Morocco notched a diplomatic win this week as the United Arab Emirates opened a consulate in the Western Sahara, where Rabat has long sought international recognition of its claim over the disputed territory. It also signaled a troubling regional shift. The hostility between Turkey and the Saudi-aligned Arab states risks embroiling the Maghreb region, much as it already complicates conflicts and politics from Libya to the Red Sea region. In North Africa, as across the greater Middle East, a widening of the Turkish-Saudi confrontation is heightening the risks of destabilization and threats to U.S. regional and counterterrorism interests.
Algerians took to the streets in February 2019 to protest the re-election bid of longtime authoritarian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Those protests—which came to be known as the Hirak movement and resulted in Bouteflika’s resignation in April of that year—evolved quickly to calls for a fundamental overhaul of the country’s political system. Few real changes have been made since. This Sunday, Algeria will hold a referendum on constitutional amendments to ostensibly bolster the country’s democracy. But, the Hirak says the constitutional changes do not go far enough. USIP’S Tom Hill looks at why the constitutional amendments have stirred tension with the opposition, the movement’s struggles to coalesce behind specific demands, and the role of Algeria’s military and floundering economy in the transition.
Last year, Algerians massed in peaceful protests against the authoritarian, 20-year presidency of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, prompting the military to force his resignation. The demonstrations have brought millions to the streets, demanding greater transparency in government and an end to pervasive corruption within the shadowy mix of military, business, and political elites who dominate the country. While the popular movement has forced once-unthinkable resignations and criminal investigations of powerful figures, its push for more a fundamental overhaul is stalled. The movement, called the Hirak, can continue its pattern of twice-weekly demonstrations, hoping for more government concessions. Or it can adapt its strategy to move beyond the current stalemate. Either approach could risk greater conflict.