The Dimensions of Democratic Citizenship in Algeria

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2014

28 Pages


Citizenship cannot be reduced to a catalogue of rights and duties, but

entails membership of a group or groups, bringing identities into play in a

very profound way. It consequently requires an ethical shift that includes a

personal and collective emotional dimension.

Audigier, François. 2000. Basic Concepts and Core Competencies of

Education for Democratic Citizenship. Council of Europe: Council for

Cultural Co-operation, Education for Democratic Citizenship project,


“For true democracy to flourish... there must be citizens.”

Barber, Benjamin R. 1992. An Aristocracy of Everyone: the Politics of

Education and the Future of America. Ballantine Books, 5.

Citizenship is one of the fundamentals of the modern democratic state. Paradoxically at a time of a strong global pull of democracy, the crisis of democracy has never been so acute in some countries. From its contractual origins, and from the centrality of the idea of citizenship, democracy requires that citizens accept and recognize government. Moreover, democratic governments, more than other regimes, require the existence of a strong political community for the effective functioning of their political institutions. Citizenship in a civil society politically accommodated to a democratic nation-state is thus the expression of the political identity and loyalty of the people belonging to the body politic. The strength and cohesion of the national political community indeed depend directly on the intensity of the feeling of belonging among citizens. This perspective argues first that all citizens feel that they belong to a community and accept its use of power via the State; second that a certain kind of solidarity be established among the citizens, which implies that the latter see each other as part of a shared identity, and as right-bearing citizens. By feeling part of the political community, citizens recognize that their future as individuals depends somehow on the fate of the society to which they belong as well as the authority of the State as legitimate. Therefore, a weak sense of attachment of citizens to the national political community would imply a weak commitment of that person to the values and procedures that are central for that political system.

In contrast to the above democratic model, in Africa, the nation-states are imposed structures in which all the aforementioned requirements are missing. A disquieting feature of the contemporary crisis of democracy in Africa is that the race to join the club of ‘high performing economies’ has created a political culture of indifference to, and complete disregard for accepted democratic norms and practices. Despite the remarkable political changes that have taken place since the early 1990s, democracy in Africa is in profound trouble today and has not moved beyond the holding of multiparty elections. Most of the countries in the continent suffer from poor leadership and lack a common long-term vision on the type of democratic society they want to build. The aspirations of the masses for fundamental political and economic change have remained largely unfulfilled. Any attempt to explain the democratic deficit in Africa must first situate the problem in its historical context.

Contextualising the Struggle for Democracy in Africa

Since the 1940s, the African continent has gone through four distinct but interrelated stages of political transition all of which have had profound implications for democracy and development: 1) the struggle for freedom from colonial rule; 2) the post-independence nation-building; 3) the post-1980 experience with market-oriented economic reform, under the ‘philanthropic’ leadership of the IMF and the World Bank; 3) the post-1990 experience with multiparty democracy.

The colonial interlude profoundly affected every aspect of African life. About fifty years after the end of the colonial era, the prototype postcolonial African state, in most countries, remains dysfunctional, insecure and fragile. The vision of an independent Africa, which started to fall apart in the 1970s, widened the gulf between state and society and ‘democracy’ dividend failed to materialise in real terms. Poor political governance and unaccountable political elites, often supported by competing Western powers, cut short the national project.

Alongside the failed-state paradigm, Africa is viewed as a place of undemocratic and illiberal politics. There is also a mushrooming scholarly literature on the exotic otherness of Africa in which the continent is characterised by ‘uncivil’ societies, violence, civil wars, disease, famine, and social, economic and political collapse and disintegration. While these phenomena do indeed exist in many parts of the continent, we should not generalise. Neither are these political realities unique to the African continent, nor do they wholly apply to all African countries.

The overall assessment of the state of democracy in Africa, in the 21st century, presents thus a rather mixed picture of both progress and regression. Despite this hybrid representation, however, one cannot lose sight of the fact that the bulk of Africans have not given up completely on the worthiness of democracy. Despite the difficult road ahead, the struggle for democracy will continue because there is no better alternative.

The critique of the ‘democratic deficit’ in Africa has grown stronger nowadays. While modern democracies are trying to keep up a semblance of democratic principles, both African politics and government are increasingly slipping back into the control of privileged elites. This development has resulted in mistrust of the state and its institutions and provided a breeding ground for populist movements whose antipathy towards political elites quickly turned into the rejection of the government per se. Therefore the struggle for democracy in Africa is basically a political struggle on the form of governance, involving the reconstitution of the state.

Middle Eastern states’ records to date indicate more a duplication of than an exception to the general African experience. Almost three years after the Arab Spring revolts, profound uncertainties remain in the MENA region. Political liberalization in such a situation is also likely to result in weakening the central authority of the state without achieving a democratic breakthrough. From this perspective, the prognosis for liberalism looks bleak.

The Democratic Agenda in the Arab World

Whatever form democracy among the Arabs might eventually take, it will most certainly be non-Western in outlook. Secularism being the pivot of Western democracy,[1] and the major issue in the Arab world therefore, one would ask: Is it possible for the Arabs[2] to modernize, ipso facto, to democratize without secularising an Islamic society? Most Arab states have had a modicum of democracy at some stage since gaining independence from colonial rule. However, the popular demonstrations that shook the foundations of many regimes across the Middle East and North Africa challenged the very way in which the regions have been ruled for decades. In 2011, many Arab countries experienced an unprecedented wave of demands for democracy, which succeeded in bringing about, with the help of external dynamics, the downfall of several authoritarian regimes and forced others to plan reforms. Despite these revolutions, democracy is yet to thrive in the MENA region.

In most states, political reform has been constant however, in some countries, the democratic project has taken a backward step. Security threats have provided grounds for governments to tighten the laws. Algeria provides an excellent case study for exploring the ambiguities and malleability of post-colonial citizenship. Fifteen years into the country’s democracy, it is important that a review be undertaken to assess the performance of the democratic government. This paper aims thus to explore the dimensions of democratic citizenship in Algeria. On the one hand, it will look at the strategies used by the decision-makers to activate democratic governance. On the other hand, it will attempt to answer such questions as: 1) what are the new diverging and conflicting notions of (democratic) citizenship that are articulated in the public spheres? 2) What has happened to the stock of “social capital” in the course of democratisation in Algeria? What must the country do for an enduring democracy?

My approach is reinforced by the belief that ‘a democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience’ (Dewey 1916, 87). Therefore, I shall attempt to reinstate the ‘social’ in social capital in Algeria via the concept of social ‘embeddedness’ (Coleman). The concept of social capital will highlight social and political aspects of human agency, particularly the Algerians’ capability/incapability to serve wider public benefits of social welfare based on a sense of social obligation and shared identity.

The Dynamics of Social Capital

In its contemporary meaning, social capital identifies with trust, social norms and obligations and social networks of citizens’ activity, especially voluntary associations. Empirically, many studies have demonstrated a positive relationship between social capital and democratic regime change. Substantively, the social capital theory of democratization focuses on how the citizens of a democratic state relate to each other. The potential benefits of social capital can thus be seen by looking at social bonds.

In analyzing the nature of the relationship, scholars, such as Putnam, found out that voluntary associations play a major role in the process of democratic resistance and transition in fledgling democratic nations.[3] On the basis of this finding, it is argued that strong civic engagement can become a critical “locomotive” in the push for expanding and reinforcing democracy in a transitioning country. Civic participation thus builds the social foundation of democracy.

Putnam also argues that ‘fabrics of trust enable the civic community more easily to surmount what economists call “opportunism,” in which shared interests are unrealized because individuals, acting in wary isolation, have an incentive to defect from collective action’ (Putnam et al. 1993, 89). Therefore, the more ordinary citizens possess social capital, the more they are likely to be democratic. Trust thus plays a significant role in warranting stable democracies. Voluntary associations strengthen and produce trust and influence social interaction and co-operation between actors in several ways (Putnam 1993, 163-185). Therefore, the more social capital is used, the more it grows (Coleman 1988). Accordingly, distrust, breaking of the norms of reciprocity, avoiding one’s duties, disorder and stagnation, all result in the development of a ‘non-civic community,’ and social disequilibrium.

If Putnam’s idea of social capital deals with collective values and societal integration- a necessarily positive value- Pierre Bourdieu adopts a more radical approach. He stresses the negative aspects of social capital, such as its fostering of privileged clans. The French sociologist’s work tends indeed to show that social capital can be exclusionary, demonstrating, for instance, how people gain access to powerful positions through the direct and indirect employment of social connections that increase the ability of an actor to advance her/his interests. Bourdieu offers an explanation of the ways in which those at the top of social hierarchies can hold onto their position through a range of subtle strategies, which cumulatively form an iron grip (Bourdieu 1986, 249–50). From Bourdieu’s perspective, social capital then becomes a resource in the social struggles that are carried out in different social arenas or fields. And the problem of trust, which Bourdieu does not discuss much clearly, can now be dealt with as a part of the symbolic struggle (or the absence of struggles) in society.

Social capital, in any context, relies on people looking beyond themselves and engaging in supportive or helpful actions, not because they expect something in return, but because they believe that it is a good thing to do. Social capital, then, is an important resource for individuals and may affect not only their ability to act, but can affect the democratic process as a whole. Putnam’s and Bourdieu’s contributions offer a broad view of social capital in Algeria.

Building a National Democratic Society

Those familiar with the literature on Algeria would have come used to the idea of her exceptionalities. Politically, Algeria is known to be a democratic republic even though she is yet to experience a break in its functioning. She is also one of the rare Arab countries which escaped the Arab turmoil in 2011. Ethnic differences and overt conflicts were largely masked as the state sought to negotiate conviviality by emphasising consensus and unity. Economically, Algeria has sustained one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, yet mismanagement and corruption have undermined her efforts. Algeria has tried to widen the boundaries of participatory politics and more accountable forms of governance, yet at the legislative elections of May 10th 2012, power remained in the hands of the fifty-year old ruling party, the FLN, which has maintained advantages and privileges inherited from the colonial era, or greatly magnified in the post-colonial politics of nation-building while others are yet to enjoy the recognition and representation they deserve in a democracy. Their hegemonic power, in the ‘thicker’ sense, does not merely deny people the capacity to exercise voice and agency on their own behalf, it also closes off their capacity to imagine an alternative way of life, the capacity to question, to challenge, the capacity to aspire higher. The signs of political apathy and disillusionment have been growing, as evidenced by low turnouts at elections and the turn to a more radical politics in some parts of the region. The processes of modernisation themselves have undermined the fragile basis of earlier forms of social solidarity.

Like many African countries, modern Algeria is a product of European colonialism, independence movements and the various challenges bestowed upon new states in an era of globalisation. Throughout the past fifty years of Algeria’s independence, the central pillars of the nationalist project had been nation-building, national unity, democracy, and development.

At independence time, Algeria started the difficult process of reconstructing the political, economic and social frameworks of a country long plagued by colonial rule. A unitary democratic state has been established based on a broad bill of rights including the rights to equality, human dignity, property, education, social welfare, language and culture as well as the freedom of religion and expression. The Constitution also provides for the creation of special institutions to safeguard democracy. However, instead of witnessing a gradual process of democratization what we observe is a merry-go-round of liberal and non-liberal reforms at the periphery of state power. It is therefore legitimate to have serious doubts about the prospects for genuine democratic progress in the country.

Democratic Oases in the Algerian Desert

The notion of democracy occupies a privileged place in Algerian society. Everyone believes democracy is desirable. Educators, policymakers, politicians, and community activists alike pursue dozens of agendas for change under the banner of furthering democracy. The irony is that Algeria stands as one state in the Middle East that possesses the important preconditions for a transition to democracy. However many factors have plagued the road to Algerian democracy. Before defining the hindrances to the democratic project, it is important to pause for a while and ask: what conditions make democracy possible and what conditions make it thrive?[4]


[1] However, secularism as a political foundation may not always lead to democracy. A good example is Lebanon where secular Muslim college students are extremely anti-Western, (far more than their non-secular peers) highly militant, and tend to identify with Marxist and Fascist ideologies.

[2] It is important to note that not all Arabs are Muslims. Again a sound example would be Lebanon.

[3] Putnam’s ideas about the relationship between voluntary associations continue the long line of studies from de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America to Bentley (1908) and Truman (1951).

[4] I am borrowing this phrase from Isaac (1998).

Excerpt out of 28 pages


The Dimensions of Democratic Citizenship in Algeria
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
482 KB
combined publication
dimensions, democratic, citizenship, algeria
Quote paper
Doctor Malika Rebai Maamri (Author), 2014, The Dimensions of Democratic Citizenship in Algeria, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The Dimensions of Democratic Citizenship in Algeria

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free