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?  Continue reading Another, Weirder Way of Thinking about Re-Organizations

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. Continue reading Watching Out in High Politics: Algeria

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. Continue reading More to Consider: A Commission, Retirement, and Shuffles

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. 

Continue reading A Dispatch from the Left (Tunisia)

Maghreb Affairs :: Geopolitics :: International Relations

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