Political affairs in Algeria have long 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, leading it to crack down on dissent and engineer a presidential transition that protesters rejected as a continuation of the status quo.
- Beginning in March, cases of COVID-19 gradually increased, spiked over the summer, and surged again in November. By year’s end more than 2,700 deaths had been recorded by the World Health Organization.
- In response to the health crisis, in March the government introduced restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly, but authorities continued to suppress protests after other lockdown measures were eased beginning in June. The restrictions effectively put an end to the Hirak protest movement’s weekly demonstrations calling for democratic reforms, and the government intensified its efforts to prosecute activists, journalists, and ordinary citizens who voiced dissent online.
- In September, Parliament approved a wide-ranging constitutional revision that was intended to address some of the demands of the protest movement. However, critics argued that it fell short in a number of ways, including by leaving the president with power over the judiciary and retaining vaguely defined limits on freedom of information. The new constitution was reportedly approved in a November referendum by 67 percent of participating voters, though turnout was less than 24 percent amid pandemic concerns and calls for a boycott.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||1.001 4.004|
The president, who is directly elected for up to two five-year terms, remains the dominant figure in the executive branch, though some authority was shifted to the prime minister under constitutional reforms adopted in 2020. In 2008, 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. President Bouteflika’s decision to seek another term, which would have been his fifth, sparked the Hirak protests in 2019. Bouteflika resigned in April of that year, after losing the support of the armed forces.
Bouteflika ally Abdelkader Bensalah, the head of Parliament’s upper house, served as interim president during a transitional period of several months, and a presidential election was held in December 2019. Former prime minister Abdelmajid Tebboune won in the first round with 58 percent of the vote, defeating four other candidates. Abdelaziz Belaïd, a 2014 presidential candidate and the only contestant who had not served in cabinet posts under Bouteflika, won 7 percent of the vote. The Constitutional Council reported a record low voter turnout of just under 40 percent, and one outside expert suggested an actual figure as low as 20 percent. Protesters called the election a sham and orchestrated a boycott. 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?||1.001 4.004|
The 462 members of the People’s National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, are directly elected to five-year terms, which can only be renewed once under the 2020 constitutional reforms. In the 2017 elections, the ruling FLN and the allied 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 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?||1.001 4.004|
Algeria’s elections, which were previously administered by the Interior Ministry, were often subject to government interference, but pressure from protesters in 2019 forced the government to establish the Independent National Authority for Elections (ANIE). Other changes adopted that year lowered the number of signatures required to add candidates to the presidential ballot from 60,000 to 50,000, and abolished the requirement for presidential candidates to receive 600 signatures from other elected officials.
However, the slate of presidential candidates that was ultimately announced ahead of the December 2019 presidential election was dominated by former Bouteflika administration officials, raising doubts about the efficacy of the electoral reforms. The absence of international election monitors also drew criticism from Algerian civil society.
The 2020 constitutional reforms were adopted by Parliament in September and then approved in a November referendum, with support from 67 percent of participating voters. However, turnout was reported at less than 24 percent; opponents of the package—including activists from the Hirak protest movement—had called for a boycott after they were prevented from campaigning for a “no” vote or airing their views on state media.
|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?||1.001 4.004|
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 2019, the Interior Ministry legalized 10 new parties, but other parties still lack official recognition, and in practice the authorities routinely interfere with opposition party activities.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||1.001 4.004|
Opposition parties play a marginal role in the national legislature, and their campaigns are regularly curtailed by the government. Election boycotts by opposition groups are not uncommon.
Since the beginning of the Hirak in 2019, the government has curbed the ability of opposition parties to assemble and seek public support, and restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic further limited such activities beginning in March 2020. In September, the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) denounced the Algiers authorities’ decision to block its planned national conference at a hotel; the conference had to be moved to the party’s main office.
Opposition leaders have also been subject to detention and prosecution. In March 2020, an appeals court sentenced Karim Tabbou, spokesperson for the Democratic and Social Union (UDS), an unrecognized political party, to one year in prison and a 50,000 dinar ($400) fine for inciting violence and “harming national security.” Tabbou, a former official in the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), had been arrested in 2019 after publicly criticizing General Ahmed Gaïd Salah, then the army chief of staff. In July 2020, he was provisionally released, but in December he was sentenced in a separate case to a one-year suspended prison term and a fine of 100,000 dinars ($800) for “undermining national security.” In February 2020, after nine months in jail, Labour Party leader Louisa Hanoune was released when a military court in Blida overturned a previous sentence of 15 years in prison 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?||1.001 4.004|
Since President Bouteflika’s resignation, the military has maintained its long-standing influence on decision making, with General Gaïd Salah playing a key role until his death in December 2019. Under the leadership of General Saïd Chengriha as of 2020, the military remains 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 involving corruption and financial influence in the selection of political candidates, as well as vote-buying during elections. After Bouteflika’s resignation, Gaïd Salah initiated an anticorruption campaign targeting entrepreneurs and officials linked with the former administration, which he claimed was aimed at reducing the improper influence of these groups on domestic political decisions.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||1.001 4.004|
No specific ethnic or religious group dominates the main state institutions, which tend to include both Arabs and Amazigh (Berber) officials. Kabylie-based parties associated with the Amazigh community, like the RCD and the FFS, control a handful of municipalities, but their activities are often curtailed by the military, and some ethnic Berbers have been targeted by the authorities for mobilizing in support of their political interests. In 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.
Women have gradually played a larger role in politics, but they remain reluctant to run for office, are often unable to secure meaningful influence within Parliament, and are more likely to lose intraparty debates. Women hold only 26 percent of seats in the lower house and 6 percent in the upper house of Parliament.
LGBT+ people are politically marginalized and have little practical ability to advocate for their political interests.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||1.001 4.004|
The military has historically served as the ultimate arbiter of policy disputes in Algeria, and elected leaders have relied on its support to maintain office. The loss of military backing played a significant role in President Bouteflika’s resignation in 2019. The army chief of staff continues to wield considerable influence in government under Bouteflika’s successor.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
Inadequate anticorruption laws, a lack of official transparency, low levels of judicial independence, and bloated bureaucracies contribute to widespread corruption at all levels of government. The anticorruption investigations that do occur are often used to settle scores between factions within the regime.
The courts issued a series of harsh sentences against Bouteflika’s former political and economic allies after his resignation in 2019 as part of an anticorruption campaign initiated by General Gaïd Salah. In September 2019, the former president’s brother Saïd Bouteflika and two former intelligence chiefs were sentenced to 15 years in prison for “plotting against the state” and “undermining the army,” but a retrial was ordered by the Supreme Court in November 2020. Among other figures sentenced during 2020 were former prime ministers, several former cabinet ministers, key members of well-connected business families, and a former prefect of Algiers.
The constitutional reforms passed by Parliament in September 2020 included provisions for an Authority for Transparency and for the Prevention of and Fight against Corruption, as well as a ban on combining roles in public office and private business.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1.001 4.004|
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. The 2020 constitutional revision introduced a requirement for all appointed and elected officials to declare their assets at the beginning and end of their terms, and obliges the public administration to justify its decisions within a time period to be determined by law. While the revised constitution nominally guarantees the right to access information, it includes vague exceptions for “the rights of others, the legitimate interests of businesses, and the requirements of national security.”
|Are there free and independent media?||1.001 4.004|
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 April 2020 the websites of media outlets Maghreb Emergent, Radio M, and Interlignes became unavailable to Algerian users. In August the website of L’Avant-Garde Algérie also became inaccessible from within the country. Additional news websites were blocked in December, including Tariq News, Shihab Presse, UltraSawt, TSA Algérie, and Twala. Viewers can access unlicensed private television channels located in Algeria but legally based outside the country, though these are subject to government crackdowns.
In April 2020, Parliament approved a new law criminalizing “fake news” that undermines public order and security, with sentences ranging from one to five years in prison. In December the government issued a decree requiring news websites to be directed by Algerian nationals and based physically in Algeria, to report income sources, and to keep an archive of at least six months of their publications. Websites in French or other foreign languages must be approved by a special authority for online media.
Authorities use these and other legal mechanisms to harass the media and censor or punish controversial reporting. Journalists and bloggers are frequently subjected to brief detentions, short jail terms, suspended sentences, or fines for offenses including defamation and “undermining national unity,” and this pattern continued in 2020. In addition, journalists covering demonstrations or who are close to the protest movement have been arbitrarily arrested and interrogated. A number of foreign correspondents were expelled from Algeria in 2019, but no such incidents were reported in 2020.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||1.001 4.004|
Algeria’s population is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim. Members of religious minorities, including Christians and non-Sunni Muslims, 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 January 2020, the authorities shuttered two Protestant churches in Oran, continuing a multiyear crackdown on the Algerian Protestant Church (EPA) that began in late 2017. Before this period, the EPA had maintained its status as a legally recognized organization since 1974.
Accusations of nonbelief or blasphemy can draw criminal punishments, and such charges are sometimes used for political purposes. In October 2020, Amazigh and Hirak activist Yacine Mebarki received a sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of 10 million dinars ($77,000) for offenses including “supporting atheism” and “offending Islam,” after police found a slightly damaged Quran in his house during a search the previous month.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||2.002 4.004|
Authorities generally do not interfere directly with the operations of universities, but debate is circumscribed in practice due to restrictive laws that limit speech more broadly. Academic work is also affected by state censorship of domestically published and imported books. Student organizations have been active in the Hirak protests that began in 2019, with members calling for political reforms. The authorities have occasionally resorted to violence to suppress these demonstrations.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||2.002 4.004|
Private discussion and the public expression of personal views are relatively unhindered when they do not focus on certain sensitive topics, but social media users are subject to prosecution for critical comments that touch on the government or religion. 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.
The authorities stepped up prosecutions of social media users, particularly Hirak supporters, during 2020. In April, for example, Walid Kechida was arrested on charges of insulting the president and Islamic morals by sharing memes and images that were considered offensive. In May, activist Soheib Debaghi was sentenced to one year in prison over his antigovernment Facebook posts; he was released in November. Also in May, Larbi Tahar and Boussif Mohamed Boudiaf received sentences of 18 months in prison following the publication of Facebook posts that targeted President Tebboune; they were pardoned in July. In September, a former police officer was sentenced to two years in prison after he used Facebook to denounce the repression of Hirak protesters by police.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 due to the arrest and imprisonment of activists and supporters of the antigovernment protest movement for expressing their views on social media.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||1.001 4.004|
Legal restrictions on freedom of assembly remain in place, but are inconsistently enforced. The Hirak protests, which began in 2019, have sometimes been tolerated by the authorities. However, security personnel have resorted to the use of tear gas, water cannons, arbitrary arrests, and excessive force to preempt or disrupt some of the rallies.
Beginning in March 2020, all gatherings and demonstrations were banned due to the COVID-19 emergency. While Hirak activists initially accepted this decision, many later called for an end to the ban, especially after the government in June announced the gradual lifting of other COVID-19 restrictions. During this initial period and through the end of the year, the authorities prosecuted activists for participation in past protests and carried out new arrests as protesters attempted to hold unauthorized demonstrations despite the official prohibition. The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights estimated that about 200 activists were arrested from March to mid-June. Among other cases during the year, an Algiers court in March sentenced activists Karim Boutata and Ahcene Kadi to six months in jail and a 20,000 dinar ($150) fine for their participation in a 2019 demonstration. In June, Merzoug Touati, Yanis Adjila, and Amar Beri were arrested after they attempted to organize a demonstration to show solidarity with political prisoners. In September, another Hirak activist, Brahim Laalami, received a sentence of three years in prison, while former lawmaker Khaled Tazaghart was sentenced to one year in prison for his participation in the protest movement.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because a March ban on demonstrations remained in place even after other pandemic-related restrictions were lifted, and the government arrested hundreds of activists for their role in the antigovernment protest movement that began in 2019.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||1.001 4.004|
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.
Authorities have taken a particular interest in Rassemblement Actions Jeunesse (RAJ), a human rights organization that has supported the Hirak. In 2019, several members, including the NGO’s president, Abdelouhab Fersaoui, were arrested and detained in the Harrach prison in Algiers. Fersaoui was initially sentenced to a year in prison in April 2020 over his Facebook posts, but the sentence was then reduced in May, and he was released with credit for time served in pretrial detention. In December, a court in Sidi M’hamed acquitted five other RAJ activists.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||1.001 4.004|
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.
Workers require government approval to establish new unions, and this is difficult to obtain in practice, leaving many unions without legal status. Authorities routinely clamp down on independent unions. SNATEG, an independent union that represents workers at the public gas and electricity utility SONELGAZ, has been repeatedly harassed by the authorities in recent years. In February 2020, police closed and banned all entry to a SNATEG office in Algiers.
In 2019, Kaddour Chouicha, president of the 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. In March 2020, an Oran court acquitted him on appeal.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1.001 4.004|
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 headed by the president, although the 2020 constitutional reforms removed the justice minister and attorney general from the body. Two representatives of the judges’ union and the chair of the National Human Rights Council were added to the council.
Concerns regarding the judiciary’s independence persist. In September 2020, members of the Algiers bar association went on strike for a week and took part in a sit-in, demanding an independent judiciary and “respect for the rights of the defense.” The protest, which was supported by the national bar association with a two-day solidarity strike, was triggered by an incident in which a judge rejected a request by the president of the Algiers bar association to postpone a hearing in a politically fraught corruption case—a decision that defense lawyers said was part of a pattern of unfair or abusive treatment by judges serving the interests of the government.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
The lack of independence on the part of judges and prosecutors often erodes the due process rights of defendants, particularly in politically sensitive trials against former officials or civic activists. 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?||2.002 4.004|
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 such crimes, which included forced disappearances. The reconciliation law was also notable for criminalizing public discussion on the fate of the disappeared.
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. Prison conditions have deteriorated since the beginning of the Hirak in 2019. In June 2020, the online media site Algérie Part reported on the poor conditions at Algiers’ Harrach prison, where the occupancy rate was estimated at around 130 percent, detainees routinely slept on the floor, hygiene was poor, and medical services were unable to cope with the COVID-19 emergency. In July, two prisoners at the facility, including a former minister, died after contracting COVID-19, while eight detainees were hospitalized and five more had to be put in isolation.
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. In the only attacks reported in 2020, a car bomb exploded in February near the border with Mali, killing one soldier, and another soldier was killed in an ambush in June.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
Officials have made gradual efforts to address the Amazigh community’s cultural demands. Tamazight, the Berber language, became a national language in 1995, allowing it to be taught officially in schools serving Amazigh areas, and it received the status of an official language nationwide through a 2016 constitutional amendment, meaning it could be used in administrative documents. The constitutional revisions adopted in 2020 made it impossible to change the status of Tamazight as a national language. However, Arabic remains the prevailing language of government.
The constitution guarantees gender equality, but women continue to face both legal and societal discrimination. Many women receive 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. NGOs dedicated to women’s rights have become more vocal as part of the Hirak, calling for a renewed commitment to the constitutional promise of gender equality.
LGBT+ people face discrimination and violence, and many LGBT+ activists have fled the country. Same-sex sexual activity is punishable with prison sentences as long as two years. While prosecutions for such acts have declined in recent years, LGBT+ Algerians face mistreatment at the hands of police and discrimination by health providers and employers. In September 2020, a court in El Khroub sentenced two people to three years in prison and 42 others to one-year suspended sentences after they were arrested at a clandestine gay wedding in Constantine in July.
About 175,000 Sahrawis from Western Sahara live in refugee camps in the Tindouf area, near the border with Morocco. The camps have been present since 1975, in a remote desert region with very limited job opportunities. About 90,000 of the residents are considered “vulnerable” by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as they rely on humanitarian assistance for food, water, and education. In 2020, an epidemic ravaging local livestock and the COVID-19 restrictions negatively affected the livelihoods and living conditions of Sahrawi refugees and increased their food insecurity.
Sub-Saharan African migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, are subject to racial discrimination in Algeria, and they are often arbitrarily arrested and deported from the country—or simply abandoned at the southern desert borders—without being given the opportunity to challenge the actions in court. Human Rights Watch in October 2020 reported that since early September, authorities had expelled to Niger some 3,400 sub-Saharan migrants, including women, children, and asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR; this raised the total number of expulsions for the year to date to more than 16,000.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||2.002 4.004|
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.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the authorities in March 2020 imposed significant restrictions on domestic and international freedom of movement; curfews and other controls fluctuated in the second half of the year along with the rates of infection.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
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 who are 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?||2.002 4.004|
Women do not enjoy equal rights in marriage and divorce under the family code, which is based on Islamic law. Among other provisions, women must obtain a male guardian’s permission to marry, and the father is the legal guardian of his children. 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. In October 2020, the rape and killing of a young woman near Boumerdes sparked outrage and a mobilization by women’s rights groups calling for better protection and harsher sentences. According to Féminicides Algérie, there were 54 cases of femicide in the country during 2020.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1.001 4.004|
The weak rule of law, government involvement in the economy, and bureaucratic obstacles pose major barriers to economic opportunity and social mobility. Laws against unsafe or abusive working conditions are poorly enforced.
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 labor exploitation, including through the practice of debt bondage, as well as sexual exploitation.
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Global Freedom Score32 100 not free