THE EFFECTIVENESS OF US FOREIGN AID IN ACHIEVING LIBERALIZATION IN CASES OF INTERNAL CONFLICT IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

By Jodi Sanger-Weaver
Staff Writer

Statistical analysis suggests that as countries in the Middle East and North Africa receive higher percentages of democracy & governance aid as a portion of total aid, they tend to experience greater liberalization. Algeria is a country that has received substantially high percentages of democracy & governance aid and, according to the statistics, should be an exemplary case study of the positive effect of high democracy & governance percentages on liberalization. This article will provide a brief overview of the series of historical events that led to the political landscape of Algeria between 1990 and 2003 and the conflicts in the country within this period. It will then analyze the data for Algeria drawing on historical and contextual information in an attempt to offer possible explanations for the results that were found.

Algeria won its independence from France in 1962 after an eight year war of independence. France had controlled Algeria since 1830 under a policy of integration and had therefore heavily influenced the culture of the country. Even through this influence, the Arab-Islamic tradition of Algeria had served as a unifying power against foreign domination and helped to form the CRUA (Comité Révolutionnaire d’Unité et d’Action). The CRUA consisted of dissidents, ex-soldiers of the French army, and various other men who had become disenchanted with the French administration. Later, the CRUA was transformed into a political party, the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) and a militarized sub-group, the ALN (Armée de Libération Nationale). The unification and organization of this nationalist movement helped to defeat the French and win their sovereignty. However, after the French had been defeated and the Algerians took control over their country, what had once been a unified force against foreign domination split into factions, and fighting for power between these factions ensued. The foreign domination was gone, and therefore so was the unifying cause (Layachi). With the French gone, there existed a power vacuum and each faction had their own ideas for what should happen in Algeria next and who should take power.

In addition to the power vacuum, another serious problem the new government faced was the economic vacuum left in Algeria after many European business owners and skilled workers left the country after the French defeat. Many people lost their jobs, and while the French and other Europeans had brought some industry to Algeria, the Algerians had largely filled the unskilled labor jobs and had not been trained or educated in running the industries (Layachi). The economic gap that had existed between the native workers and the European business owners led the new Algerian government to pursue a socialist agenda in which there would no longer be this economic gap that had for so long characterized the state and disadvantaged the Algerian masses.

The fact that the revolution occurred through an organization that was intrinsically tied to the military has led the military to have a strong hand in the government since independence. The first constitution ensured that the FLN would retain power by making it the single political party of the country. After a bloodless coup that ousted the first Algerian president, Ahmed Ben Bella, a new constitution was created under President Col. Houari Boumediene and continued the policy of the FLN as the single legal political party of Algeria, maintaining the implicit authoritarian system. After Boumediene died suddenly in 1978, the FLN congress selected Col. Chadli Bendjedid as the presidential candidate and he was then elected into office in January 1979 (Layachi). After a few years in office in which he consolidated his power, Bendjedid first made economic reforms that began liberalizing the economy and then later made liberalizing political reforms as well. “He legitimized independent associations, even extending the new freedom to organize to the Algerian League of Human Rights that had consistently criticized the regime for suppressing public political activity and demonstrations” (Entelis). This liberalization also opened up a new and improved relationship with the United States. Partly due to the decline of the Soviet Union, Algeria’s traditional source of economic assistance, Algeria sought an alternative source of aid in the United States, receiving US$25.8 million in financial assistance and buying US$1.0 billion in imports from the United States in 1990.

However, with the fall of oil prices in the 1980s, the liberalization of the economy had mainly benefitted the bourgeoisie while negatively impacting the working class. The resulting economic crisis led to violent and extensive riots and anti-government demonstrations in October 1988 known as the Black October Riots. The military responded brutally, killing hundreds of rioters.

“The brutal military suppression of the riots would have far-reaching consequences, consequences that would ultimately lead to a redefinition of the military’s role in the political configuration of the state. On October 10, Benjedid addressed the nation, accepting blame for the suppression and offering promises of economic and political reform. His hand had been forced. In an effort to regain the political initiative and contain the damage to his regime, Benjedid lifted the state of emergency, recalled the tanks, and announced a national referendum on constitutional reform.”(Entelis)

By responding to the riots with political liberalization rather than with suppression, Bendjedid is credited with opening up the political realm to the masses. However, in 1991 conflict resurfaced when the FLN attempted to make reforms to the electoral process that would obviously favor the FLN in the election. The tactics did not work, as in December 1991 the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) clearly defeated the FLN in the first round of parliamentary elections and appeared to be certain to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary for constitutional reform. The military was unwilling to relinquish power and quickly announced that it would not allow the FIS to gain control of the government because it deemed them as a threat to the security of the state. The military called for Bendjedid’s resignation and suspended the second round of elections. This led to severe backlash from the Islamists against the military, but the military only cracked down further, banning the FIS in March 1992, dissolving the communal and municipal assemblies that had mostly been controlled by the FIS after the June 1990 elections, banning all political activity in and around mosques, arresting Islamist activists on various charges, and even reversing the liberalization of the press that had just recently been gaining freedom (Entelis). The military’s suppression was brutal, but the people had experienced the taste of the liberalization offered by Bendjedid and would continue to fight against the oppression of the military throughout the rest of the 1990s in an attempt to once again achieve the political freedom that the military had taken from them.

The United States has attempted to aid Algeria in their struggle for liberalization. The United States gave Algeria aid outside of the realm of USAID in 1992 and 1993, however the Freedom House freedom score declined further from 1993 to 1994 by one point, representing negative liberalization. In 1996, the United States began giving Algeria democracy and governance aid equaling US$2.80 per capita in 1996 and US$12.38 per capita in 1997. Both of these years, the democracy and governance aid was 100% of the US aid given to Algeria and between 1997 and 1998 the Freedom House score increased by one point, representing positive liberalization. In 1998, the United States began giving Algeria aid for programs besides democracy and governance. This other aid came from outside USAID as well, and the amount of that aid increased sharply in 2001. In addition to this, in 2002 the US began giving Algeria military aid, however the amount of democracy and governance aid remained higher than the amount of military aid. The percentage of democracy and governance aid remained high through 2000 and then sharply decreased in 2001 although it remained relatively high compared to other recipient countries of democracy and governance aid. However, this aid did not result in any further positive increases in the Freedom House score for the remainder of the years studied. It is important to note that there were no further decreases in liberalization either.


*an inverted and combined aggregate Freedom House score was used in this study with 1 representing the lowest levels of political and civil freedom and 13 representing the highest levels of political and civil freedom

The Algerian data suggests that democracy and governance aid is important in achieving liberalization, but perhaps more important is the percentage of democracy and governance aid per total aid given. The amount of democracy and governance aid given in 1996 and 1997 was not very high dollar-wise, especially compared to the amount of D&G aid given to other countries in the region (i.e. US$1796.51 per capita to Jordan in 2000, US$1700.72 per capita to Lebanon in 2002, and US$848.98 per capita to Egypt in 1998), however it appears to be effective due to the fact that there was no other kind of aid going to the country from the US at that time. This may allow there to be a clear goal in achieving liberalization without interference of other US interests in the region. Although the US had begun a trade relationship with Algeria in the early 1990s, the US had no particularly strategic relationship with Algeria, so there were little other US interests at play in giving Algeria democracy and governance aid other than achieving liberalization. This is not true for the US relationship with many of the other countries in the region that receive democracy and governance aid and may be a factor in its decreased rates of success in achieving liberalization.

Algeria is an ideal example of the positive effect that USAID democracy and governance aid can have in achieving liberalization during and after periods of conflict. Not all countries in the Middle East and North Africa have the same relationship with the United States and political histories as Algeria, and these factors should definitely be taken into consideration when evaluating the effectiveness of democracy and governance aid. However, the case of Algeria demonstrates that when the aid is concentrated solely, or at least primarily, on improving democracy and governance, liberalization can be realized and the aid can be effective.

Works Cited

Entelis, John P. with Lisa Arone. “A Country Study: Algeria, Chapter 4: Government and Politics.” Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. The Library of Congress. Dec. 1993. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.

Layachi, Azzedine. “Algeria.” The Government and Politics of the Middle East and North Africa, Sixth Edition. Ed. David E. Long, Bernard Reich, and Mark Gasiorowski. Boulder: Westview Press, 2011. 479-508. Print.

Courtesy of US Army Africa

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