President Bouteflika appears to have carried out another purge of the security forces leadership before he left for Switzerland yesterday. This was not sudden as in late June Bouteflika fired a senior police general, Abdelghani Hamel, who has the head of the National Security Division and considered one of the few remaining potential rivals in the 2019 presidential elections. Hamel’s personal driver had been arrested on a cocaine trafficking charge but there was no apparent connection to Hamel. Since Hamel was seen a potential rival for Bouteflika any excuse would do to remove the rival candidate. Over the next two months, there were indications that this was indeed another purge. This was made easier by the fact that the police had been corrupted by the drug gangs, who had the cash to offer bribes too large for many police officials to refuse. Even the military was aware of this and had become reluctant to work with police in many cases because they feared shared intelligence data would be for sale by corrupt cops.
Bouteflika has often eliminated potential rivals via crackdowns on corruption. There was a power struggle in 2013 that went public with the 2015 arrest of Abdelkader Ait Ouarab. This was the guy who led the counter-terror campaign in the 1990s that defeated the Islamic terrorists. Ouarab continued serving until he retired (apparently under pressure) in late 2013. All this internal strife has been going on, quietly, for over a decade. Things heated up in early 2013 when Bouteflika had his stroke and was disabled. Pro-reform members of the senior leadership pushed for Bouteflika to resign followed by free elections. The Bouteflika clan and corrupt officials allied with the Bouteflikas got organized and resisted. No one wanted a civil war, but the two sides were sharply divided and a compromise was not possible. By late 2013 it was clear that most Algerians wanted the government to clean up the rampant corruption and that there was support for that on the inside led by several senior Intelligence officers. Most of the corrupt officials and their civilian allies belong to the extended family of the elderly Bouteflika. The clans of several other families that led the country after freedom was achieved in the 1960s have dominated government and the economy ever since. The Bouteflikas were apparently slow to realize that their most dangerous political enemies were the senior people in the intelligence and security agencies who had decided that some fundamental changes (cleaning up the corruption) were needed. There were also a lot of military officers who favored anti-corruption reforms. Fortunately for Bouteflika many senior military commanders were corrupt, some because they felt refusing the economic perks offered when they achieved high rank would be seen as disloyal. Bouteflika always believed the loyalty of the military was essential to keeping his corrupt crew in power. Yet by late 2013 many Bouteflika loyalists noted the split within the military and began moving more of their assets out of the country, just in case. That’s because if there’s another large-scale uprising and the military refuses to suppress it (or, worse, splits or falls apart because of disagreements among officers) the current government is done.
Bouteflika realized that most of the troops favored anti-corruption efforts. After 2013 the purged, and thus more loyal intelligence services will devote most of their efforts to ensuring the loyalty of the army and police. There had already been hints of trouble after the 2013 stroke. In late July 2015 local 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 in July. Whatever was going on there was never made public. Finally, there is the fact that president Bouteflika had not spoken or appeared in public for months and many Algerians believed he was dying or at the very least not getting any better. Then in August 2015 general Ouarab was arrested and in mid-September came the news that general Mohammed Medien was retiring. In power since 1990 Medien headed the powerful DRS (intelligence and security department) and was always believed more powerful than the president. But he was only two years younger than Bouteflika and rarely seen. It is still unclear what his views on corruption and the current political situation was. Medien was mostly concerned with keeping tabs on Islamic terrorism and other threats to Algeria.
The security forces have a lot of competent commanders and the forced retirements of so many senior commanders provides promotion opportunities for those who appear most loyal (to the ruling families). The security services continue to be effective, making Algeria one of the “safest” (according to international security firms that monitor that sort of thing) in North Africa and the Middle East. Yet the persistence of pro-reform officers in the security forces is a mixed blessing for the ruling families and a ray of hope for Algerians in general. The need for reform is also necessary to get the most out of being one of the “safest” nations in North Africa. That designation does not mean being safe from the many corrupt practices that Algerian criminals (and local officials) impose on tourists and commercial visitors. One of the more visible examples of this is how many public beaches have been illegally taken over by criminal gangs that coerce tourists to pay illegal fees to park and be on the beach. Complaining to the police or local government often does not work because bribes are paid to ensure the gangsters are not interfered with. This sort of thing costs Algeria a lot of tourism income and efforts to clean up the corruption that makes it possible is still difficult.
Stubbornly Defending Islamic Terror
There is still some support for Islamic radicalism in Algeria although those who speak openly of an “Islamic solution” to the corruption and government mismanagement can expect to be harassed, or worse, by the security forces. This persistent support for Islamic law and rule by clerics is usually denied news coverage everywhere with one exception. It is common for some wealthy Moslems to openly support Islamic conservatism and, directly or indirectly, Islamic terrorists. For example, a wealthy Algerian businessman has paid the fines (over $350,000 worth) for over 1,500 European Moslem women who wore the veil that conceals the face (except for the eyes) despite laws against it. This face covering practice is illegal in many European countries, not because it makes the masked Moslems difficult to identify but because Islamic terrorists (male and female) have frequently used such “Islamic clothing” to disguise their identity as well as conceal weapons or suicide bomb vests. These wealthy Moslems are often the primary support for Islamic charities” that divert some or all of their money to support Islamic terrorism. This continues to be a problem with wealthy Persian Gulf Arabs who have long financed groups like al Qaeda and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) even when their governments explicitly outlawed such contributions. Since 2001 there have been more restrictions placed on such stealthy funding for Islamic terrorists but it continues. The wealthy donors can afford lawyers, accountants and bribes for corrupt bankers to make the donations anyway. Some of these donors prefer open and high-profile philanthropy and will, for example, pay for young Moslems to travel to nations with a lot of madrassas (Islamic schools). Sometimes this is legitimate, but often it is a cover for getting new recruits to the many madrassas in some countries that are notorious for pushing Islamic terrorism as the solution for everything. Some wealthy Moslems even paid for local Moslems (as in Indonesia) to travel to the Middle East to live in the new “Islamic State” that ISIL ran between 2014 and 2017 in Iraq and Syria.
August 27, 2018: President Bouteflika replaced three more senior army generals including the land forces commander and two more of the six regional army commanders. Later in the day, Bouteflika left the country for Switzerland where he will undergo unspecified medical treatments. Bouteflika has yet to completely recover from his 2013 stroke.
August 23, 2018: The government announced that an anti-corruption investigation would lead to the replacement of a number of senior military and police commanders. The changes include replacement of several security commanders, including the one in charge of capital security. Two of the six regional army commanders were replaced.
August 18, 2018: In Bouira province (120 kilometers southeast of the capital) an Islamic terrorist bomb went off killing a 12 year old child and wounding four others aged 10-16.
August 11, 2018: In the far south (Tamanrasset province, 2,000 kilometers south of the capital) near the Mali border Sultan Ould Bady, a veteran Mali al Qaeda leader, surrendered to an army patrol. Since May the government has publicized border zones where Islamic terrorists seeking to surrender can cross while armed and not be shot on sight. Islamic terrorists seeking to surrender are advised what to do when they encounter troops. After the surrender of Bady was revealed there were rumors he had actually surrendered (or been captured) in late June (when a group of unidentified Mali Islamic terrorists surrendered) and that was kept secret while Bady was interrogated and what he revealed was acted on. Intelligence indicates there are a growing number of Islamic terrorists in northern Mali who want to get out of the terrorism business. Algeria has about 80,000 troops guarding its 3,000 kilometer long border with Mali and Libya and has been effective in detecting, if not always stopping. Those crossing illegally.
July 30, 2018: In the east (Skikda province, 500 kilometers from the capital) troops patrolling a mountainous area encountered four Islamic terrorists who were killed, along with seven soldiers, in a gun battle.