While I am being driven from Algiers International Airport to my hotel I realise I have been wrong. It is the first time I come to Algeria and unlike what I had anticipated its capital strikes me as more Mediterranean than Arabic, developed rather than backwards. It is an image the regime likes to project to the outside world – that of a thriving democracy, a beacon of stability in an otherwise chaotic region. Still, Algeria harbours all that has developed in other countries into an Arab Spring - “de l’autoritarisme et de l’arbitraire, de l’injustice sociale et du délaissement d’une jeunesse dont une partie importante ne rêve que d’émigrer”. No oil that can hide that.
Yet it is seemingly peaceful in Algeria – and the upcoming parliamentary elections will not change that. Turnout will be traditionally low and the result will be a splintered parliament without a real say in the constitutional reform process president Bouteflika has announced. Call it apathy, call it paralysis. The fact remains that the catastrophic consequences of Algeria’s first free elections in 1991 are engraved in everyone’s memory here. To many in Algeria, the violence of the Arab Spring and the Islamist popular take-over is the triumph of the Algeria model. But the political elite (the opposition included) are all children of a “black decade”. A decade the country has desperately been trying to shake off but has never been able to politically.
For now, the regime sleeps quietly at night. But the thunder has started rumbling in Algeria and lightening will strike. Elections do not make a country a democracy. It can change a country into a democracy. But opposition parties, against all odds, are counting on the wisdom of age of “le pouvoir”. That real constitutional reforms will save the country from a (bloody) revolution. But the real wisdom is that dictators will never be democrats. The democratic show case the regime has so carefully built will be wrecked sooner or later.
When I arrive at the hotel I suddenly think of the movie “The Matrix”. About a world in which reality is simulated by computers in order to control and subdue man kind. I have only been in Algeria for a few hours and already I see remarkable resemblances. I just dearly hope its citizens will not have to be woken up as roughly.