Resisting change: In a region of turmoil, Algeria keeps a lid on

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Algeria has been idiosyncratic among North African states, and it continued that tradition in last Thursday’s election by handing a fourth five-year term to its chronically ill president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Mr. Bouteflika, 77, who is recovering from a stroke and who made his first public appearance in two years to cast his ballot, received nearly 82 percent of the vote. Turnout was claimed by officials to have been about 52 percent. The strongest of his challengers, former Prime Minister Ali Benflis, received 12 percent of the vote.

Mr. Bouteflika’s victory leaves a number of questions unanswered. One of them is who actually runs Algeria, since the president almost certainly does not. The answer is a combination of the Algerian military and senior party and government officials, in power for many years. Algeria has substantial oil and gas wealth, although its 39 million people do not enjoy a high standard of living, suggesting serious corruption.

Another question is how has it avoided the so-called Arab Spring that spread through most of the other nations of the region, bringing unrest and major change to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia? The answer is more complex. Change in those countries was initiated by two forces — technocrats who were opposed to the old dictatorial order and Islamists, taking the form in Egypt, for example, of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Algeria went through that attempt at change in elections in 1991, which were won by Islamic parties. The Algerian establishment and military then beat back the victors and reversed course, killing an estimated 100,000. The United States supported the overturn of the electoral results, in the name of keeping Islamists out of power. Other unique elements about Algeria have been its ferocious war against colonial France and the large segment of Berbers in its otherwise Arab-based population.

Despite his ailing condition, the election of Mr. Bouteflika was expected. Whether the kind of change that leads to reform can continue to be avoided by Algeria’s military and political elite remains to be seen.

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