Destination Today

In July 2012 Algeria celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence, and the end of what is considered one of the most brutal of the 20th century's wars of decolonisation. Apart from the usual official pomp, Algerians didn’t appear to be much in a party mood. Parliamentary elections held earlier in May of the same year had replicated the results of 2004 and 2009 with the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN; National Liberation Front) once again winning a majority. International observers reported that it was one of the fairest elections the country had held, but many Algerians doubted the official turnout estimate of 43%, citing figures of half that as being more realistic.

Since the horrors of the décennie noir, the civil war of the 1990s, the country has enjoyed a period of peace, but oil- and gas-fuelled prosperity has failed to trickle down. People took to the streets during January 2011, protesting, like their Tunisian neighbours, about painfully high unemployment, housing shortages and the spiraling cost of living. But this dissent was soon calmed; many Algerians suggesting they are just too haunted by the past to stomach the possibility of a return to violence.

While this can be read as cynical resignation or stoic pragmatism, Algerians are slowly rebuilding their country, often in the face of crushing bureaucratic inertia. Cultural festivals are springing up and chic shops and restaurants are common on the bustling streets of Algiers, Oran and Constantine. The government has loosened restrictions on private ownership of hotels, something that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Algerians talk of past trauma and future aspiration with a surprising, and hopeful, candor.

In presidential elections in April 2014, 77-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika won a fourth term in office. Elections were condemned as 'flawed' by opposition parties because of what they described as numerous 'irregularities' in the voting process.

Since then, Bouteflika' health has become increasingly frail, however, and with no obvious successor many Algerians wonder who – or what – will eventually replace him.