The Suspended Disaster: Governing by Crisis in Bouteflika's Algeria by Thomas Serres
After Algeria's president Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his intention to run for a fifth term in early 2019, a popular peaceful uprising erupted calling for change. Bouteflika, who had been in office since 1999, was eventually forced to resign, but the Hirak ("movement") continued to protest the country's inequalities and entrenched ruling elite.
The Suspended Disaster examines the dynamics of the Algerian political system, offering new insights into the last years of Bouteflika's rule and the factors that shaped the emergence of an unexpected social movement. Thomas Serres argues that the Algerian ruling coalition developed a mode of government based on the management of a seemingly never-ending crisis, marked by an obsession with security and the ever-present possibility of unrest, violence, and economic collapse. Identifying this form of rule as "governance by catastrophization," he shows how attempts to preserve the status quo through emergency policies and constant reforms can also lay the groundwork for a revolutionary situation. Serres contrasts the government's portrayal of perpetually imminent disaster with the uncertainty, precarity, and indignity experienced by much of the population, which fueled the rejection of ruling elites, a profound mistrust toward institutions, and new spaces for grassroots opposition.
Based on extensive fieldwork and theoretically novel, The Suspended Disaster sheds new light on the political, economic, and social processes underlying an uprising that changed the face of Algerian politics.
Thomas Serres is an assistant professor of politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is a coeditor of North Africa and the Making of Europe: Governance, Institutions, Culture (2018) and an editor for the Maghreb page on Jadaliyya.