Pressing for Depth

Three of Algeria’s security chiefs were swiftly dismissed last week, after a bizarre episode involving a group of local youth entered the grounds of the Presidential residence in Zeralda, causing guards to discharge their rifles. Another version has firecrackers causing panic among the same guards. The incident caused a ‘panic,’ and the result was the removal of Gen. Moulay Meliani (head of the Republican Guard), Gen. Djamel Lakahel Medjdoub (head of the General Directorate for Presidential Security, DGSPP) and Gen. Ali Bendaoud, head of the Directorate of Internal Security (DSI). Two of these organizations are sub-organs of Algeria’s sprawling intelligence service, the DRS, subordinate to the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, though the DGSPP operates semi-autonomously; the Republican Guard falls under the Chief of Staff as well, but operates as a service in its own right. There were other changes among the walis, ministries and other parts of the administration. The Presidency and Chief of Staff continue to expand their depth in the deep state. Continue reading

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. 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

RE: “Western help” on AQIM

NOUAKCHOTT — The leader of a moderate Mauritanian Islamist party said Thursday he opposed any coordination between Mauritania and Western countries, especially France, in the war against Al-Qaeda in the Sahel.

“We all agree to condemn terrorism and fight it vigorously, but we do not agree on coordination with foreign countries, especially when they have a colonial past in the region,” said Jemil Ould Mansour, leader of the opposition Tewassoul party, during a forum on extremism in Nouakchott.

He said he favoured regional cooperation, and spoke against advance strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which has been promoted by Mauritania, for which the country has “neither the means or the time”.

The Mauritanian army has recently carried out military operations against AQIM bases in northern Mali, including one in July with the aid of France.

Mauritania party against Western help in al-Qaeda fight,” AFP, 28 October, 2010. Continue reading

Arabization debate

A short post on the struggle among Mauritanian students over Arabic and French language will appear here sometime next week. Mauritanians on the front lines are encouraged to send the blogger their thoughts and accounts either in the comments field here or by email (found on the “About TMND” page). Contact with some students already exists; the more the better.

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