Party Hopping Again

DZCalling’s comment on the previous post on Abdallah Djaballah pointed to the ongoing power struggles and divisions in the FLN, Algeria’s former single party until 1989. It brought these points to mind which would have been a comment on that post but were not strictly related to the original point and have thus been placed here. The reference to the FLN brought to mind two things primarily: (1) generational tensions and conflicts in institutions of the political establishment; and (2) attitudes toward political change and violence as they related to some of the experiences (especially the civil war) that created those generational rifts. These are general thoughts.  Continue reading

Something like Hogra

A reader sent an email asking about the politics of decentralization and administrative problems in Kabylia and who these things influence the Berber identity movement. The response involved some discussion of hogra — contempt from officials, the police and the bureaucracy. That whole attitude that We, this narrow set of technocrats, officers and elderly men, know best and letting the half-educated masses have at these Very Important Problems would lead to sheer collapse. The We built the nation and we can fix the nation or These children don’t know what’s best for them attitudes one sees among many many older official Algerians. And it gets mixed up and passed through with all the other tendencies one finds in Franco-Arab bureaucracies. And it occurs within elites, too, as the competing versions of the meeting before the resignation of Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid in 1992, between General Khaled Nezzar and the President. Some say Chadli, who is often thought of as dimwitted, was “convinced” to step down after a long discussion by Nezzar. Another more dramatic version says the General came to blows with the President (himself an Army colonel), with the idea here being that Chadli had a scheme to use the upcoming election to bolster his own position by empowering the FLN and weakening the military, choking him against a wall til he agreed to go along with the coup, “for the good of the country.” Continue reading

Notes on Algeria

The post below is a collection of notes taken down over the last two weeks; most of the notes are a kind of stream of consciousness. They are not edited except that some long bits have been moved and made into three footnotes. The first note deals with the CNCD and some problems it appears to face; the second considers the student movement; the third unemployed groups; the fourth the spontaneous demonstrators/demonstrations and their relation to more middle-class opposition elements and the regime; the fifth the question of the “memory of the Civil War” in relation to attitudes toward change; the sixth looks at the regime’s “normalization” effort and its general failure. There  is no conclusion here; just summarizes of general thoughts on the situation as this blogger attempts to understand and create another mind map on the Algerian situation. Some of it is dated by a week or a few days. Corrections and alternative perspectives are welcome as always.


One of this blogger’s favorite Arab poets is Mutran Khalil Mutran. Mutran was also famous for translating several of Shakespeare’s plays into Arabic He was born in Ottoman Syria but moved to Egypt where he did much of his work. His peers included Ahmed Shawqi, Mahmoud El-Barudi and others. He was one of many fine Arab poets in the late 19th and early 20th century.

“Boycott”  مقاطعة , written in a tone of exceptional defiance, is worth reproducing given recent events.

شـرّدوا أخيارها بحراً وبــرا

واقتلوا أحـرارها حراً فحرا

إنما الصـالح يبقى صالحاً

آخر الدهـر ويبقى الشر شرا

كسروا الأقلام هل تكسيرها

يمنع الأيدي أن تنفش الصخرا

قطعوا الأيدي هل تقطيعها

يمنع الأعين أن تنظـر شزرا

اطفئوا الأعين هل إطفاؤها

يمنع الأنفاس أن تصعد زفرا

أخمدوا الأنفاس ، هذا جهدكم

وبه منجاتنا منكم…فشكرا

A quick and crude translation:

Displace our best by land and by sea!

And kill our free, freedman after freedman [one by one]!

But in the long run good will remain good

And evil will remain evil.

Snap our pens! Will breaking them

Stop our hands from carving into stones?

Cut off our hands! Will hacking them off

Keep our eyes from casting our glare upon you?

Poke out our eyes! Will blinding us

Stop our chest(s) from breathing exasperated sighs?

Smother our breathing!

For that is the extent of your powers [For that is your effort or power] –

And in it lays our salvation. Thank you.

Forgive excesses and erors in the translation.

Algerians hit the streets

UPDATE: Early reports of tens of thousands of demonstrators, taken from news reports citing protest organizers, seem to be incorrect according to Algerian sources as well as news reports. Various reports put the protesters’ numbers at 2-5,000 in Algiers.

Thousands (if not tens of thousands) have taken to the streets in Algiers. Police have arrested and beaten so many demonstrators that jails are full and prisoners are being held in police station corridors or released. Of yet no deaths have been reported. The turn out has dashed most analysts’ expectations: most expected far less. But outside the capital and Oran turnout is less impressive. Locals in Annaba say a small demonstration was broken up early and the city is prepared for a happy Eid al-Mawild; Constantine’s several hundred protestors were sent home by the police. Algiers and Oran are Algeria’s two largest cities. Demonstrators have taken over the small 1 May and 1 November Squares in Algiers and Oran, respectively. Demonstrations have been reported in Tizi Ouzou and other parts of Kabylia. One of the Algiers demonstration’s key organizers and a leader of the CNCD Fadil Boumala has been arrested. One wonders whether the arrest of the demonstrations’ leaders will put down the revolt. The major factor to watch is whether or nor civilians start dying. The turning points in Tunisia and Egypt were when demonstrators were killed by the security forces. The Algerians avoided this in December and January and seem to be relying on mass arrests (in the main cities tens of protestors have been arrested). Thus far it seems the Algerians will need greater numbers to make a major impact on the swarms of police, political establishment and the limitations of the CNCD’s organizing methods. All of this will be thought about in more depth later.

More incomplete thoughts on the Algerian situation

The fall of Egypt’s long time dictator Husni Mubarak may have an impact on the demonstrations planned for 12 February in Algeria. Most assessments appraising the likelihood of a popular revolution in Algeria have been grim: Algeria’s civil society is too weak, its political parties too divided and unpopular to inspire or direct an Egyptian or Tunisian-style mass movement. Protests and uprisings are often localized and spontaneous rather than organized as previous Egypt’s 6 April and Kifaya movements were. Its urban geography, some wrote, is more restrictive than Cairo’s or Tunis’s, lacking large public squares where demonstrators might camp out or confront security forces. These are all valid points and reflect keen observations of Algeria’s political scene. One would be surprised if Said Sadi could turn out large masses of Algerians beyond Algiers and Kabylia. The other factions making up the Coordination nationale pour le changement et la démocratie (CNCD) are small, though each has its own constituency. The Algerian security services have been preparing to swallow up the 12 February protests over the last week (if not more), particularly since the state denied the organizers’ application for a permit to assemble. Because the protests have been associated with the RCD, many doubted the legitimacy of the protests and their intentions; in particular the FFS, the RCD socialist rival in Kabylia, refused to participate as well as have other opposition parties. Some have speculated as to the motivations behind the protests given Said’s links to the DRS. That the demonstration permit was denied lends the demonstrations additional credibility. (the CNCD also includes groups like SOS disparus (an advocacy group for the families of people disappeared during the Civil War), Tharwa Fatma N’Soumer (a group opposed to the 1984 Family Code and especially interested in women’s empowerment) and several independent labor unions.) If 12 February is a success in the sense of turn out it will not be due strictly to the work of the CNCD: it will owe to a whole climate of dissatisfaction and frustration. And the regime’s efforts to smother the protests may have the opposite of their intended effect.

The fall of Husni Mubarak might inspire some politically minded Algerians to go out and join the march in Algiers or elsewhere; but to draw the comparison between the Egyptian movement which focused on Mubarak and “his regime” and Algerian political problem is somewhat difficult. The Algerian regime is more effective at managing popular protests and riots than either Tunisia or Egypt, having done so for the last twelve years. The slow official response to the January demonstrations (as compared to the relatively fast and repetitious public statements from the former leaders of Tunisia and Egypt) helped the regime deprive demonstrators of public targets in the form of the the President or the Prime Minster. This was like partly a learned feature (the aggressive and callus statements from former Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni during the April 2001 events had a radicalizing effect not unlike Mubarak’s, though very different in tone) and the result of Algerian decision-making processes which ordinarily takes a great amount of time.

The regime already faced a significant popular protest movement in 1988. The response to that crisis is often remembered in terms of the 1992 elections, called after a period of impressive liberalization and aborted when Islamists looked likely to win. The years of suffering that followed are well known to most. The motivation for the transition has been revealed (and debated) in the commentary and memoirs of contemporaries having been the survival of the old regime by writing the electoral law to favor mass-based parties like the FLN so that the former single party could run younger, more religious candidates and co-opt voters’ religious preference while allowing the ancien regime to maintain its hard grip on the country with a popular mandate. The FIS, modeling itself on the FLN benefited from the new electoral law, though. Chadli failed and Army generals visited him in the Presidential Palace and talked him into resigning and giving them control of the country. The regime that came after, a junta, used Chadli’s strategy: it advanced Liamine Zeroual in the 1995 presidential election. The genealogy of Bouteflika’s leadership comes out of that process; internal competition between factions within the regime reflects the same institutional rot that afflicts other long-standing Arab regimes rather than ideological distention. Because Algeria’s core elite is divided between elements of the military and the president’s loyalists there is a possibility that the deep state may attempt to use 12 February as an opportunity to expand their role own power; encouraging or allowing violence to occur would give the security forces a louder voice in government. It might also give them a means of getting concessions out of the civilian leadership in economic policy and on certain political questions. But the regime as a whole understands how dangerous excessive force could be in the current regional climate. That one or the other elite faction might try to exploit the demonstrations for internal leverage is perhaps the greatest risk for both demonstrators, officials and their allies. Practically all key players understand the importance of avoiding the steps that led to the “national tragedy” though those in power see this as meaning maintaining power for themselves more shrewdly than Mubarak or Ben Ali did. In their view this requires a willingness to do just about anything, violent or otherwise.

Keep in mind that the Algerian regime has something neither Tunisia nor Egypt has: piles and piles of gas money ready to be dumped on the right opposition and social players as needed. The government can buy off political figures and their bases; it can attempt to pacify religious and tribal leaders by dumping money and infrastructure on them. Algeria’s leaders may benefit from the country’s status as a major energy exporter to Europe and America in the event of serious street struggle.

The RCD’s headquarters in Algiers was has already been surrounded by police after three hundred people reportedly congregated there to demonstrate their satisfaction with the fall of Mubarak. What kind of affect early obstruction might have will depend on how many people turn out in force to begin with: the masses of police on the streets may have a serious psychological impact on smaller demonstrators and if the demonstrations are as easily dispersed as on 22 January its unlikely that much else will follow. And while many Algerians are thoroughly dissatisfied with Bouteflika, most understand the real political challenge is the whole system, the politicized military leadership, the economic oligarchs, the  not mere personalities. Many Algerians have been impressed by the fall of Mubarak, though. Buses of people are heading to Algiers from the surrounding cities and provinces, blocked by the police. By cutting out those seeking to protest peacefully (and with a limited popular appeal) the regime is increasing the likelihood of spontaneous, violent demonstrations which may indeed be to the government’s advantage. While the opposition is weak and without strong popular credentials (not wholly committed to the 12 February movement) there is more potential for something much bigger than previously anticipated as a result of recent events and the anxiety they may cause in the security services and the government at large. Mubarak’s fall has raised the stakes for Algeria’s 12 February march. But his fall does not necessarily make Bouteflika’s imminent. More to come.

Incomplete thoughts on the Algerian Situation

[Compiled from a series of notes taken down from Wednesday, 2 January - Saturday, 5 February.]

It has been announced the Algerian government plans to lift the nine-teen year state of emergency “very soon,” and will undertake economic measures to increase job growth and social stability (for instance, more housing credits). Promises of fair access to media for political parties have been mentioned. As both houses of parliament broke they pledged increase dialogue and involvement with youth. This may be seen as a response to uprisings in late December and January and in anticipation of planned demonstrations in Algiers on 12 February (organized by political parties and activists under the banner of the Committee for Coordination of National Change and Democracy), as Algerian decision-makers watch developments in Egypt. Official statements have mentioned that the purpose of the emergency law is to fight terrorism and that in the event of its removal legal provisions will be made to ensure that the counter-terrorism capacities it allows do not suffer. The president clarified that although the state of emergency would eventually be lifted, protests would not be allowed in the capital “for reasons well known”. Former Interior Minister and current Deputy Prime Minister Noureddine Zerhouni warned that protestors would be responsible for what happens to them if they turn out in Algiers in violation of the emergency law. (Indeed, Algiers is reportedly thick with security ahead of 12 February.) These announcements marked the president’s first comments following the unrest in December and January. The opposition greeted these measures with suspicion and cautious optimism. They are unlikely to address the deep grievances of average Algerians. Many Algerians see talk of repealing the emergency law while adopting new anti-terror laws as a normalization of the status quo. Continue reading

More on Algeria’s riots

Photo credi: Amekinfo, Flickr

Hugh Roberts, one of the best analysts writing about Algeria in English period. He is one of the few Algeria watchers whose insight spans both the pre and post-1988, bringing insight into the background and substance of Algerian politics whenever he writes. Those interested in contemporary Algerian politics must find his various working papers and reports (from LSE and ICG especially) and the collection of essays in The Battlefield (Verso, 2002) and read them, multiple times. He is due to release a new book sometime in the near future on Kabyle politics, which promises help deepen our understanding of Algeria’s political culture(s). A lecture on Algerian riots may be heard here. A longer paper on Algerian riots, especially in view of 1988, can be read here in PDF form. His piece for Foreign Policy‘s Middle East Channel should be read in full: Continue reading

Some thoughts on political responses to the Algerian riots

This post is a summary of political responses to the Algerian riots from parties and personalities. While public figures have differed in the nuances of what they have had to say the majority of them have been explicitly in urging dialogue and calm; virtually none have sought to egg the youth rioters on or claim leadership over them. While many recognize the overtly political dimensions of the riots most participating in parliament or other government functions have sought to refit the public narrative back toward economic or social issues that can be dealt with through changes or adjustments in policy under the existing regime. Even those assigning blame to systemic factors avoid blaming the President or specific individuals. Most with stakes in the current system have shifted blame to some kind of manipulation by economic actors or the exaggerations of outsiders. Bold condemnations of corruption and mismanagement have not meant calls for regime change or changes in the political order as a whole. Most political parties have put out communiques and their leaders have commented on the unrest itself, especially those in the opposition. The three ruling parties – the FLN, RND and MSP – have done the same though the FLN and RND have been less vocal as parties than all the others. The President and Prime Minister have been quiet.

There seems to be an onward trend in the tumult. Rioting has spread into the deep south, Bechar and Ouargla. The rioting has targeted banks, schools, post offices, foreign car dealerships, local government buildings, gas stations, shopping malls, the Ministry of Education and other locations not directly related to the high cost of sugar, olive oil or flour. 23,000 liters of oil have been looted in Setif, though with similar reports elsewhere. Youth have burst into hotels to loot “computers and even couches”. Videos of rioting in Bab el-Oued can be seen here. Young men have been arrested in the tens in various parts of the country, with the Interior Ministry reporting over 1,000 arrests in total. Contacts in Algiers say the rioting has been contained inside various neighborhoods while those in Setif and eastern Algeria say that when they have gotten underway, the riots have swept through large parts of towns and cities.  Paratroopers and other elite army units have been reported on the highway out of Benaknoun, perhaps in anticipation of more serious disturbances. Thus far the government and security services appear to be wary of a heavy response, hoping the riots will lose momentum without the explicit support of the opposition and seemingly no leadership of their own. The comments of various political and bureaucratic leaders seem to indicate a fear that things could fall out of their control if they react too aggressively. During previous incidents on this scale, former Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni was known for making inflammatory and callus remarks about youths. Though Ould Kablia and Djiar’s comments have been out of touch they have been less combative than in the past. Three Algerians died in Tipaza, Boumerdes and M’Sila. Hundreds of people have been injured. But the police appear relatively more disciplined than in previous instances of similar unrest. There have not been reports of indiscriminate beatings or shooting — at least not yet. Algerians report night raids aimed at picking up “trouble makers” and those suspected of organizing protests or whipping up riots. Though there is an obvious political line flowing from the riots these have yet to be harnessed by any visible political force. Continue reading

Rise and Fall, Push and Pull (Pt. IV)

Sports serve three Great Purposes: 1) To bring and keep groups together; 2) To distract (or release) group members from hardship, corruption, and other pedestrian and elite failures; and 3) To train the group for being set upon another group (or groups) — both mobilization and scapegoating. Sports are integral to building and maintaining ʿaṣabiyya. This is why developing countries often have whole ministries of “sports” or “sports and youth.” Team sports in particular teach young people that there is something greater than the individual in this world, the primacy of group survival and glory over individual recognition (Our Survival). It introduces young men to concepts like legitimacy and obedience to group authority outside the family setting. Learning sportsmanship can spill over into good manners, an understanding of duty and responsibility and other chivalrous attributes. (Of course, not everyone learns those things.) Membership in a group, a team or club, helps to socialize young citizens into civil society, builds pride in self, neighborhood, city and nation. As such, sports clubs are key in nation-building and other such projects. Recreational sporting encourages better citizenship. bowlers are famous for being more likely to vote than other Americans. All this is especially true where participation in sports is concerned. It spills over onto spectators, who put their faith in the team, drape themselves in its colors and reel with every try and every goal.

Fans learn something more useful from sporting: loyalty. Continue reading

Victor and Vanquished in Algerian Presidential Elections

Here are some graphs showing some trends in recent Algerian presidential elections from 1995-2009. In themselves they say very little; but what they are interesting in that they chart Bouteflika’s progressive domination of the political scene by looking at the number of candidates, the percentage of the vote won by victors (i.e., Zeroual and Bouteflika) and the opposition “winners” (second place candidates) and “losers” (last place opposition candidates). There is nothing new (or scientific) in this post; all of it has been out in the public domain for some time and the observations are not especially new. Yet graphs are fun and, since succession questions are spinning around, there is no real harm in looking at some electoral trends over the last decade and a half. Another set, looking parliament is also in order (later).

In at least the last decade two observations can be made: (1) 1999-2009 has been one of Bouteflika’s ascendence and consolidation and (2) anybody opposing him (through formal political processes at least) or actively seeking to court his favor can be called a “loser” in Algerian politics. The second observation can be divided into two further observations: (1) that those seeking to oppose him through formal means have found themselves effectively shut out of any central or meaningful advisory capacity in government; and (2) those who have sought his favor have been minor actors seeking to gain prestige and notoriety by opposing him through formal mechanisms which “legitimizes” as tightly control political processes and gets them in the newspapers but often do this at the expense of their popular credibility. Algerians refer to this as “letting the bunnies out of the cage.” Continue reading

Political Regionalism in Algeria: East side-West side?

Algeria in all its parts

The degree to which regionalism, real or imagined, factors into Algerian political calculus is interesting. Many Algerians (and outside observers) discount regionalist tendencies in the leadership caste. The war generation tended to de-emphasize regional, ethnic and even religious differences to build consensus and nationalism. There are, nevertheless, tendencies for men from particular areas to have say over the nation as a whole, not as a result of deliberate conspiracies  but more because of circumstances. The urban areas were historically centers of political power that struggled to control the tribal and nomadic populations on the periphery. The French were the first to make Algiers indisputable center of political power Algeria (the Ottomans never really got it). But that was European power and when the Europeans left at independence, rural people took their place (Algiers was a majority European before 1962). The result is that Algiers tends not produce leadership clans or political factions; instead political factions with their origins outside the capital, in eastern Algeria, western Algeria or Kabylia, tend to impose themselves on Algiers. Though Algeria is a unitary (if highly complex) state, its capital is the locus of institutional powers that are filled from other parts of the country. Algiers does not dominate Algerian politics. Algerian politics dominates Algiers.

Regionalism and political clannishness are a result of this background; a variety of political cliques developed during the War of Independence and the nation-building process afterward. Men who served in the war-time maquis or ALN clustered together, often according to which wilaya they fought in or what FLN/ALN base they served on outside (or inside) the country. Other alliances were the result of education or personal friendships. As the military became increasingly professionalized, men who were sent abroad for training, to the Soviet Union, Jordan, Egypt, France or China, made good with each other. In the technocratic fields men were tied together by schooling, hometowns, departments or simple corruption. Whether men were urban or rural helped to color the type of bonds and clannishness that developed.

Today networks of corruption bind various “clans” of the national elite, whether in SONATRACH or the ministries or the military. Many retired military men have since gone into the privatized industries, import-export and so on. Many have friends in France or elsewhere in Europe. In the energy sector many have relationships as a result of studying in Europe or North America (even Russia) or because they embezzled money with colleagues. Changes in economic policy or public exposure can be a weapon. The result is a tendency toward secrecy (already in place among many during the wars) and mutual “respect for honor” (code for not talking about other people’s misdeeds). A few observations about the regionalized view of these “clans,” which have their own internal réseaux (شلة) within them that are too cloudy to get into in a blog post, may be in order. This post is not complete as an appraisal of existing political “clans” by any means and does not aim to be. Continue reading

لا لحجب الإنترنت بالجزائر – Non à la censure de l’Internet en Algérie – No to Internet Censorship in Algeria.

I encourage readers to read and sign the petition against internet censorship in Algeria. Below is information for Algerians and sympathizers on how to stand up to the Algerian authorities’ move against freedom of expression and speech. Please pass it on to friends and others interested: Continue reading

On the Minaret ban

One should register no surprise that the continent which produced the Inquisition, anti-Semitism, the Crusades and the Holocaust would give rise to a sentiment that would lead 57% of Swiss voters to ban the construction of minarets. It should be even less surprising that this would come round in a country where the largest party in parliament made itself so by posting up images of white sheep bucking black ones off of the national flag. Proponents of the Swiss ban on the construction of minarets say they fear the imposition of sharia law; that the towers rising off of mosques illustrate Muslim dominance over their society. They go on that Muslims, unlike Christians or Jews, make “political and legal demands.” To preserve Swiss culture and law, no more minarets ought to go up. Some feminists, representing the most assuredly misguided sect yet to speak, added that the minaret is a phallic symbol, representing male oppression of women. Cutting minarets from the skyline would, in their minds, take a stand against misogyny. “If we give them a minaret, they’ll have us all wearing burqas,” as one put it. The Muslims don’t believe women to have any worth and we ought to convince them otherwise by keeping them from building vertically, to paraphrase another. We should be eager to catch a flier compelling us to a rally urging a ban on the construction of bell towers and spires, of slender and high reaching sculptures. Such a hope would only yield disappointment, though. For even if we would like to assume the good and honest intentions of the ban — to accept the line of one parliamentarian that the trouble isn’t Muslims as people, but merely the legal implications of their religion — we would be stupid, foolish and criminally gullible to do so. It would be disingenuous to call the majority decision on the matter anything but an expression of popular and growing racism and bigotry in Swiss society. Worst of all is that we may not say that a wretched government is responsible for this violation of religious freedom. It was the Swiss people — though it is better to say the unenlightened among them. Continue reading

The Soltani Affair and its possibe implications, I

Here is Soltani’s denial of the torture accusations raised against him by Anwar Abdelmalek. He claims that he was in Yemen at the time he alleged to have committed the act.:

Eclaboussé par une affaire de torture, le dirigeant du Mouvement de la société pour la paix, Bouguerra Soltani, a démenti hier en marge d’une rencontre au siège du parti, avoir participé à une telle pratique.

« Où se pratique la torture, chez moi ou au siège du parti ? », lance tout de go le chef du MSP avant d’ajouter : « Comment aurais-je pu assister à une séance de torture à Châteauneuf. Est-ce qu’un citoyen algérien est en droit d’assister à une telle pratique sans autorisation des autorités concernées ? » Tout en affirmant, en marge d’une rencontre-débat sur la loi de finances 2010, que le plaignant qui l’accuse auprès des autorités suisses a « menti ». Bouguerra Soltani souligne qu’à la date du 1er juillet 2005, qui correspond à celle où Anouar Malek dit avoir été torturé par les services secrets, il se trouvait en dehors du territoire national.

« J’étais en mission officielle à Sanaâ pour participer à la 32e session de la Conférence islamique », indique Soltani en notant qu’après cette mission, il s’est dirigé vers la ville libyenne de Syrte dans le cadre aussi d’une mission officielle. « J’ai toujours en ma possession l’ordre de mission de la Présidence ainsi que le badge pour assister à la Conférence, je peux vous les montrer. J’ai toutes les preuves que du 28 juin au 7 juillet 2005 je n’étais pas en Algérie. » Ceci et d’ajouter : « Je n’ai reçu aucune convocation de la justice suisse. » Pour rappel, Anouar Malek, journaliste et écrivain en exil en France, était au moment des faits chef de service du commissariat politique, et Bouguerra Soltani était ministre d’Etat.

Par N. B.

It is important to ask:

  • The alleged incident occurred in 2005: why has Abdelmalek not raised the matter until 2009?
  • How consistent is Abdelmalek’s story? Abdelmalek worked in counter terrorism and has accused Soltani of recruiting Algerians to go to Afghanistan. Does he have an ulterior motive and which Algerians are backing him?
  • Why was the case filed in Switzerland, where no legal action could be is likely to have been taken?
  • What are the political ramifications of the affair? Will it affect the MSP’s standing in the cabinet or parliament?
  • Why is Abdelmalek, who claims to have been ordered to carry out actions “against his conscience” pursuing Soltani alone but not other officials?
  • Why have Abdelmalek’s comments been published in the pages of ech-Chorouk, which is usually not hostile to the government? Ech-Chorouk is also know to publish sensational (if not false, as in the case of the recent football madness), nutty, anti-Semitic and otherwise wretched stories. Regardless of its wide circulation, why would Abdelmalek publish there?
  • Soltani has many enemies in and out of government, and in his own party (e.g., Abdelmadjid Menasra, though he’s actually split from the party). He has faced corruption accusations (for deals with Chinese fishing companies), and made some claims of his own against others. Many see the frequent scandals around Soltani as part of efforts at revenge. If this is one, who stands to benefit from it (beyond Abdelmalek)?
  • If the affair ends up discrediting Soltani and his party ends up with a new leader, who is it and does that man have anything to do with what’s going on now?
  • What role has Bouteflika or any of the major bureaucratic, military and political clans play in this, if at all?
  • Is the case relevant to the average Algerian?

As Houwari points out in the comments of the previous post, its important to look at the Soltani Affair in terms of regime politics. That the chief of a major governing political party would personally direct a torture session is itself a difficult scenario to fathom. Soltani has enemies, Abdelmalek is just one. Abdelmalek’s displeasure with the Algerian regime is mostly focused on Soltani individually, not institutionally — that is, he has not attacked other elements in the regime. Soltani and the MSP are lams before wolves, dependent on stronger factions for their position and authority. At once this could mean that Abdelmalek really is only looking for the person who tortured him or it could mean that he represents another attempt to bring Soltani down from within the regime (either the deep state or even the presidency) — or both. The MSP is in a rough spot of late: several of its ranking members have been implicated in a number of corruption cases and it is likely that they will suffer for having been caught. Is there a connection between Abdelmalek and the series of MSP leaders being exposed for corruption? That Ech-Chorouk is publishing Abdelmalek’s protests against Soltani says that there are powerful people interested in the case, but those reasons are still unclear. More to come.

Boudjerra Soltani: the Brotherhood by day, water-boarding by night

One must necessarily revise his thesis regarding the role of the MSP in legitimizing governmental authority when its leader, Boudjerra Soltani, was nearly arrested in Switzerland for having personally directed a 2005 torture session in mid-October. Such activity does nobody much good in the way of legitimacy, credibility or religious conviction. Soltani denies that he deliberately fled the country on 16 October, when he was in Geneva ahead of a Muslim conference he was to attend in Fribourg. It is alleged that the Swiss assisted in Soltani’s escape, fearing the fallout from yet another North African incident. The victim is Nouar Abdelmalik, a former soldier in the Algerian army. He now lives in France with refugee status, according to TRIAL (the NGO that facilitated his suit against Soltani). Soltani is the head of the Movement for a Society of Peace, the Algerian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Continue reading

“The State is an ostrich”

Gulagh seg Tizi Ouzou

Armi d Akdadu

Ur hekim-en ddeggi aken ellan.

Anerez wala aneknu

Axir da3wessu Anda

tsqwiden chifan.

Del gherva tura deg qeru

Guglagh r ne nfu

Waa laquba gger ilfan.¹

– Si Mohand

El Watan ran an article on the “culture of rioting,” that has become common place in Algeria. Its emphasis is primarily urban: over the last ten years, riots have taken place in all the major areas, especially the medium and small sized ones, almost always involving young men broken into factions or pushing back against the police or gendarmes. El Watan lists the riots over “bread, football, gas, and electricity” caused by “social injustice, corruption, hogra, nepotism, cronyism, non-management [not mismanagement, "la non-gestion"] and non-governance,” pointing to “inter-neighborhood violence in Bab el-Oued, inter-communal clashes in Berriane and Illizi and tribal conflicts in Djefla, Laghouat and Bejaia.” Venturing to explain this violence it quotes anotherAlgerian social scientist who connects it to “the failure of State patronage,” a lack of fair distribution of the benefits of clienteleism, and “the political crisis, which refuses the institutionalization of social conflict, the autonomous expression of claims and the political representation of society” forcing those excluded from and faceless within the system to violence.

A decade of national reconciliation has produced a society where young men riot by night and by day plot escape routs out of Algeria, via suicide or sea; where callus leadership, best described as geriatric and indifferent, guards its own position before that of the youth at large whose aimlessness and despair is attributed not to the failures of the leadership class but to their lack of patriotism and nationalist fervor for a State that meet their every request with a shrug and every demand with a baton. This was Algeria in 1989, and it is Algeria in 2009. Full of fortitude is the Algerian who can bring himself to utter a word like “progress.”

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