Algeria: The King Is Dead, Long Live Whatever


March 18, 2019: The newly appointed (by former president Bouteflika) prime minister is having a hard time forming a new “transitional government” because the new prime minister is a known ally of the Bouteflika brothers. Trust is in short supply but the opposition is not as united as the FLN. While there are factions in FLN (there was disagreement over delaying the elections and forming an interim government) the FLN has an opportunity to recover and still has the support of the major business interests. With the Bouteflika faction no longer dominant and the survival of the FLN at stake, the political cards in Algeria are being reshuffled and no one can predict what the next government will be like or how long it will take to get one. The opposition is hostile to any FLN appointed transition government but will accept a transitional government led by neutral interim (for about six months) leaders. Agreeing on who is neutral is difficult but not impossible but so far there is no agreement on going in that direction.

Meanwhile, the economy stumbles along with no major strikes and most workers preferring to keep their jobs if possible, at least as long as there is continued progress in getting a popular government. The military has declared it is all about maintaining peace and security and is not planning any moves against protestors as long as the protests remain generally nonviolent. The Algerian military, despite being run by FLN loyalists, has announced it would not take sides and would not fire on the people unless there was no other choice.

The Catalyst

Apparently growing Internet access was the catalyst in bringing most (at least 70 percent) of the under 30 Algerians into the streets to protest the decades long misrule of the FLN party and FLN efforts to get the crippled president Bouteflika elected to a fifth term. The sudden appearance of so many demonstrators caught the FLN and most of the current government leaders unprepared. The protests are not about another revolution- people just want existing laws to be obeyed. The main demand is for free elections, something that has not been allowed since the current Algerian Republic was formed in 1962 and the FLN party got elected and decided it could do whatever it could get away with to ensure it remained in power. Bouteflika presided over a police state run by families that were active in the liberation movement that freed Algeria, in the 1960s, from over a century of French colonial rule. Free elections were first allowed in 1989, but that resulted in an Islamic party winning, and proposing that Algeria be turned into a religious dictatorship in order to deal with the widespread corruption and incompetent bureaucrats. The FLN dominated government refused to accept those election results, so the Islamic radicals turned to violence and terror. Throughout the 1990s, the violence killed over 200,000 (mostly civilians killed by the terrorists). The population gradually turned on the Islamic radicals, and the government counter-terrorist tactics shut down the Islamic radical movement. Remnants of the 1990s Islamic radical movement fight on as an al Qaeda, and then an ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) franchise. The Islamic terrorist remnant has not yet recovered the mass appeal it once had and has withered away to a few hundred diehards in Algeria who spend most of their energy striving to remain hidden. Continued army and police patrols confirm that the Islamic threat is still much diminished and on the run.

The Surrender

With president Bouteflika incapacitated by strokes since 2013, it was no surprise that he finally gave up his political ambitions (for a fifth term). While president Bouteflika has now withdrawn there are still other Bouteflikas to contend with. There is much less popular support for the 60 year old brother Said and Army chief-of-staff Ahmed Gaid Salah who have actually been in charge, in the name of the elder Bouteflika. This annoyed the FLN leadership and most Algerians. The younger brother has been a key aide, especially in supervising (and fixing as needed) his older brother's election campaigns since the 1990s. Because of that, it is not considered unusual that Said Bouteflika was the one who communicated with his older brother and passed on his instructions, or at least what Said believes were his brother's intentions. Efforts of the older brother to appear in public and speak, no matter how briefly, have not worked because the older brother, who is now 82, is not recovering from his strokes.

One of Said’s intentions was apparently to succeed his brother as president, although that seems unlikely as he apparently has pancreatic cancer and has been out of the country more often to get it treated in France. Meanwhile Said has continued to supervise the effort to ensure that all the senior military and police commanders who might oppose the stealthy government takeover by someone in the Bouteflika inner circle are arrested and accused of corruption. For the last six years, this slow-motion purge has apparently been supervised by Army chief-of-staff Ahmed Gaid Salah. Said Bouteflika knows who is corrupt because one of his jobs was to see to it that there were no unseemly feuds among senior officials over who got what in corrupt deals. Said Bouteflika never managed to gain enough key supporters, or popular support, to run for high office. Until now he has been content to be the kingmaker. That has changed and Said has not got much left. The Algerian people have made it clear they have had enough of the Bouteflikas and the FLN is not really welcome to stick around either.

Most Algerians would prefer honest government and a lot less corruption but the Bouteflikas preferred to keep things as they are. That attitude, shared by most, but not all, of those running the country has been the major obstacle to meaningful change. The corruption prevents rewarding the most capable people and generating enough economic activity to make Algeria a place where most young Algerians would want to live and work. Even with the two Bouteflika brothers out of the picture, they have many like-minded associates willing to carry on. It should be no surprise why it took so long for the majority of Algerians openly demand change. The alternative is another rebellion (at great cost to everyone and Algeria in general) or emigrating.

Nervous Neighbors

Neighboring Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began in 2011 and the only Arab nations where the Arab Spring uprising actually succeeded, is nervous but optimistic, that useful change will come to Algeria. Morocco is less optimistic because Morocco has been demonized by the long-ruling FLN party in Algeria. It would be nice if a new government agreed to make peace with Morocco but there is no assurance that will happen. Other nations in the region believe most Algerians are unwilling to allow another bloody round of national violence, as occurred in the 1990s, to take place. The weeks of demonstrations were largely free of violence. There have been physical confrontations with police but firearms were never involved. There was only one known death and that was the result of a stampede by a large group of people that left several injured, one fatally.

March 15, 2019: For the fourth Friday since February 22 large groups of protestors assembled in the capital and other major cities to call for a government to be selected via free elections. During the last week, most of those demands seem to have been answered, sort of.

March 11, 2019: President Bouteflika announced that he would not run for a fifth term as president. Bouteflika had just returned from Switzerland where he underwent another health checkup and apparently the news was not promising. Bouteflika did not resign, which is what increasingly large public demonstrations have been calling for since February. But that resignation is now a realistic goal. Another factor in all this is that the leaders of the ruling FLN party, which has been partners with Bouteflika for over two decades have made a move. Yesterday a senior FLN leader declared that Bouteflika was “history” which indicated the Bouteflika critics in the FLN felt they now had an edge and could force Bouteflika out. Bouteflika also appointed two senior members of FLN (and his current government) to organize a new government to run things until elections could be held. The new prime minister is the former Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui (who is an ally of Said Bouteflika). President Bouteflika also canceled the April 18th elections so that they could be rescheduled after there was some agreement on how much time would be allowed for candidates to campaign. Bedoui promised reforms and offered to meet with leaders of opposition parties to discuss how to proceed.

March 10, 2019: President Bouteflika returned from his two weeks of medical examination in Switzerland. Whatever happened in Switzerland it apparently did not improve the elder Bouteflika’s medical condition.

March 5, 2019: Foreign ministers from Algeria and Tunisia met with their Egyptian counterpart in Egypt to discuss what is going on in Libya. All three agreed that they, and the UN, should support the LNA effort to unify the country. This comes after it became obvious that the GNA (Government of National Accord) leader was backing the LNA (Libyan National Army) as well. Less visibly this show of unity was also meant to ensure that Qatar and Turkey, who had been providing support for some Islamic terror groups in Libya, would halt such support.

March 3, 2019: President Bouteflika issued a letter promising to resign if re-elected for a fifth term and call for new elections to replace him. This drew more angry Algerians into street protests. This caused even more people to hit the streets for daily protests.

March 1, 2019: As is often the case in Moslem nations, popular protests peak on Friday, the day of the week when most Moslems go to a mosque to pray and hear a sermon. More and more religious, political and other local leaders are no longer intimidated and are stepping forward to join their followers in the streets and urge others to join them.

February 24, 2019: Anti-government protests continued for the third day and as more groups come out against the president and the long dominant FLN party the situation seems more ominous but still largely non-violent.

February 23, 2019: In the south across the border in Mali, Islamic terrorists in several vehicles attacked a UN/AU peacekeeper base and killed eight peacekeepers and wounded several others. The attack was repulsed. Algeria has increased its border security in areas like this to ensure that Islamic terror groups operating in Mali are not using the remote areas on the Algerian side of the border as a refuge. Algerian and French (on the Mali side) aircraft patrol the border to discourage Islamic terrorists from crossing it.

February 22, 2019: The first of what became regular and growing weekly demonstrations were held, to demand that president Bouteflika resign. Frustration at Bouteflika insisting on running for a fifth term even though disabled finally drove thousands of people into the streets to protest. The recent announcement that president Bouteflika was flying to Switzerland on the 24th for another medical checkup seemed to push the growing public anger into the streets. There were smaller demonstrations the next day.

February 20, 2019: The opposition parties met for several hours in a failed effort to select a joint candidate to face president Bouteflika in the April 18 presidential elections. The ruling FLN party has dominated Algerian politics since 1962.




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