FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Is Algeria’s Military Making Its Move on Aging President Bouteflika?

by

The story of Algeria is supposed to be about “reforms”. Most dictatorships are. Restrict presidential terms – unless, of course, the people demand the same old fogey as president yet again – and encourage the country’s minority to believe its status is respected. In Algeria’s case, Abdelaziz Bouteflika presents his country with a president – now in his fourth term of office – who has undergone so many medical operations (in Europe, of course) that he stares into the camera like a dead man.

There’s no point in being over-polite about it. When he was elected for a fourth time two years ago – after a lot of constitutional jiggery-pokery –  Bouteflika was regarded by cartoonists and satirists in Algeria as a man already in his coffin. How could he impose such an indignity on brave Algeria, they asked? Could it not be ruled by a living man? Take a look at poor old Bouteflika’s recent photo portraits and you’ll see what they mean. He can hardly speak – and although his brain is active, his acolytes assure us, they find it hard to explain how they can be so certain of his competency if His Excellency the President cannot actually talk to them.

The reforms which Bouteflika trundled out a couple of weeks ago must therefore be seen in context. A president who’s allowed only two terms of office, an enlarged parliament, an “independent” to run the elections and an official presidential imprimatur on Tamazight, the language of Algeria’s Berber minority – all these may look good on paper. But in a country which is still recovering from the death of 250,000 of its citizens and soldiers in a ferocious 1990s civil war whose participants sometimes outdid Isis in their barbarity – the throat-cutting of babies was a speciality in mountain villages – the length of a president’s rule and the rights of an indigenous language aren’t quite as important as they seem.

Here’s the problem. During the war, the Islamists – who morphed from being the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) into al-Qaeda – were confronted by an army and intelligence service whose use of torture was about as brutal as any in the Middle East. The smashing of teeth and fingernails was minor stuff. To make prisoners talk, the cops would truss them up, stick a rubber hose in their mouth and fill them up with water until they, quite literally, burst asunder. “If you started talking, you are dead,” a GIA men told me at the time. “Because if you start giving information, they’ll go on to the end.” They often did.

Some soldiers sought asylum in Europe and spilled the beans. They were given drugs, they said, and ordered to torture and murder suspects, especially if they had beards. One very senior officer sought libel damages in France against a soldier who’d detailed his experiences in this dirty war in a book – but the officer fled Paris the moment the court ruled against him. An amnesty upheld by our friend President Bouteflika insured not only that reformed “terrorists” would be free but that the army goons would never be punished.

Indeed, so terrible was the military’s behaviour that Algerian authors found it safer to write fiction about the war in order to tell readers the truth. One short story that actually went on sale in Algeria told of a lieutenant in the army who betrayed his comrades to the Islamists. His wife and children were brought to the scene by helicopter to find his officers had tied him to a tree with barbed wire. They were forced to watch as petrol was poured over the “traitor” and he was burned alive. Everyone knew the story was true.

So here we must turn to Mohamed Mediène, who was head of Algeria’s secret service for all those dark years, known – and referred to in the press – as one of the “eradicateurs”. He finally turned against Bouteflika when the latter (at great personal “sacrifice”, according to his flunkies) gained a fourth term in 2014. And then, last September, Mediène met his comeuppance. He was suddenly “retired” from service, apparently at the instigation of the defence minister and several leading generals who wanted to “clean up” the army.

To the shock of Algerians, “Toufik”, as he is known, suddenly appeared in the Algerian press – in sunglasses, I might add – to complain about the “unjust” jail sentence passed on his former chum General Abdelkader Ait Ourabi, who was head of “counter-terrorism”, the Algerian chaps who “dealt” with the civil war insurgents in so efficient a manner. Ourabi’s imprisonment was for “destruction of military records” and “disobeying military orders”. Mediène said that his subordinate had operated with “passion” – we can imagine what that means – and complied with his duties as an officer.

The whole affair prompted two questions. The first was obvious: just what was in those military records? The second – more opaque – was just how deep do the army’s roots lie in the body politic of Algeria, a country that was always controlled by the military? Is Bouteflika being edged out at the wish of Army veterans who are clipping his wings while ensuring that they have no trouble with the Berber people? Or – more likely if I read local journalist Nicholas Noe correctly – is the military “tearing itself apart”?

Crashing oil prices – and 60 per cent of Algeria’s budget is dependent on oil and gas – is not going to endear the “coffin president” to his people. Ten million Algrians live on the poverty line. And with Isis-thronged Libya, Niger and Mali as neighbours, a firm but new military hand may be in the offing. The French will be there to sell more weapons. And the Americans would of course welcome more allies in the “global war on terror”.

More articles by:

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

Weekend Edition
November 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jonathan Cook
From an Open Internet, Back to the Dark Ages
Linda Pentz Gunter
A Radioactive Plume That’s Clouded in Secrecy
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Fires This Time
Nick Alexandrov
Birth of a Nation
Vijay Prashad
Puerto Rico: Ruined Infrastructure and a Refugee Crisis
Peter Montague
Men in Power Abusing Women – What a Surprise!
Kristine Mattis
Slaves and Bulldozers, Plutocrats and Widgets
Pete Dolack
Climate Summit’s Solution to Global Warming: More Talking
Mike Whitney
ISIS Last Stand; End Times for the Caliphate
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima Darkness, Part Two
James Munson
Does Censoring Undemocratic Voices Make For Better Democracy?
Brian Cloughley
The Influence of Israel on Britain
Jason Hickel
Averting the Apocalypse: Lessons From Costa Rica
Pepe Escobar
How Turkey, Iran, Russia and India are playing the New Silk Roads
Jan Oberg
Why is Google’s Eric Schmidt So Afraid?
Ezra Rosser
Pushing Back Against the Criminalization of Poverty
Kathy Kelly
The Quality of Mercy
Myles Hoenig
A Ray Moore Win Could be a Hidden Gift to Progressives
Gerry Brown
Myanmar Conflict: Geopolitical Food Chain
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: Robert Redford’s Big Game in Nairobi
Katrina Kozarek
Venezuela’s Communes: a Great Social Achievement
Zoltan Grossman
Olympia Train Blockade Again Hits the Achilles Heel of the Fracking Industry
Binoy Kampmark
History, Law and Ratko Mladić
Tommy Raskin
Why Must We Sanction Russia?
Bob Lord
Trump’s Tax Plan Will Cost a Lot More Than Advertised
Ralph Nader
National Democratic Party – Pole Vaulting Back into Place
Julian Vigo
If Sexual Harassment and Assault Were Treated Like Terrorism
Russell Mokhiber
Still Blowing Smoke for Big Tobacco: John Boehner and College Ethics
Louis Proyect
The Witchfinders
Ted Rall
Sexual Harassment and the End of Team Politics
Anna Meyer
Your Tax Dollars are Funding GMO Propaganda
Barbara Nimri Aziz
An Alleged Communist and Prostitute in Nepal’s Grade Ten Schoolbooks!
Myles Hoenig
A Ray Moore Win Could be a Hidden Gift to Progressives
Graham Peebles
What Price Humanity? Systemic Injustice, Human Suffering
Kim C. Domenico
To Not Walk Away: the Challenge of Compassion in the Neoliberal World
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Giving Thanks for Our Occupation of America?
Christy Rodgers
The First Thanksgiving
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “We Were Eight Years in Power”
David Yearsley
On the Road to Rochester, By Bike
November 23, 2017
Kenneth Surin
Discussing Trump Abroad
Jay Moore
The Failure of Reconstruction and Its Consequences
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
Trout and Ethnic Cleansing
John W. Whitehead
Don’t Just Give Thanks, Pay It Forward One Act of Kindness at a Time
Chris Zinda
Zinke’s Reorganization of the BLM Will Continue Killing Babies
David Krieger
Progress Toward Nuclear Weapons Abolition
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail