From Algiers To Ankara, A Warning To Authoritarian Leaders

In Algeria, the Bouteflika clan was driven out of power. In Turkey, Erdogan’s AKP has “only” lost ground in the big cities. In both cases, the government’s legitimacy is being deeply questioned, in a context of economic recession and democratic demands.

Anti-government protests in Algiers after long-serving president Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned
Dominique Moisi


PARIS — Turkey. Algeria. It is perfectly artificial to compare the political events that have occurred in these two countries. A simple defeat in municipal elections for the AKP, President Erdoğan's party, in Turkey; the end of a reign, that of the Bouteflika family, in Algeria.

However, there are interesting comparisons and contrasts to be drawn between the two situations, especially on the respective roles of the army and Islam.

To begin with, the events that have just occurred send out a warning to authoritarian regimes, or to those that are going down the authoritarian path: They are particularly vulnerable to the political and social consequences of their economies' poor performance.

Settling scores

"Buying" the stability of its people, as the Algerian authorities have done during the so-called "Arab spring" period, and then waving the scarecrow of civil war was not enough to contain the anger of the streets. The ruling power in Turkey can drape itself in the banner of a conservative but moderate Islam, and play with the Neo-Ottoman nostalgia of a significant part of its population; still, the Turkish lira fell by more than 30%. Growth and prosperity are no longer present.

Twenty years is simply too much for both powers, for both countries. In Algeria, a stroke made the "Dying king" an object of pity, if not ridicule. In Turkey, Recep Erdoğan lost the confidence of his voters not only in the capital Ankara, but also in the city that had watched him grow politically, Istanbul. A page is turning.

AKP has called for new elections in Istanbul — Photo: Xinhua/ZUMA

The most dramatic change in Algeria is not necessarily the most significant or important one in the long term. What is happening in Algeria in 2019 can be compared with the events that Romania experienced in 1989 — though it has been peaceful for now: a coup d"état masked as a revolution. It is too early to say, but celebrating the victory of the people is at best premature, and at worst a dangerous illusion. The president was made to resign, his entourage chased away, and for good measure, the "business clan" was punished very selectively. However, we are witnessing more of a form of settling scores between supporters of the system under the pressure of the street, than the disappearance of said system. The army has made a scapegoat of the Bouteflika clan, hoping to save time.

In Turkey, the AKP will contest its humiliation for as long as possible, demanding a vote recount which — if done "according to the rules' — can only confirm the extent of its defeat. It is far too early, however, to politically bury Erdoğan. In the past, he has shown an ability to bounce back, a rare pugnacity. He is convinced that he is the only one who can embody a project of civilization, both Islamic and nationalist. He sees himself as Atatürk's "religious' heir.

Unlike Bouteflika, he is still relatively young and sound of mind. But the problem he faces is, ultimately, not so different from the one the Algerian authorities are facing. In the eyes of a significant part of the Turkish people, mainly in urban areas, power has lost its legitimacy. Erdoğan promised his people prosperity and glory. Prosperity is no longer there. Glory, through a decisive diplomatic role in the region, has never come. Ankara is more defensive — confronted as it can be by the rise of the Kurdish problem — than offensive.

Above all, there is a structural contradiction between Turkey's regional ambitions and its domestic policy imperatives. How can we rebuild an army that has been dismantled several times in its upper echelons, if not broken in its morale? Armament orders made to Russia, and no longer only to the United States, in addition to introducing an element of doubt about Ankara's loyalty to its allies, cannot remedy this. Erdoğan forced the army, through a series of purges, to become "the great silent". This expression, inspired by the French experience, does not adequately reflect the Turkish reality. The army, westernized by NATO, had become the main engine, if not the rampart, of the country's modernity and allegiance to the West. Even as the "temptation of the East" was increasingly embodied by Erdoğan​"s AKP.

It is far too early to politically bury Erdoğan.

If in Turkey the power of Islam has extended to the detriment of the army, the exact opposite happened in Algeria. Faced with the rise of radical Islamism — which became even more radical after the army seized power on the eve of the second round of the 1992 parliamentary elections that never took place — the Algerian army gradually shut itself off.

Unlike Erdoğan in Turkey, the Algerian government has not promised its people prosperity and glory, just "bread and security." Is the army, which continues to present itself as the only bulwark against Islamism, ready to give up the profits that accompany the exercise of power?, in a country suffering from the oil curse? For Algeria right now, el-Sisi's Egypt is as much a model for the army as it is a warning to the people.

Paradoxically, Turkey is perhaps closer to a real political turnaround than Algeria can be. In Turkey, the attachment to the democratic tradition has only been strengthened by the centralization of power and the attacks on press freedom and judicial autonomy under Erdoğan. Due to its recent history, Turkey is also culturally closer to the Western world than Algeria is. Will the latter succeed in finding the necessary momentum for the emergence of a democratic system? One can only hope so, cautiously.

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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