Who's in charge: Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been president of Algeria since 1999. In 2009, he amended the constitution to allow himself to run for a third term and was overwhelmingly reelected in a contest that was boycotted by the opposition. Concerns have recently been raised about the 73-year-old president's health -- the state of which is a carefully guarded state secret -- and there are rumors that his brother is looking to succeed him. Bouteflika oversaw the end of the decade-long Algerian civil war and has worked to improve relations with European and African powers, but he has also been criticized for his failure to contain an Islamist insurgency associated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the steady erosion of Algeria's democratic institutions under his rule.
Warning signs: As in Tunisia, riots over food prices and widespread unemployment broke out in Algeria in early January. The unrest was sparked when the government announced a price hike on milk, sugar, and flour. Thousands of youths rioted in the capital city of Algiers, throwing rocks at security forces and burning down a police station. Algeria provides 20 percent of Europe's gas needs, and citizens are increasingly frustrated that the revenues are not being divvied up more equitably.
By late last week, while the situation in Tunisia was coming to a head, Algeria's sizable internal security forces appeared to have the rioting under control. Things have since taken a darker turn, with five Algerian men setting themselves on fire in imitation of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian university graduate whose suicide set off the protests there in mid-December.
Although Bouteflika's regime is unpopular and increasingly undemocratic, it's not nearly as repressive as was Ben Ali's, which may make it harder for the opposition to build a mass movement for its ouster. Additionally, there are no signs that Algeria's influential trade unions or opposition groups are willing to support the rioters -- who are mostly unemployed youths at this point. Perhaps in an effort to avoid association with Ben Ali, Bouteflika has wished success to Tunisia's new government.
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