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.

11 thoughts on “The Soltani Affair and its possibe implications, I

  1. Am not sure that no legal action could be taken in Switzerland: the 1984 torture convention recognises the universal jurisdiction principle, which made it possible for Pinochet to be subject to legal action in Spain and the UK for acts that had taken place in Chile. I gather that Switzerland is a signatory of that treaty. Then of course they might have adopted procedural restrictions to that principle, as those adopted by Belgium, to avoid being swamped by foreign cases.

    • IbnKafka:
      My understanding was the latter. Rather than “could not” I should say “was unlikely” as it appears from what the Swiss have said afterward — that they did not want to deal with it because the political ramifications it might have brought.

      Do the Swiss recognize universal jurisdiction in the manner the Spanish and the Belgians do, though? They are party to the torture convention (which means they do have a responsibility to investigate a torturer when he visits), but their authorities seems to be loathe to mention it in this case. That could also be because the charges themselves are fishy, because the Swiss took at least two cases under universal jurisdiction.

  2. You unearthed more about the story than I saw anywhere. Thanks a lot for the informative post.

    In my opinion, this saga is only an episode in the long established tradition of the ruling elite in Algeria to discredit and neutralise all opposition or potential opposition parties and voices. The MSP has publicly stated when they joined the coalition that they predict that they will have a shot at the first ministor post, so far exlcusive to the RND and FLN, sometime “before 2012” by Soltani’s promise to the party. Such a notion makes numerous people very uncomfortable.

    Prominent members of the part have long been groomed for the post (Ghoul, Soltani himself), and both have suffered scandal stories recently.

    Remember also that the MSP is staunchly pro palestinian and pro Hamas, and the possibility of it attaining more power uneases many people inside and outside the country.

    The dwindling support that the MSP is suffering and, as you documented, its bad image amongst voters will anavoidebly hurt it in the end, and they will have a hard time keeping up their high visibility participation within the government given not enough votes.

    In the end, the ruling elite will either abandon them if they don’t get enough votes. But more than anything, the MSP is needed because it fills the void of an apparently Islamist party that is given just about enough coverage to avoid the rise of a potentially new radical party. The streets are charged once again just like the eighties and the situation will eventually yield some change. It will be some real irony if the MSP is “granted” some votes in the next elections to show that they still carry some weight.

    Rocky times ahead indeed for the party. Mr Nahnah steered their ship skilfully in the 90s, but they will need a lot more skill to get through the next 5 to 10 years.

  3. The name seems to be shifting back & forth, between different stories. Malik, Abdelmalik…?

    There is an Algerian anti-regime figure called Anwar Malik who is on Aljazeera a lot. He’s often pitted against various unhinged nationalists on el-Ittidjah el-Mouakis — is it the same guy?

  4. Minor point:

    Why have Abdelmalek’s comments been published in the pages of ech-Chorouk, which is usually not hostile to the government?

    I don’t really know about that. They’ve had their run-ins with the government over the years — it was Echorouk which was fined for defaming Qadhafi, and responded by threatening to toe the Moroccan line on Western Sahara… That’s a pretty firm slap in Algerian politics.

    • Alle:
      I was unaware that it was ech-Chorouk that was fined for defaming Qadhafi. My impression of their line was that they pushed the hardcore Islamo-nationalist line a little bit more reasonably than an-Nahar. In any case, Abdelmalek is putting his story in the same paper that publishes Khaled Nezzar’s memoirs and stories about Christian and Shiite “colonization”. When you mention that, though, it makes you think about why he didn’t put it in, say, Liberte or someplace like that, probably because of that paper’s associations, or in el-Khabar. Thanks for raising that.

  5. I’m not sure what their editorial line is, I just know that they have had conflicts with the government. From what little I’ve seen of either, el-Nahar seems far crazier, but that’s just my off-the-cuff impression.

    As for “Christian colonization”, etc, unfortunately stuff like that seems to figure in most of the Arabophone press, less so in the Francophone papers. I don’t know if ech-Ch is worse than others, but perhaps they are. They certainly showed a flair for sensationalism during the football riots.

    Speaking of which, I put up a post on MPR on the Algerian press just now.

    • An-Nahar is probably the funniest of them. They broke the Zionist-FFS/Kabyle-Moroccan conspiracy and the Ferhat Mhenni-Israel conspiracy. For this, they deserve some sort of medal related to national security. Ech-Chorouk isn’t quite as bad but I remember at least one story about someone being “healed” by an imam in their pages.

      Saw the DZ press post on MPR, awesome stuff.

  6. El Nahar also had that one with a headline that went something like “Married a CIA-officer – was raped by a Jew!”

    Can’t recall the exact wording, but it was festive.

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