
Workers require government approval to establish new unions; this is difficult to obtain in practice, leaving many unions without legal status. Authorities routinely clamp down on independent unions, some of which have openly supported the protest movement throughout 2019. In April, Raouf Mellal, president of the independent labor union SNATEG, was arrested and released on the same day, after allegedly being subjected to sexual harassment by police. SNATEG, which represents workers for public gas and electricity utility SONELGAZ, planned on launching a three-day strike that month, while calling for a transitional government that included members of the opposition.
In December, Kaddour Chouicha, president of independent higher education workers’ union SESS, was arrested and given a one-year prison sentence for his criticism of the military and support for the protest movement. Chouicha is also the vice president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights.
Several trade unionists closely affiliated with CGATA and COSYFOP, two major independent union confederations, were targeted throughout 2019. Rym Kadri, a member of a COSYFOP-affiliated education workers’ union, was arrested for taking part in a November sit-in protest; she was released after four days, but was subject to strict conditions by year’s end. In early December, police in the capital of Algiers sealed the headquarters of CGATA, citing “unauthorized activities.”
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1 4|
The judiciary is susceptible to pressure from the civilian government and the military. Judges are appointed by the High Council of the Judiciary, which is led by the president and the justice minister. Between October and November 2019, the vast majority of judges went on strike, objecting to a decision by the government to reshuffle around 3,000 judges and prosecutors. Judges protested for ten days against the government’s interference in the judiciary, but eventually agreed to a compromise with the Justice Ministry in early November.
As part of the agreement, judges were allowed to appeal their transfers and received retroactive pay increases; the ministry also committed to hold a workshop aimed at increasing judicial independence. However, Algeria’s National Union of Judges threatened to resume its strike later in late November 2019, accusing the justice minister of reneging on their agreement.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1 4|
The lack of independence on the part of judges and prosecutors often erodes the due process rights of defendants, particularly in politically fraught trials. Lengthy delays in bringing cases to trial are common. Prosecutors’ requests to extend pretrial detention periods are typically granted. Security forces frequently conduct warrantless searches and engage in arbitrary arrests and short-term detentions.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2 4|
A 2006 reconciliation law gave immunity to Islamist and state perpetrators of serious crimes during the civil war, while compensating families of those who were subject to those crimes, which included forced disappearances. The reconciliation law was also notable for criminalizing public discussion on the fate of the disappeared. This was the second post-civil war effort to pardon perpetrators of violence; former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika previously shepherded a 1999 negotiation with the FIS, which secured pardons for thousands of members of its armed wing.
Allegations of torture have decreased since the end of the war, but human rights activists still accuse the police of using excessive force and abusing detainees.
Terrorist groups, including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Islamic State militant group, continue to operate in Algeria. However, attacks have grown less frequent in recent years, and no terrorist bombings were reported during 2019.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2 4|
Officials have made gradual efforts to address the Amazigh community’s cultural demands. Tamazight, the Berber language, was named a national language in 1995 and again in 2002; this allowed the language to be taught officially in schools serving Amazigh areas. Tamazight did not become an official language nationwide until the constitution was amended in 2016, a move that allowed its use in administrative documents. Arabic remains the language of government.
Sub-Saharan African migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, are often arbitrarily arrested and deported from the country—or simply abandoned at the desert border—without being given the opportunity to challenge the actions in court. In 2019, Algeria expelled thousands of migrants, mostly from Niger. In addition, sub-Saharan Africans have been subject to racial discrimination, which has sometimes been conducted openly by Algerian government officials and local NGOs in recent years.
LGBT+ people face discrimination and violence for expressing their sexual orientation, and many LGBT+ activists have fled the country. In February, a medical student was killed in his dormitory by two unknown assailants, allegedly because of his perceived homosexuality.
Same-sex relations are punishable with prison sentences as long as two years, though prosecutions for such acts have declined in recent years. Nevertheless, LGBT+ Algerians face mistreatment at the hands of police, discrimination at the hands of health providers, and discrimination in the workplace. NGOs that address the needs of the LGBT+ population are rare, with the exception of advocacy group Alouen (Colors), due to the 2012 law on associations that curtails civil society generally.
The constitution guarantees gender equality, but women continue to face both legal and societal discrimination. Many women make lower wages than men in similar positions, and there are few women in company leadership positions. Sexual harassment, while punishable with fines and jail time, is nevertheless common in workplaces. Women have also been subject to public campaigns of violence and intimidation; a spate of acid attacks against women gained public attention in the 1990s.
However, NGO’s dedicated to women’s rights have become more vocal in 2019; in April, women’s rights group Femme Insoumises DZ (Rebellious Woman Algeria) identified an Algerian man living in the UK who posted a social media video calling for acid attacks against women taking part in Hirak protests. The NGO’s activities prompted the public prosecutor’s office to open an investigation, and British police took the man into custody. Women’s rights groups active in the Hirak have also advocated for the reversal of the 1984 Family Code, which limits women’s rights within marriage, as well as for a renewed commitment to the constitutional promise of gender equality.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2 4|
While most citizens are relatively free to travel domestically and abroad, the authorities closely monitor and limit access to visas for non-Algerians. Men of military draft age are not allowed to leave the country without official consent. The land border between Algeria and Morocco remains closed. Police reportedly limit the movement of sub-Saharan African migrants attempting to reach the Mediterranean coast. Married women younger than 18 must obtain the permission of their husbands to travel abroad.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2 4|
The government plays a dominant role in the economy, leaving little room for private competitors. Cronyism is also a major obstacle to private enterprise, with businesspeople not aligned with the regime often facing harassment by the authorities. Numerous regulations and their flawed implementation make Algeria one of the most difficult environments in the world in which to establish and operate a business. Inheritance rules favor men over women.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2 4|
Women do not enjoy equal rights in marriage and divorce. Domestic violence is common, and the laws against it are weak; for example, cases can be dropped if the victim forgives the alleged abuser. Women’s rights groups report that between 100 and 200 women are killed in domestic abuse incidents each year. No law addresses spousal rape.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1 4|
The weak rule of law, government involvement in the economy, and bureaucratic obstacles pose barriers to social mobility.
A 2009 law criminalized all forms of trafficking in persons, and Algeria reported its first conviction under the law in 2015. In recent years, the government has made an effort to enforce the ban through prosecutions and has provided protection for victims, though not systematically. Undocumented sub-Saharan African migrants are particularly susceptible to racial discrimination, labor exploitation, including through the practice of debt bondage, and sexual exploitation.
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Global Freedom Score34 100 not free