[JURIST] Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika [official profile, in French] on Friday declared an initiative for sweeping constitutional and political reforms in order to increase the role of democracy in the African nation. The announcement, which came in a nationally televised address [video], was seen as a progressive step for the country in the wake of political protests in the Middle East and North Africa [BBC backgrounder]. During his speech, Bouteflika pledged to amend the constitution [AFP report] and make changes to current electoral law, ensure fairness in the country's elections, and work to improve relations between opposing political parties before the presidential elections in 2014. Bouteflika also promised to improve media relations [Siasat Daily report] in the country by introducing a new information law [BBC backgrounder] that would decrease fines for defamation and allow the release of currently imprisoned journalists. Unlike other nations, the political protests in Algeria have been relatively small, local events in the capital city of Algiers. However, the political movements have been gaining strength [Reuters report] in recent weeks.
In February, Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci announced the government will end the 19-year-old state of emergency laws [JURIST reports] amidst growing protests in Algeria and the ongoing protests in Tunisia and Egypt. The state of emergency, which has been in place since a series of decrees in 1992, gave the government power to limit political freedoms and even peaceful protests. Opponents also claimed that the state of emergency gave rise to arbitrary detentions. Algeria has been under a state of emergency since 1992 when the military canceled elections fearing a win by religious fundamentalists. The state of emergency was declared [DOS backgrounder] after it became apparent that the militant Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) would win control of the government. Bouteflika came to power, winning the presidency in 1999 with 70 percent of the official vote and appearing to have the backing of the military.