Three Years After the Hirak Began, Could War in Europe Extinguish Hope for Algeria’s Popular Movement?

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Algerians gather in central Algiers during a Hirak protest, July 2019

With international attention concentrated for weeks on Russian forces amassed at Ukraine’s borders, fewer resources have been spent anticipating the many second- and third-order effects that conflict between these two countries could trigger worldwide.

In light of its recent history, Algeria is one country whose fate could swing substantially based on Russia’s actions in eastern Europe.

Those are the opening lines of my latest analysis for the Atlantic Council, in which I explore how the looming possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine could impact Algerians' campaign for reform and accountable government.

Launched three years ago, in February 2019, Algeria's popular movement, the Hirak, toppled longtime President Bouteflika and his government, but fell short of forging more systemic change. Marches were paused for Covid, then restarted a year ago.

The renewed protests were met with heavy repression. Activists, journalists, civic leaders, and ordinary citizens have faced imprisonment on vague charges, enabled by dubious legal changes and a rigged justice system. Amid this crackdown, the Hirak has gone dormant (though the frustrations that fueled it remain very much alive).

Meanwhile, rising odds of conflict in Ukraine have pushed international oil and gas prices higher. Flush with revenue, Algeria's government is canceling taxes and boosting spending. If Russia invades, triggering sanctions from NATO countries, Algeria may appear newly indispensable to Europe.

To be sure, an influx of oil and gas revenue to Algeria could do much good—if put to service of citizens. But it shouldn't be allowed to reduce pressure on authorities to pursue reforms and uphold their commitments to freedom of expression and other human rights.

While still respecting Algeria's sovereignty, there is much that foreign partners can (and must) do to support reformers and ensure respect for human rights. In the article, I propose some of the many possible ways.

Read it in full on the Atlantic Council's MENA Source blog: Algeria’s fate is tied to the Ukraine crisis. Will a war extinguish hope for the country’s popular movement?

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