In the 1990s, the Algerian military fought a brutal civil war against an Islamic insurgency that claimed as many as 150,000 lives. The government crushed the Islamists and has ruled the country with an iron fist ever since. It’s one of the most repressive and—oddly enough—stable countries in the Middle East: President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is 77 years old and has served in office for the past 14 years, recently won a fourth term.But Algeria’s facade of stability is wearing thin. President Bouteflika suffered a stroke a year ago and has rarely appeared in public since. The country’s current leaders, a group of shadowy intelligence officials, army generals, and presidential advisors, are all part of the generation that won independence from France in the early 1960s and then led the fight against the Islamic militants. They are ruthless and cunning, but they are getting old, and over the next few years we’ll find out whether they did enough to ensure that Algeria remains stable after they’re gone. If recent news is anything to go by, the next generation of leaders might have to combat Islamic militancy once again.
The BBC reports that “Islamist militants have killed 14 Algerian soldiers in an ambush on a convoy in mountains east of the capital Algiers [….] It is believed the attack was carried out by fighters from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It was one of the deadliest attacks on the Algerian military for several years.”The fallout from the Libyan civil war is partly to blame, according to the BBC. The Islamic insurgency has been re-energized after getting ahold of weapons originally from Libya, and is active in Algeria’s southern region, which has seen a recent spike in ethnic conflict. Last year, an AQIM attack on the In Amenas gas facility killed scores of hostages and militants in one of the most brazen demonstrations of al Qaeda’s growing power in the region.The ambush of the Algerian soldiers near Algiers shows that militants have sought a foothold close to the capital instead of remaining in more remote areas. If the militants again confront the Algerian state, the security of nearby countries may depend in part on whether Algeria’s aging leaders, or their successors, can successfully combat the uprising. Neighboring Libya is already unstable, and a new eruption in Algeria could set off a wave of violence and unrest throughout the region.