Algeria: The Shadow Government

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August 10, 2015: It is still unclear who is really running the country. The surprise replacement of the top three security commanders on July 26 th was never explained and 78 year old president Bouteflika has not been seen in public for months. He has appeared on TV recently, sitting down and receiving foreign dignitaries, but these are believed to be staged and use only trusted foreign officials. It is believed Bouteflikas younger (57 years old) brother and personal physician, Said, is really in charge and dealing with a feud between powerful factions over who should be backed in the next presidential election. These elections are basically rigged and Said Bouteflika is apparently running into trouble getting the backing he needs to succeed his brother. This is all about growing popular anger over the corrupt and inept government and that government resisting any fundamental change. This was demonstrated in early 2014 with yet another presidential election that was rigged (as usual) to ensure incumbent (Abdelaziz Bouteflika) got yet another term even though he was too infirm (because of age and a recent stroke) to campaign himself, much less govern. Most Algerians want Bouteflika and his corrupt cronies out of power but that cannot happen as long as Bouteflika still has the support of the security forces. This is why the sudden replacement of the three key generals was such a shock. The generals relieved later revealed that they found out from the public announcement. It was long feared that as public anger grew there was an increasing risk of dissatisfaction spreading to the soldiers and police, who have a better sense of the public mood than the wealthy and corrupt officials and businessmen who surround Bouteflika. It was always feared that this could get ugly. To avoid that the government offered to change the constitution to, in theory, give more people more access to government decision making. Most Algerians saw this as another scam that provided the illusion of democracy while the reality is still rigged elections and bureaucrats doing what they want, not what the people need. That turned out to be true. Apparently the corrupt factions that control the government cannot agree on how to deal with the growing popular unrest and with Bouteflika about to pass away there is an effort to get a new faction in charge that will save them all. Bouteflika and his clan have been in power since 1999. Bouteflika represents one of few dozen families of prominent leaders during the fight against France in the 1950s and 1960s who have been running things since independence from France was achieved in 1962. Until this problem is solved the potential violent unrest will remain but a growing number of Algerians believe an opportunity for some kind of change is fast approaching.

In addition to the Islamic terrorist threat the government also has to contend with the economic damage done by the low oil price. This is costing Algeria its foreign currency reserves. To make up for the lost oil income the government has had to draw on these foreign currency reserves. That has meant the reserves have declined from $216 billion in late 2013 to $150 billion now. At this rate the reserves will be gone in two years. The oil rich Arab Gulf states (particularly Saudi Arabia) are responsible for this and are keeping the oil price low to weaken Iran, which is waging a campaign to take control of Arab oil in the Gulf. The Arab oil states point out that even without the Iran threat the new American fracking technology will also keep the oil price low. The Arabs had hoped the oil price campaign against Iran against Iran would also destroy the American fracking firms but that has not worked out as the American companies have adapted. It seems that Iran has adapted as well. Meanwhile Algeria and other smaller oil exporting nations have to adapt as best they can.

August 6, 2015: Some 145 kilometers southwest of the capital troops found 18 Islamic terrorists hideouts and weapons caches. The haul included dozens of weapons, over 50 kg (110 pounds) of explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Also taken were various wireless devices and other equipment. This successful search operation in the rural hills of Ain Defla province was believed the result of data taken during a clash with Islamic terrorists in Ain Defla in July that left 16 terrorists dead. Documents are usually recovered during clashes like this and sometimes all Islamic terrorists are reported dead even if one or more were taken alive and then interrogated. The Islamic terrorists in Ain Defla belong to AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) but military intelligence is keen on tracking which AQIM factions are inclined to go over to the more violent ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant).

July 30, 2015: President Bouteflika met briefly with the visiting foreign minister of Oman. Bouteflika, because of a stroke, is confined to a wheel chair and has trouble speaking so this meeting was largely a media event, to convince Algerians that Bouteflika was still alive (apparently true) and in charge (less certain). The Omani foreign minister was in Algeria for two days of talks on matters of mutual interest (oil prices, ISIL, Iran, Libya and so on).

July 26, 2015: The media revealed that the government had unexpectedly replaced three of the most powerful generals in the military (the heads of counter-intelligence, the Republican Guard and presidential security). This was immediately linked with two other odd events. First there was the large number of troops showing up at the presidential residence on July 16th. Whatever was going on there was never made public. Finally there is the fact that president Bouteflika has not spoken or appeared in public for months and many Algerians believe he is dying or, at the very least not getting any better.

July 22, 2015: Security along the 1,000 kilometer Libyan border is being increased, not only with more troops but also when more than a thousand additional vehicles. The government fears that Islamic terrorists are still using access to Libya for reinforcements and supplies of weapons and explosives. The UN is also holding some of the Libyan peace talks in the Algerian capital.

July 20, 2015: West of the capital troops clashed with Islamic terrorists and killed 13 of them. This was part of increased counter-terror operations as a result of the July 17 AQIM ambush.

July 19, 2015: Some 145 kilometers southwest of the capital troops clashed with a group of AQIM Islamic terrorists and killed 16 of them.

July 17, 2015: Some 145 kilometers southwest of the capital AQIM Islamic terrorists ambushed an army convoy and killed nine soldiers. The government ordered a major effort to find those responsible and capture or kill them. Thousands of additional soldiers and police were sent to the area (Ain Defla province). The loss of nine soldiers in one action was the worst loss for the security forces this year and signaled a resurgence of Islamic terrorist activity in Algeria.

 

 

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