Despite not really being in the news, Algeria still appears in the Western media intermittently. As the Maghreb’s last dictatorship, the recent wave of regime change and democratization has passed this important country by, at least so far. Algeria is the key state in Northwest Africa—by virtue of its size, position, natural wealth and regional influence—yet has missed out on the trend that has overtaken so much of the Arab world for the past two years. It remains notable that Algeria’s bloody civil war, which began twenty years ago, never really ended. And now with the help of Al Qaeda, the conflict may be spreading across the Sahel region.
Events in Algeria have long been underreported in the U.S. and Western media (with the exception of France), and there is a general lack of understanding of what ails the country. Certainly the terrible fratricide there in the 1990s got little coverage in Western media, despite the fact that it probably claimed twice as many lives as the Bosnian conflict, which ran concurrently and received nonstop Western attention.
Algeria’s nightmare years of 1993–1997 were a focus of the international human-rights community, which correctly pointed out that the conduct of the government was hardly better than that of Islamist terrorists trying to take over the country. But since 9/11, the Algerian narrative has been subsumed into the West’s counterterrorism effort, to the extent it is reported at all. Enormous poverty, inequality, and the regime’s rapacious and brutal conduct get little attention from Western experts, who seem more interested in speculating about potential Al Qaeda attacks in the Maghreb.