This study provides a discussion and analysis of the circumstances that led to the military occupation of the core of the state and government in contemporary Algeria, and the ramifications for the process of building political and legal institutions, and the democratic transition experience. The study employs the concepts of populism and neopatrimonialism to paint a picture of the path taken by the government in Algeria since independence. Populism describes the ideology that sanctified the one-party state and revolutionary legitimacy, while neopatrimonialism is the resulting shape taken by the exercise of political power. Framing these two concepts within their historical context provides an understanding of the circumstances of the army's seizure of power and its identification with the state. It clarifies the reasons for its refusal to redistribute power within the society after the establishment of political pluralism in the 1989 Constitution.