On Dec. 25, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune addressed the two chambers of parliament to outline his administration’s achievements, stopping short of a formal announcement of a second term bid. The speech came six weeks after he appointed Nadir Larbaoui as prime minister on Nov. 11, ending Aïmene Benabderrahmane’s two-year tenure at the head of the government. The governmental change had been expected for months as multiple socioeconomic crises, including sustained high inflation and sectoral dysfunction hindering the realization of presidential promises and development projects, piled up on the president’s desk. However, Larbaoui, who served for years as a career diplomat before becoming President Tebboune’s chief of staff, is an untraditional choice for prime minister, highlighting the current administration’s prioritization of placing loyal, non-partisan figures in key roles. This shift comes amid other top appointments at Algeria’s leading companies, including Sonatrach, which welcomed new leadership in November, as the country prepares for a complicated and critical presidential race in December 2024.

Domestic politics are not the only factor at play here since the Tebboune administration is also eyeing international partnerships to bolster its standing abroad. Making the most of Algeria’s two-year term as a non-permanent member of the United Nations’ Security Council (UNSC) starting in January 2024, following its election last June, has become a top foreign policy priority, especially given the renewed instability across the Sahel region. In addition, the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, now in its fourth month, has imposed new regional dynamics that will shape the Algerian authorities’ maneuvers, messages, and policies as they seek to capitalize on Algiers’ popular historic support for the Palestinian cause. Therefore, it is important to examine the impact of these domestic and international developments on Algeria’s agenda to assess the opportunities and challenges facing the current administration.

Domestic dynamics

President Tebboune’s appointment of a new prime minister is seen as the most important domestic development in recent months. However, it came several months after a September 2023 executive decree granting new prerogatives to President Tebboune’s close advisers and announcing a major reorganization of the presidency’s structure and staff. These amendments allow the presidency’s agencies to follow up and report on governmental work and domestic and foreign policy issues, strengthening the influence of advisers and their involvement in strategic decision-making. On the one hand, this strategy will allow the president and his team of advisers, who effectively serve as a smaller cabinet, to bypass any bureaucratic impediments while the current government remains unchanged. On the other hand, these changes could also result in greater institutional instability, conflicts of interest, and clashes between different authorities. Such coordination issues often crop up around election time, but the work of the Larbaoui government will also have an impact on power dynamics with the presidency, the efficiency of public services, and the progress of ongoing projects with international partners.

On the economic and financial fronts, the Tebboune administration is once again planning record public spending, estimated at $114 billion, as part of the budget bill for 2024. Encouraged by ongoing European interest in Algeria’s energy sector and facing a crucial election year, the government will further embrace expensive welfare policies and distribute more social benefits in the form of a 47% wage increase, special allowances, and tax reductions across all sectors ahead of the presidential campaign. Additionally, several large industrial projects are expected to begin operating in 2024, especially in suburban areas, to respond to the rapidly growing needs of the population as well as the government’s economic agenda. While the cost of these plans remains high and is ultimately unsustainable, average Algerians have grown accustomed to the government’s spending habits, which makes it nearly impossible to carry out necessary reforms without undermining social stability. At the same time, the increasing budget deficit, estimated at approximately $45 billion, and the difficult financial situation of the public treasury will inevitably require a national dialogue between the authorities and various economic actors over how to reform the current economic model. It is expected that this file will be a key priority for any presidential candidate in the next few months.

Despite the numerous domestic challenges, all sides of the opposition lack perspective and seem unable to provide an alternative to the current administration. Algeria has almost returned to the situation it was in prior to the 2019 presidential elections, when the thought of new leadership, with all the uncertainties that it could entail, was too risky to envision, particularly for the security establishment. At the same time, rising popular discontent over the cost of living, bureaucratic restrictions facing businesses, and the day-to-day provision of public services constitute a serious concern not only for the current administration but also for the powerful security apparatus and key economic actors. While it is true that Algeria benefits from enormous human capital and natural resources, the authorities are still unable to fully invest and make the most of its potential due to the slow, centralized governance model and state monopoly on development initiatives. For the current administration, a successful second-term bid will largely depend on its ability to present viable political and socioeconomic proposals. These strategies must empower local communities in a financially sustainable way and include them in development plans while maintaining social stability to assuage the concerns of the security apparatus.

International context

Although they are important, domestic issues are only one aspect of the overall picture that the government will have to consider in 2024. Last August, despite months of local and international maneuvering, Algeria was not invited to join the BRICS grouping of emerging economies alongside new members Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, and Ethiopia. The reasons for the decision were not specified publicly, but it is safe to assume that Algiers did not receive the full support of all members given its domestic challenges, including its struggle to diversify the economy and properly integrate into the global financial system. According to Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf, Algiers will continue to coordinate with the BRICS countries through other avenues, such as various United Nations bodies and other multilateral organizations. Nevertheless, this setback and the related popular sense of defeat will weigh on Algeria’s choice of partners and encourage further rapprochement with Western capitals.

Aside from seeking additional foreign investment, Algeria’s main rationale for trying to join BRICS was the associated international prestige and relevance. Since the failure to join the bloc sparked broader disappointment among Algerian society, the Tebboune administration will need to explore other areas to strengthen its international standing and rebuild its popularity on the foreign policy front. In that sense, the upcoming term at the UNSC is the only opportunity left for the current leadership to defend its regional agenda and rebrand itself domestically. To that end, Algeria is likely to focus on historical causes like Palestine and Western Sahara, the Sahel region’s turmoil and security issues, and the urgent need to find multilateral solutions to the instability in Algeria’s southern neighborhood.

At the top of Algeria’s list of regional priorities now is the situation in Palestine, especially in light of the ongoing humanitarian tragedy in Gaza. In his speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2023, President Tebboune called for a special session to grant Palestine full UN membership. Algiers will likely work closely with Arab and Islamic countries to lobby for this policy goal as part of its UNSC agenda and to hold Israel accountable before the international community for its actions in Gaza and the West Bank. This engagement will be hampered by the complex international context and limitations of the UNSC system, but it will be used symbolically for local electoral gains ahead of the December vote. Algiers will also continue to draw parallels between the Palestinian cause and the Western Sahara file as issues of decolonization as it seeks to advance a solution to the latter that is more favorable for the Polisario Front, the movement for self-determination in the contested Western Sahara. Beyond these two key priorities, Algiers will benefit from Western support to encourage a political settlement in Mali and Niger, both of which experienced military coups over the past three years. The Algerian authorities hope that this approach will ultimately inspire peaceful multilateral and regional solutions to Africa’s multilayered crises. But managing relations with Mali’s and Niger’s juntas will prove complicated, as the recent diplomatic dispute with Bamako over Algiers’ alleged interference in Malian domestic affairs suggests.

Reforms and vision

As the country approaches the upcoming elections in late 2024, establishment actors will need to reach a consensus on available options regarding potential candidates and platforms. This includes an informal dialogue and negotiation process on a new program, both from the Tebboune administration if the president decides to seek a second term, as well as from any potential competitor. There are emerging signs, including recent appointments and presidential discourse, that a second term bid is on the horizon, but ultimately that decision will depend upon how the administration performs and how dynamics within the establishment play out before the fall. The main priorities will inevitably be domestic given the increasing popular pressure on the current leadership to provide concrete and sustainable solutions to Algerians’ daily struggles. The usual promises and government proposals are no longer enough to satisfy the population, and whatever administration is in place after the elections will have to address the country’s decades-old archaic governance system. The current challenges will require a reevaluation of decision-making processes and ultimately a transition beyond reliance on revolutionary legitimacy, which has served as the basis for the establishment’s rhetoric and policies since independence in 1962. This narrative is now undermined by the emergence of new actors, including a new generation of young Algerians and a growing private sector in post-Hirak Algeria.

Algeria’s re-emergence on the international stage in the context of the war in Ukraine has brought with it greater regional responsibilities. As Algiers begins its UNSC mandate this month, the existing set of challenges across the Sahel and Middle East will require closer cooperation with Western partners. The Algerian authorities are likely to leverage this mandate for public relations purposes at home and abroad, but they will also have to develop a vision for reconciliation in Mali and Niger and feasible strategies for the Palestinian and Western Sahara files. As it seeks to deal with all of these issues, the Tebboune administration will ultimately have to narrowly define its role and place within the international order. For that, domestic stability is key not only to prevent a return to the 2019 political crisis but also to ensure that Algeria can fulfill its regional and international obligations and commitments.


Zine Labidine Ghebouli is a visiting fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations and a Non-Resident Fellow with the Arab Reform Initiative. His work focuses on Euro-Mediterranean cooperation and Algerian politics.

Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images

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