The ruling party has only widened its control over the various elected bodies, and as neighboring Tunisia and Egypt looked more and more unstable, Algeria has come under increasingly less pressure from Europe and the U.S. to reform, he added.
The rise of radical Islamic groups in the Sahara and especially northern Mali has also made Algeria and its powerful military an attractive partner in the war on terror.
Meanwhile, talk of amending the constitution has been shelved for the near future. According to Nourreddine Benissad, head of Algeria’s main human rights group, political freedoms are on the wane and the elections have been far from free and transparent.
‘‘It’s practically illegal to demonstrate or even gather,’’ he said. ‘‘There is no real political will to carry out social, political or economic reforms.’’
Instead, any change in Algeria is expected to come only in 2014 when President Bouteflika’s latest term ends and he is expected to step down. At that point, there should be an opening for a new political generation, and a power struggle between the military and members of the ruling party is expected.
Of the three Maghreb countries, the birthplace of the Arab Spring has appeared to be closest to the brink of violence and even a new uprising. Over the past few weeks, there has been a rising confrontation between the main labor union and the moderate Islamist party that won elections after the overthrow of the dictator.
There were days of rioting in one regional city that nearly culminated in a nationwide general strike on Dec. 13, which had been expected to degenerate into further violence until the two sides negotiated a last minute compromise.
Tunisia, a largely middle class republic of 10 million, was once one of the most repressive police states in the region under the 23-year rule of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, until his overthrow in January 2011.
After a relatively rocky transition, Tunisians surged to the polls in record numbers on Oct. 23 and gave the most votes to Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party that had been an implacable foe of the old regime. The Islamists went on to form a coalition with two other secular parties and promised democracy and jobs.
A year later, political tensions have soared to new heights. There is constant talk that the coalition is set to fracture; disaffected youths demanding jobs riot in town after town; and radical Islamism is on the rise.
Ghazi Gheriari, a political analyst at Tunis University, said the post-election period marking the second phase of Tunisia’s transition — while having more popular legitimacy — has been marked by less consensus and more bickering.
There has also been the rise of an aggressive ultraconservative Islamist movement known as Salafism that has increasingly resorted to violence. ‘‘With the new government, Tunisia is seeing more tension and problems with freedoms,’’ said Gheriari.
Part of the problem is that political opposition in the elected assembly has been weak, with little real support in the population, meaning it presents little effective counterweight to the ruling coalition.
Instead, the real opposition has been the unions and civil associations that have stood up to the government over issues such as putting references to Islamic law in the new constitution and describing women, in one clause, as complementary rather than equal to men. In both cases, the Islamist government backed down.
This, in fact, has been perhaps the redeeming hallmark of Tunisia’s transition: Even amid periodic riots, political crises and standoffs, the tension has always been defused and a compromise reached between the feuding parties. That contrasts with Egypt, where each side seems at every stage to be ready to carry their stand over the brink and into violence.
The ability to achieve agreement amid searing acrimony may be what saves Tunisia’s experiment in democracy.
Kamel Labidi, a long time campaigner for human rights and freedom of expression, attributes this strength partly to high education levels and the military’s historical lack of a role in the country — as well as the presence of a labor movement to balance out the Islamists.
‘‘The Islamists understood it was in their interest to make concessions,’’ he said.