Africa

The Army and the Status Quo

Late last year this blogger published a partial analysis of the discourse and geopolitical focus areas of El Djeich, the official journal of the Algerian military for a trade journal (readers may inquire if they like via the ‘About This Blog’ page). The piece focused on 2012 as a year of crisis for the region and Algeria and how this was reflected in El Djeich’s reporting on various regional topics (the Sahel, Libya, etc. counting numbers of mention for certain topics, places and so on) and editorials. The internal succession crisis (presumed by many analysts) was another area of focus, as the stability of the Algerian regime’s core depends in part on its ability to maintain control at its peripheries and threats posed to ‘Algeria’s stability’ at the regional and international level can usually be read as the sustainability of the core elite’s interests broadly defined (overlapping with selected regional-international interests). El Djeich – if it can be seen representing the ‘line’ of the high command — has held on to this defensive outlook emphasizing the military’s role in supporting the political status quo amid external threats. (more…)

RND Sketch

In the comments accompanying the FLN party sketch posted to this blog yesterday, this blogger wrote in passing that the RND (an FLN spin off that emerged in 1997 and has been the secondary party in the ruling coalition since a kind of backup singer for the ex-parti unique) was organized on lines similar to the FLN. It has never been as powerful as the FLN but can be considered a key part of the multiparty procedural regime that emerged after 1995 (it is the famous ‘baby born with a mustache’). This is true an extent though the RND has differences which are important only in the sense that they reflect a somewhat greater level of internal control at lower levels. The precise details are not greatly important. Ideologically the parties are not especially distinct though the FLN has a wider range of trends (more space for ‘national’/’official’ religion, a wider variety of Arabists and Algeria-centric nationalists, stronger statist/leftist tendencies and a greater degree of populist engagement); RND’s ideological position is probably best called ‘status quo’ or the disposition of Werenfels’s ‘nationalist reformer‘ where the FLN would have  a mix of the neo-dinosaur, nationalist reformer and perhaps even some regime supportive Islamists. In any case, the party looked something like what is below in 2010-2011 when the chart below was drawn up (note: the officers and leadership are now different, Abdelkader Bensaleh, not Ahmed Ouyahia is the current Secretary General; also note it does not go down to the khaliya (cell) level but refers to ‘local’ committee in reference to communal, daira, and khaliya coordinating bodies). The 2012 legislative platform was quite broad, very much focused on continuity. Its organization approach borrows heavily from the FLN in form. Note the image there is in PDF and is quote large and requires the viewer to ‘zoom’ in. Dated though it is, it can possibly be of some use.

 

RND 2011 (PDF)

New Chart: Another FLN Sketch

The image below is a sketch of the FLN party structure as described here, on its website. This description differs from past descriptions in some academic texts as well as on the party’s old website and in some flyers from several years ago. Past descriptions describe a larger number of committees for a wider variety of topic areas; this was described on this blog in the past (August 2013) here. The sketch here is simplified and should not be considered ‘complete’ (please contact this blogger with errors or corrections, or additions as such things contribute to ignorance and must be corrected and suggestions from those who know better help to combat ignorance); it does not go into great detail. It is meant to give  a basic idea of how Algeria’s dominant political party is set up and why it has been able to muster followers to the polls so much in the past and why that same structure has actually contributed to factionalism and dissension that was common over the last three years in particular (a big tent nationalist party with a broad membership and a decentralized structure at the grass roots which becomes more hierarchical going up the ranks, following the administrative structure of the Algerian state; this is similar in many ways to the RND, the FLN’s ‘little brother’ party). The process of decision-making found in the party program is not always adhered to strictly, a source of discontent internally; some do as they want regardless of the rules of procedure and factional exclusion often leads to the kind of multiple conferences and fist fights that marked some meetings in the 2010-2013 period. One clique has its direction, another has its own but they share the same party; and so measures are taken to activate obscure rules or to simply sidestep them all together. In the past there were Algerian observers and academics that observed a lack of respect for institutions and attributed it to long periods spent without a constitution, with the authorities living by decree, and a military-shaped political and party culture build having links to the strong role the military played in the party until the late 1980s. Today there may be something to this as well as the politics of the rentier system which when not managed best result in negative tendencies even among those attempting to do good.

Furthermore, on the even of the presidential election, an examination of the party apparatus meant to hold up the incumbent is necessary. The RND has a similar structure (not identical) and serves similar purposes. Both parties are products of the reform of the old parti unique system, in which political parties were instruments of military-administrative purposes, mobilizing mass power for regime initiated campaigns and the distribution of rent. In the old system, the party was among the weakest regime elements and one legacy of this is the enduring weakness of Algerian political parties, which remain dominated by heavy personalities, supporting individual or clique ambitions. Algerian parties often seem to be like capes for prominent people, the Louisa Hannoune’s PT, the MSP of Mahdoudh Nahnah, Moussa Touati’s FNA all follow this pattern. Once the leader is gone the party is likely to go with it. The administrative quality of the FLN and RND gives them greater longevity (though it is difficult to imagine their ability to survive out of power). These parties are made up of powerful clans, cliques and networks tied to the state administration and other leavers of power in the business and energy sectors, and so on; the military had a more overt role till the early 1990s and now has a more opaque one which often is more in the way of the retired than active soldiers having influence, sway or interest in its affairs aside from the political components of the security services, which have always had their ‘place‘ in all political formations in Algeria’s history. More to follow. (more…)

Book Review: Prêcher dans le désert: islam politique et changement social en Mauritanie

Prêcher dans le désert: islam politique et changement social en Mauritanie (Karthala, 2013) by Zekeria Ould Ahmed Salem, the preeminent scholar working on political Islam and religious social movements in Mauritania, chronicles the history of Mauritania’s Islamist sub-cultures and political trends from the time of independence through the present. It brings together two decades of work in the most understudied area of the Maghreb. There are few comprehensive treatments of Islamist politics and actors in Mauritania and Prêcher dans le désert provides scholars, researchers and students with a clear and eloquent tour of the sociological, cultural, intellectual and historical setting that brought Mauritania’s Islamists from the bare margins a generation and a half ago to being a relevant social and political category worthy of independent analysis and contemplation. It argues for a re-conceptualization of Islamic ‘radicalization’ militancy as one of several possible pathways resulting from a long-term series of negotiations over Muslim identity, agency and efforts to grapple with a wide palette of complex problems around statehood, ethno-racial and caste identity, rapid socio-environmental change borne from climate change, poverty, the struggle against slavery and the shari’ah. Prêcher dans le désert covers these topics in expert fashion, as expected of Ould Ahmed Salem, whose writings on most of these subjects should be considered essential to achieving a grasp on contemporary Mauritanian society and political culture. Broken into six sections, rationally and judiciously divided and providing readers with a well structured understanding of the arguments put forth later on. It provides a deep take on the emergence and political role of Haratine religious leaders in the abolitionist movement and in Haratine urban life, including fascinating case studies based on in depth discussions with the first Haratine imams in Mauritania. (The subject has been covered in several dissertations but in this case it is related to a number of interrelated trends and placed in a more accessible format giving it a unique value. Ould Ahmed Salem also touched on the issue in his chapter ‘Bare-foot activists: Transformations in the Haratine movement in Mauritania,’ in Movers and Shakers: Social Movements in Africa, Brill, 2009.) It additionally provides the most detailed discussion of the emergence of Mauritania’s Muslim Brotherhood (Tewassoul) and a unique presentation of the role of Islam in the Mauritanian public sphere. In studying the rise of political Islam in northwest Africa or the Sahel and Maghreb there is no substitute for this book, despite numerous monographs, white papers and articles. Few texts in recent years approach its breadth and granularity. Because the space for ‘Mauritanian studies’ is limited, especially in the west, it is a milestone and cornerstone in the literature on the whole and should be a first stop for those seeking answers to questions about political Islam, radicalism and radicalization in the Sahel, Islamist movements in the Maghreb, . Aside from prose that can sometimes be denser than preferable, there is little criticism for this volume. As yet the book is only available in French, though efforts for an English translation are underway and will hopefully bring this important volume to an even wider audience beyond scholars of west Africa and the Maghreb.

A Pillar of the Regime and Among the Youngest Ministers of His Generation

bouteflika-et-salahSome sections worth highlighting from ‘From Revolution to Domestication: The Foreign Policy of Algeira,’ in Bahgat Korany and Dessouki, Ali E. Hillal, The Foreign Policies of Arab States: The Challenges of Change, Second Edition, Westview, 1991, pp. 125. Today many conversations about Abdelaziz Bouteflika re about his age, his health, his expressions, and other features of the bizarre period since his departure for and return from medical treatment in France after strokes nearly a year ago. Some Algerians complain of becoming a laughing stock, falling behind the curve in a region with major changes occurring while their president, clearly ill moves for a fourth term. As most know, Bouteflika was not always this way.

It is worth noting historical depictions and studies of Bouteflika prior to his return to public life and rise to the Presidency, as well as patterns of decision-making during his most formative years, the Boumedienne era. Prior to the time when Bouteflika broke the record for longest-serving President of Algeria, and others broke their own bureaucratic records, he was among the youngest ministers of his generation and the longest-serving Foreign Minister under Boumedienne. Even on his taking office he was an aggressive public personality, spritely and dynamic. The ‘hyper-presidential’ model that developed under Bouteflika after 1999 — which brought stability to the regime in general and reestablished the Presidency as the center of power as such – after years of the Presidency acting as a proxy or extension of the military core especially after 1992. Bouteflika’s return to prominence caused tensions in the military among those fearing his ambition and ‘authoritarian’ tendencies and forced elites to take sides in the emergent order. The construction of what has sometimes been called a ‘neo-Boumediennist’ order is what has set Bouteflika a part from his predecessor, Zeroual: returning with the support of key military decision-makers, a country moving out of conflict rather than in the midst of it and political lifetime lived exclusively at the center or attempting to move toward the center of power. Bouteflika poses features of a common personality in political life: the political animal seeking power as an end in and of itself, not a mere means to an end, not a dirty ‘must do’ or ‘without which not,’ but as the driving force in his life tied up in transcendent visions intimately linked to their own self image and identity. These people seize opportunities during crises or as crises terminate, when they believe they can make a mark on the world around them. They attach themselves to causes and identify themselves with them publicly, if not privately. Such people are likely to make enemies as well as to win supporters because their ambition is often bolstered by charisma and attention to details even in small things that attracts the confidence others. They proceed deliberately, planning and plotting their way ahead over months, years and even decades. They often have personal visions that are bounded by a sense of realism or cynicism. They make no pretense or effort to please everyone and their accomplishments are often somewhat exaggerated. Bouteflika was first asked to act as a ‘fresh face’ for the military in the mid-1990s and refused, willing to wait for a wider opening for himself to take control and define the political direction of the country. Such people are often confronted by similarly ambitious and resolute personalities fearful of their ascent; they face the risk of backstabbing and counter mechanizations. Bouteflika is not an exception here a many readers will know. But those who know the land survive and Bouteflika knows the political culture and terrain as well as any: the expectations leaders are held to, the animating cues to rile up a crowd, the contours and borderlands between generations. He is also lucky: he returned to politics amid high and rising hydrocarbon prices, and  a world campaign on terrorism that made allies from otherwise ambivalent powers. If order and prestige on the international stage came with Bouteflika, a rebooted style of rule appears to not to have removed the opacity, malaise and ‘vision problem’ that has confronted the Algerian state since the departure of Boumedienne and the death of the infitah.

Three, and now four terms, of Bouteflika seem to have left the country with similar or the same contradictions and troubles that led to past crises. Since 2011, Algeria has appeared as a symbol of the old order, a reactionary regime hunkering down to avoid the catastrophes of its basket-case neighbors and paranoid of the success of its less dysfunctional ones. And the inertia in foreign-policy that seemed to have kept Algeria’s ‘playing its role’ in Mali looks to have been bound up in rivalries and internal conditions. Algeria has gotten bad press on this front, some of it fair, some of it less so.

Common apprehension about change aside, the risk of repeating past transition traumas is real and leaders of the quality or type of Bouteflika are not easy to find or create. Risk aversion is often a symptom of some other sickness. As many Algerian leaders, some more frequently than others, have urged in recent months and years, there is a an urge for ‘revitalization’ and ‘renaissance’ and desire for substantive reform. Changes in the security services leadership and structure and earlier reforms in 2011 appear to have been meant to appease some of this and to boost the spectacle of presidential power in times of crisis. Much of what has been done in the last two years seems to be meant to buy time for broader, harder decisions. Even more of it, though, seems to be the result of delays owing to conflict at hight levels and an inability to reach decisions because of glitches at the very heart of a hyper-presidential regime, structured around a number of interest groups and clans but reliant on some of those in particular for affirmative movement.

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Stability at Any Cost?

C’est enfin l’armée qui a choisi Bouteflika en 1999, vingt ans après l’avoir écarté. Hélas pour elle, l’arrivée aux affaires de ce dernier a considérablement réduit l’influence des militaires sur la vie politique. À tel point qu’en 2004 le chef d’état-major Mohamed Lamari (décédé en 2012) et une partie de la hiérarchie militaire se sont ouvertement opposés à la réélection de “Boutef”. Une situation inédite qui nuira finalement au général : avec la réélection de Bouteflika, l’armée perd, pour la première fois de son histoire, son rôle d’arbitre dans un scrutin présidentiel. Qu’en est-il depuis ?

“Coup d’État militaire sous couvert médical”

Ni l’omnipotence du président ni son habileté politique n’ont réussi à dépouiller complètement l’institution militaire algérienne de son statut de rouage essentiel du système qui gouverne l’Algérie depuis plus d’un demi-siècle. C’est pourquoi Bouteflika, tout chef suprême des forces armées et ministre de la Défense qu’il est, s’en méfie en permanence. Cette méfiance s’est accentuée après son accident vasculaire cérébral du 27 avril 2013. Redoutant “un coup d’État militaire sous couvert médical”, il est alors persuadé qu’une partie du commandement de l’armée pourrait le déposer en appliquant l’article 88 de la Constitution, qui décrit les cas d’empêchement du président de la République, parmi lesquels la maladie.

Lors de sa convalescence au centre de repos des Invalides, à Paris, Bouteflika entame les premières manoeuvres pour réduire cette menace. Il marginalise son ministre délégué à la Défense, le général Abdelmalek Guenaïzia, coupable d’avoir manifesté peu d’enthousiasme à l’idée d’un quatrième mandat. Le 11 septembre 2013, le président va plus loin encore en effectuant un remaniement gouvernemental : Guenaïzia est remplacé par Gaïd Salah, qui cumule désormais les fonctions de vice-ministre de la Défense et de chef d’état-major. Le danger est écarté.

Dans la foulée, alors que rien ne l’imposait, Bouteflika procède à une profonde restructuration du Département du renseignement et de la sécurité (DRS, services secrets). Par la suite, il actionne la commission des ressources humaines du ministère de la Défense pour accélérer la mise à la retraite d’une partie des officiers supérieurs, parmi lesquels des généraux manifestement opposés à un renouvellement de bail du locataire d’El-Mouradia.

Pour renforcer la pression sur l’armée, une campagne de presse contre le DRS, présenté comme une police politique, est lancée par des personnalités et des médias réputés proches de l’entourage présidentiel. Amar Saadani, secrétaire général du Front de libération nationale (FLN, parti dont Bouteflika est le président d’honneur), dénonce l’influence considérable des services secrets sur la vie politique et le fonctionnement institutionnel de l’Algérie.

Cette diversion permet d’évacuer les questions sensibles de l’état de santé du président et de sa capacité à gouverner. Les appels à la mise en oeuvre de l’article 88 de la Constitution ne sont plus un sujet d’actualité. Deux semaines après le début de cette campagne anti-DRS, Bouteflika sort de son mutisme pour défendre l’honneur de l’armée et celui des services ; il met ainsi casernes et mess d’officiers dans sa poche. Plus rien ne s’oppose désormais à un quatrième mandat. “L’armée n’est plus ce qu’elle était”, confie, désabusé, un général à la retraite. Ce n’est peut-être pas une mauvaise nouvelle pour l’Algérie. 

Jeune Afrique (online, 17 March 2014): ‘Algérie | Algérie : comment Bouteflika a neutralisé l’armée.’

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Complex Domination

An excellent piece at Jadaliyya by Thomas Seres [link] describes the Algerian regime as an ‘economic cartel [. . .] an assemblage of actors that controls a field (the State), and must agree on certain things in order to assure its benefits — whether they are material or symbolic’. This is among the best descriptions of the situation recently, particularly in terms of the ’4th Mandate’ debate and the almost unprecedented acrimony surrounding it in the Algerian public sphere and a system of complex domination.

This explains Abdelmalek Sellel’s announcement that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will seek to spend a fourth term in office. The reappointment of an old man who has not appeared in public for two years must have seemed to be the best possible solution to ensure the status quo. Perhaps there was no consensus in choosing another candidate? Perhaps this is merely a way to postpone the question of succession? In reality, any attempt to grasp the deep logic behind this decision begins to look like Kremlinology – a haphazard interpretation of the signs of power. That which is clear following Sellal’s declaration, however, is that the cartel has taken a gamble: it will not change its most illustrious representative, even though he has been reduced to an entity that must be animated by a series of grotesque tricks.

Of course this blogger and many others of fans of ‘Pouvoirology’ and the politics of rumour and conspiracy. Seres observes:

It was necessary, then, for nothing to change. There is certainly a lesson to learn: the Algerian political system operates just as well without a “functioning” president. This is also an example for commentators who tend to personalize political regimes. In modern states, bureaucratic mechanisms, budgetary constraints, and international accords all considerably reduce the possible impact of any single individual – no matter how highly placed in the system. Since the Algerian state is not a “failed state,” it highlights that a Head of State is unnecessary – at least from the point of view of effective decision-making.

We should also ask ourselves about the risks that came with this announcement. It seems self-evident that the desire to maintain the status quo does not ensure its continuation—surely that would be granting an exaggerated omnipotence of those who control the State. Again, we see that the candidacy of Abdelaziz Bouteflika very much represents a gamble taken by the cartel.

Contrary to what is often said in Algeria, notably by the many conduits of official paranoia, the risk probably will not come from abroad. There is no “multinational oligarchy that still dreams of subjugating Algeria,” no imperialist conspiracy that would seize any opportunity to destabilize the country.  There is one good reason for this: the Algerian state is a major regional partner and is increasingly cooperative. In Mali, the French intervention benefited from an authorization to use Algerian airspace, as well as timely logistical support. The Algerian commandos were also involved with the American Special Forces’ hunt of jihadists in south Libya [1]. As one indication of this strategic convergence of interests, an Algerian delegation was present at the meeting of NATO’s parliamentary group meeting in Rome. In short, Algeria and the Armée Nationale Populaire (ANP) cannot be seen as the target of an international conspiracy. The stability of the country is too important for its international partners, who have nothing to gain by speaking out against a solution that guarantees the status quo.

From this perspective, those who continue to claim that the DRS still controls the political landscape will increasingly find it hard to rail against Bouteflika’s fourth term.  After all, if the president is nothing more than a façade that hides the real struggle between “praetorians,” then who cares about the vitality of the individual who occupies the position? He would be nothing more than a puppet in the “façade democracy,” and priority would not be given to his election, but rather to the dominance of the military. But this scenario only holds if one considers the military to be the only actor who matters in the political game, which would be far too simplistic. Instead, it is clear that Sonatrach, the ministers, and even the presidency, all play a role. And it is exactly because the latter is in a position of power, among others, that it can be considered insulting to have an aging, sick man, run for president – again.

In the coming weeks, it is not the cries of outrage coming from the editorialists that deserve our scrutiny. Indeed, they have been indignant for many years, and their criticisms have never managed to shake the cartel [2]. However, it would be much more worrisome for the supporters of the status quo should Bouteflika’s fourth term become a common theme in the multiple forms of protests that express the persistent and profound nature of popular discontentment. We certainly have not reached this point yet, and there is hardly any doubt that the Direction Générale de la Sûreté Nationale (DGSN) will do whatever is necessary to prevent cross-sector mobilizations, tracking each slogan that exceeds the habitual socio-economic demands. And still, all forms of control have their limits. One should not prematurely judge the quantity of insults that people can stomach without reacting.

The whole thing is worth reading. It also reminds the reader to think beyond any description of a ‘political-financial mafia’ centered around one family or clan; and to look even further at the heaving tangle of interests that continue to dominate Algeria.

Another, Weirder Way of Thinking about Re-Organizations

This past autumn saw the rise of a narrative of a resurgent Bouteflika clan, perhaps reacting to two or more years of investigation and depredation by the deep state; the most recent posts on this site have dealt with this subject from a narrative standpoint as these events were reported in prominent Algerian media outlets. The ‘dismemberment’ of the Algerian security services, the DRS and its numerous sub-organs, looked to strengthen the Presidential camp by reorganizing its org chart, moving this department to the Interior Ministry; that directorate to the Defense Ministry proper; this other activity to the Presidency. The second ranking officer in the DRS — Mhenna Djebbar — was dismissed earlier this week (supposedly with other DRS chiefs); a move that fits well in the narrative of a resurgent Bouteflika clan moving to arrange a favorable line up ahead of elections in which the President or some successor will carry on the flame and whatever it stand for. On the face of it, this all looks debilitating, placing the DRS closer to the paws of its spooky doyen’s great rivals. This is how it was presented in most places and many informed people believed or believe this to be the gist of what has happened. Those who have spent some time exploring Algerian politics under Bouteflika often have difficulty accepting this; it does not carry on easily from the presumed anchoring in Algeria’s power politics for sometime vis-a-vis the President and the DRS. It makes the DRS look weak where it has previously been assumed to be strong. Sometimes it is worthwhile to explore other possibilities on a theoretical level for the sake of working out a bigger picture. Some will dismiss this as a useless exercise in conspiracy theorizing.

Recent events force the analyst’s mind to wonder and ask: What if those who look weak are strong and those who look strong are weak?  (more…)

Watching Out in High Politics: Algeria

Below is a list of trends this blogger watches/has been watching with respect to Algeria of the last year and will continue to watch in 2014. Others are likely observing some of these as well, and other important trends not mentioned here. These are not comprehensive. Business, exhaustion and health prevent immediate (though  eventual) elaboration in this post. (more…)

More to Consider: A Commission, Retirement, and Shuffles

On 30 November this blogger observed that ‘New “data points” will probably emerge by the end of December or later, adding to the mix,’ referring to changes and reforms in Algeria’s security sector. During the summer rumours circulated that changes would be announced regarding the security forces at the wilaya and region level, for the national police, and military. Several of these were announced or intimated in press reports during the last two months.

On 01 December Tout Sur Algerie published a piece stating that PM Sellal intends to form a civilian-military commission to review military promotions and retirements.

Elle aura pour mission d’étudier et d’avaliser les propositions de mise à la retraite ou de promotions d’officiers supérieurs de l’armée nationale, ont précisé nos sources.

Concrètement, le général de corps d’armée Ahmed Gaid Salah, vice-ministre de la Défense nationale, fera des propositions concernant le sort de hauts officiers de l’armée (promotion, mise à la retraite, etc.). La commission se prononcera sur chaque cas, avant de les soumettre au président de la République pour validation définitive. « Le dernier mot reviendra au chef de l’État », soulignent nos sources.

The article mentions only Sellal and Gaid Saleh by name and intimates that the commission will submit recommendations to the President, possibly leading to the retirement of ‘influential generals.’ El Watan has since reported that the committee and other crucial issues related to the military have been handled by Prime Ministry Sellal in particular; he has taken charge of ‘all management actions’ on behalf of the President. The El Watan article seems to suggest that Gaid Saleh may be among those impacted by the commission, or that the changes in the military-intelligence services have been meant to weaken the military’s political power on the whole rather than in specific instances. (more…)

A Dispatch from the Left (Tunisia)

Below is a translation of a statement from July 2013, from the leadership of the Tunisian Workers’ Party (POT, formerly the Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party, or PCOT), a leading party in the leftist opposition coalition the Popular Front (Jabhat ash-Sha’abiyyah). It was part of a public exchange between POT leader Hamma Hammami and Minister of Finance Elyes Fakhfakh, prior to the current leadership crisis which began with the assassination of Popular Front leader Mohamed Brahmi at the end of July. Tunisian politics has been extremely polarised since 2011, though with the assassinations and terrorist attacks of 2013, the last year has been notably intense. The tone of leftist opposition groups in Tunisia shows greater urgency and radicalism than much the rest of the opposition in Tunisia, and on the Arab left in general. One of the dominant meta-narratives about Tunisia since 2011 — especially among westerners — has been its ‘moderation’: its political class reacted to a youth-driven revolution with a soft-coup by a mostly politically marginal military, which led to a negotiated transition and elections in which moderate Islamists were joined by moderate leftist-social democratic secularists. Tunisian Islamists were cast as being so moderate that even its Salafists were friendly. Indeed, many have looked at the mostly secular opposition as being more extreme than Ennahda in their description of their worldviews (which is frequently shockingly maximalist). Opposition to Ennahda has evolved into two broad camps, a ‘centrist’ bloc, with Bourguibian accents and roots in the old order, and a rather hardline left-wing bloc, made up of anti-revisionist communists, Nasserists and others; something often missed is how radical the Tunisian left is compared to leftist tendencies in other Arab countries. Even if they can only take third place by eyeballing and performed badly in elections, Tunisian leftists have more ground game than their Egyptian or Levantine counterparts and tend to use rhetoric and take stands on religious questions that would be impossible elsewhere; they are also more strident in general (which says something about the Arab left more broadly). These parties often have the same problems that face others of their persuasion in the region: a lack of constructive criticism of either government policy or their own failings in recruitment, propaganda or getting out the vote (insufficient self-criticism); a tendency to fragment over the most trivial internal disputes — whether driven by ideology or personalities — at exactly the worst time; a maximalist line that can alienate popular opinion; a tendency toward hyperbole (in which they are not alone); discourses about poverty and rural suffering that sometimes tend not to match with the actual substance of their campaigns, though when compared to others in the region on this front they look quite good, though they do not match up to their Islamist rivals, despite significant advances in popular opinion and ground game. Many of these tendencies are not simply ailments of the Arab or Tunisian left but of all leftist currents, especially on the far left — and Tunisia has perhaps the biggest concentration of far out there leftists than most other Arab countries today.

The passage below — a polemical piece by Hammami in his typically acerbic style — highlights some of this in action, a sort of snapshot of the feverish spectacle of Tunisian politics which seems to get only more and more intense, till one compares it with the horrors of Syria, Libya, Egypt and other places where people struggle in similar and also very different ways against different odds. This piece was posted on a variety of Popular Front outlets last July.

Industry Arabic - translation services 300-1

This translation was provided by Industry Arabic, a full service translation firm that provides English-Arabic-French technical, legal, and engineering translation management. Industry Arabic will provide glimpses from Algerian and Maghrebi presses to this site as part of an ongoing partnership. 

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Struggles Continue in Algeria: What to think?

Since the start of the year, political discussions among Algerians have been dominated by one question: What next, after Bouteflika? News from Algeria in the last quarter has added drama to a sweaty political stalemate in high politics widely seen as a struggle between clans around the President and the chief of the DRS, Mohamed ‘Toufik’ Mediene. Struggles within the FLN and RND were seen to reflect this to some degree, as the party apparatuses struggled to find consensus over internal leadership (party committees and secretary-generalships) and external leadership – parliamentary group leaderships and even party congress meetings (and meeting places) all through the year. The crisis in the FLN was resolved with Amar Saaidani taking the Secretary-Generalship; but no reporting or rumour suggests this man poses any challenge to Boueflika or that he represents successor material. Rumours about the motives of clans and sub-clans, cliques and former party leaders’ ambitions and agency were rife. Investigations into corruption in SONATRACH, including foreign partners, ripped into Bouteflika’s entourage again (after the fiascos of 2009 and 2010).  Bouteflika’s deep convalescence in France is rumoured to have been what now seems like a tremendous series of rearrangements at the heart of the state: Algerian news outlets reported that on his return the president moved to dismiss one ‘Colonel Fawzi,’ the chief of the Centre de la Communication et de la Diffusion (CCD) DRS’s media unit since 2001 – responsible for information operations and media relations – and replaced him with a ‘Colonel Okba.’ This was followed by a series of public appearances in which Bouteflika received the military Chief of Staff, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister each time sporting the clothes of old age – blankets and quite casual attire. Though he was clearly reduced in strength he seems to have lost no interest in being an active president – this was not a man looking to be seen as a three quarters president. (more…)

New Chart: FLN Sketch

The graphic below is a chart showing the committees and secretariats that operate within the FLN — under the leadership of its politburo and the secretary general. It is based on an organisational chart that used to be on the FLN’s official website (under construction for almost a year or more). The original chart was in Arabic but is no longer accessible. This chart was put together in mid-late 2011. Readers are welcome to comment or correct at nourithemoor [at] gmail [dot] com. Since the FLN has been in the news recently for internal controversies around the politburo (and the absence of a secretary general, and  similar problems), it seemed fitting to provide readers with an idea of what these things look like as far as general, structural composition is concerned. Hopefully, there will be more to follow. (more…)

Translation: ‘Ton corps est ton crime,’ by Kamel Daoud

[NOTE: This is a guest post and translation by author and translator Suzanne Ruta, who has contributed translations to TMND in the past. The piece was written in the context of  the Amina trial in Tunisia and discussion around women's dress in Algeria.

Kamel Daoud, Algerian novelist and journalist, (Quotidien d’Oran, Algerie-Focus)  wrote this rant  the day eighteen year old Amina Sboui was found guilty in Tunisian court, of carrying pepper spray at a Salafist demonstration in the Tunisian holy city of Kairouan in late May.  She was still in jail as of June 5th, when she appeared in court, in handcuffs and a full body covering, to answer charges of public indecency and desecration of public property. (She had written the word FEMEN on a cemetery wall.)

The whole flap  began when Amina wrote in Arabic on her bare torso, and published the photo on facebook in March ” My body belongs to me. It is not the source of anyone’s honor.”  Daoud backtracks that hopeful assertion.  “To whom does a woman’s body belong? To her country, her family, her husband, her older brother, her neighborhood, the boys on her street, her father, and the State, her ancestors, her national culture and its taboos.” 

This is another of Daoud’s  highly original riffs, where he jumps from close up social observation, to millennial grief  you could call it, but somehow with a  heartening result.  It’s best understood against the background of fog, obfuscation and vast lies by omission that permeate Algerian TV (the lone state run channel) and political discourse.  It continues his lament, over the last year, about creeping salafism in Algeria, as its spokesmen are emboldened by recent successes in Tunisia. In Blida, Daoud noted lately with some bitterness an imam proposes that young women adopt the hijab at the age of ten!  Daoud has a big following in Algeria and in France for his witty passionate succinct commentary on current events. 

Daoud has been writing a column several times a week in the Quotidien d’Oran, raina raikoum – meaning your opinion, my opinion, for the last ten years. He is also a prize winning novelist and short story writer. His facebook link is https://www.facebook.com/kamel.daoud.7

Comments on Algeria

If left unaddressed, the social, economic, and political grievances festering beneath the surface in Algeria could rapidly escalate into popular revolts that threaten the regime’s stability. The government must begin enacting managed political reform or face the possibility of collapse.

[. . .]

Several factors have allowed the Algerian regime to avoid an uprising, including a cash surplus from oil and gas resources that funds direct handouts to the population; the protesters’ failure to unite around common grievances; the security forces’ success in managing protests without greatly inflaming tempers; and searing memories of the country’s civil war that make most Algerians shy away from potentially violent situations.

Lahcen Achy, ‘The Price of Stability in Algeria,’ 25 April 2013.

post-Arab uprisings one has to wonder: is “managed reform” ever a possibility, and if so what is its aim? Managed reform was what was being advocated in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia and elsewhere before 2011. It invariably was carried out only superficially — but was nonetheless part of the rhetoric of these regimes. They were always on the road to reform, and often did implement some sort of changes, especially in economic policy, but never democratized. If anything, appearing to be engaged in a process of reform considerably increased the political risk for these regimes, creating a gap between the rhetoric of reform and the reality of autocratic rule. Autocratic regimes that never claimed to reform, like Saudi Arabia (indeed most monarchies) or Sudan, turned out to be safer.

The lesson for autocrats from the Arab Spring, indeed, may be “whatever you do, don’t reform.” Do not initiate a process that promises more than you can deliver. If, like me, you believe the central cause of the uprisings was not strictly political or economic, but moral — that the regimes had exhausted their capital of legitimacy and were proving unable to renew it — it’s not clear that Algeria has reached that point of collapse. The regime continues to have legitimacy, after all.

Isn’t the story elsewhere, at the heart of how power and legitimacy is constituted and understood in Algeria, and what will happen to the real power structures of Le Pouvoir once dominant personalities leave the scene?

Issandr El Amrani, ‘Stability in Algeria, or is reform even possible?’, 28 April 2013. (more…)

Charts: APN 2012-2017 Features & Bodies

This post provides a graphic overview of some of the internal bodies and features of the 2012-2017 Algerian National Assembly (Assemblée Populaire Nationale/al-Majlis al-Sha’abi al-Watani; APN) — the lower house of the Algerian parliament. The graphics included below include the members of the APN Bureau and Standing/Permanent Committees and Commissions in charts and graphs. The information here is taken from the APN website, which has a good amount of information about the delegates and their activities, but not enough. Information on membership of the APN ‘Friendship Committees’ for various countries is not yet available there as it is for past APN classes (see the Charts & Graphics page for the membership of the 2007-2012 friendship committees).

APN1

PDF.

Some Long Thoughts: Algeria Plays Defence

SUMMARY: This post is several posts  originally written in January and February merged together. These posts were put off from being posted for reasons of time, attention deficits and levels of satisfaction. They were all originally experiments in ways of thinking about recent events to do with Algeria’s defensive posture (which has been the subject of so much writing lately). It is concerned with some of the public writing and analysis on Algerian foreign policy, especially with respect to Mali immediately before and during France’s intervention there. The main gist is related to Algeria’s strong attachment to its national sovereignty in foreign policy, its defensive (also called ‘paranoid’) posture overall, and the country’s self-image in world politics and their influence on its behaviour in the world. It is not concerned with evaluating or making a case for how Algeria or other ought to do one or the other such thing in foreign affairs. It is however interested in considering adjusting some common assumptions about Algerian foreign policy in general.

It also includes some thoughts on issues such as the assumptions and expectations seen in some public writing about Algeria’s military capabilities, its ‘success’ in fighting terrorism, the extent and scope of its ambition as a regional ‘hegemon’ mainly in the post-Qadhafi period, opacity in Algerian decision-making and its origins; it also includes some remarks related to the complications of Algeria’s ongoing generational transformation. It is not meant to be definitive or authoritative, just one grain of sand on a long beach. (more…)