So we have history according to Col. Chadli and history according to Gen. Nezzar. Chadli’s remarks at the El Tarf conference regarding the divisions within the wartime FLN, and the execution of Colonel Mohamed Chaabani, the leader of an immediately post-independence rebellion in the Aures against the Ben Bella government, state the obvious — Boumediene informed Bendjedid that Chaabani was to be assassinated on the orders of Ben Bella (as were others) — and the ones regarding the Mohamed Come-Latelys of the War of Independence — those Algerians who had become officers in the French army and only defected to the FLN in the late 1950′, such as Khaled Nezzar — illustrate their political nature: Nezzar has long faulted Chadli for having been a weak and Islamist-enabling president, and now he has poked back. And he is drawing contrast between his rule and what came after (the junta), and before (Ben Bella).
Nezzar’s response should be taken with a grain of dirt, as it answers few of the charges Chadli raised at El Tarf. The accusation that Nezzar was an agent of the French, a spy, etc. is not new, and he and his cohorts have long faced such rumors. Nezzar’s personal story indicates longstanding connections to France — his father was an NCO in the French army, he himself trained with the same army and became an officer therein (along with several other native soldiers, as part of a kind of affirmative action program within the corps), quitting the French side in 1958 for the FLN. It is interesting that in his response to these charges Nezzar never mentions his time studying in the Strausburg school or at Saint-Cyr (or in Moscow for that matter), and that his “refutation” of Bendjedid’s comments relies on asking whether or not patriotism should be measured by when an individual joined the war but not the actual content of the charge that he and those around him very likely facilitated French influence within the country generally (through the military). What is bizarre about Chadli’s accusations of Nezzar having been a French pawn is that a man who counted Mitterrand among his close allies is admonishing someone for his connections to France.
There is little that is new in Nezzar’s response. It is true, as Nezzar writes, that Chadli “opened doors widely to mediocrity and irresponsibility,” and while Nezzar’s criticisms of Chadli’s administration are somewhat accurate — he blames Chadli’s time in office squarely for preparing the ground work for the civil war — one must wonder what on earth this individual was doing during that time. The brutality that pushed so many Algerians away from the historical and mainstream political movements and parties went on without opposition coming from Nezzar, Belkheir or other Generals. Violence and repression became most common place at Nezzar and his comrades’ initiative, especially after he became Chief of Staff in 1988 and reorganized the security infrastructure. Nezzar writes that he and other officers did not endorse Chadli for president in the late 1970s, and that his rise and its economic, social and political consequences should not be blamed on the General. He accuses Chadli and elements of the FLN of being sympathetic to the FIS and of having facilitated their rise, which would in Nezzar’s narrative justify his political behavior. Again, this has been Nezzar’s version of events for some time, and he has said before that “the arrival of Chadli completely reversed the hierarchy of values that existed during the time of Boumediene,” which is generally believed to be true among Algerians.¹ The brutality that Nezzar encouraged, facilitated and reveled in is not explained, nor is his enduring connection with France: He answers no questions and respects no authority above his own.
His disrespect for Chadli is not unlike the discomfort many in his clique have for Bouteflika. But that their opposition has been limited to op-eds and historical grumbling about who-started-what in the French-language media (with some in the Arabophone press) reveals something about the Bouteflika-era, during which these eradicators were pushed out and those who had previous colluded against Bouteflika (going way back to the decision making process that rendered Chadli to the presidency and Bouteflika into exile) have been marginalized to a great extent.² The duality of politics — between the various factions of the military and (semi-) civilian leadership — has largely been dispersed under Bouteflika, explaining why there are so few candidates likely to oppose him. The non-military opposition has been co-opted, some time ago, and that which remains is to differing extents under the influence of remaining military hard liners still in the country and do not have popular legitimacy sufficient enough to launch a national presidential campaign (this does include Said Sadi and his RCD).
Update: Louisa Hanoune adds her bit to the discussion, arguing that it is a distraction from more pressing economic and electoral issues (especially the reform of the electoral law).
For some perspective on Chadli’s comments and Nezzar’s comments regarding his efforts to marginalize the military and run the country into ruin deliberately, and his utter incompetence otherwise, see this 2007 interview with Anissa Boumediene, the widow of fmr. President Houari Boumediene. This seems to, in part, run contrary to Nezzar’s claim that Chadli did not even want to become president when he was approached by the military: She aleges that Chadli, together with other officers, decided to cut the late president’s life support without consulting his wife. In any event, the accusations thrown out by both Chadli, Nezzar and M. Boumediene seem to be aimed at character assassination and with the intent of preserving or fortifying the image of their respective institutional frameworks: for Nezzar it is the prestige and military (and his personal image, which is bad enough as is), for M. Boumediene it is her husband’s national status, and for Chadli his haphazard and [supposedly] freewheeling reforms. This “debate” has its origin in vested interests, though, and the public discussion of history in Algeria is almost always carried out with the intention of obscuring reason and whatever actual political activity might be going on, as such pronouncements tend not to have best of intentions behind them.
1. Even today one hears older Algerians complain that Chadli was not as “manly” as and more corrupt than Boumedine, that his wife utterly dominated his decision-making, that he was a pretty-boy, that he was exceptionally daft, and on, and on: Not long ago a news report said that the former President enjoyed reading, among other hobbies. The response from an elderly acquaintance was “When did he learn to read?”
2. Note Rachid Benyellés‘ piece against the Third Term and responses to it, which mention Lamine Zeroual as a possible contender. Benyellis has wanted to be president before; Zeroual has been president before and it is likely that those seeking to counter propose the latter would like to quiet the concerns Benyellis has raised, which are rather scathing. The counter proposals are likely not sincere: I will be in the country later this month, in Batna, where there is apparently talk and movement about Zeroual: I will do my best to find out about this and what people in the area know. I have major doubts that it is serious, though, but still cannot make a real judgement without being in the country. If Zeroual does run, though, it could mean an actual contest, which would change the political calculus in important ways (unless of course his candidacy is a ploy by the government to generate the facade of competition, which is not unlikely). This is even more reason to hold reservation, though. (There is, however, a Facebook group (“Pour la Candidature de Mr Zeroual a la prochaine election Presidentielle”) with 56 members, which is less than a few weeks old.)