Algeria: A Stroke Of Madness

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June 24, 2013: There is less and less Islamic terrorist activity, and that is partly because many of the Islamic radicals have fled. First many went to Mali last year, but after the terrorist defeat in Mali earlier this year, many Algerian Islamic radicals fled for southern Libya and even Tunisia. Algeria is too well covered by anti-terror activity to be considered a sanctuary. Libya is a different matter. Since Kaddafi was overthrown in 2011, Libya has turned into something of a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists. Not so much because the government allowed it, but more because the government could not prevent it. Benghazi was the largest urban area that was hospitable to Islamic terrorists, mainly because it was the last large city to have law and order restored by government security forces (and pro-government armed groups). That battle is still going on. Meanwhile in the south (away from the narrow “green” coastal area), the vast and thinly populated semi-desert and desert areas will not come under any government control for some time. Here the Islamic terror groups can operate more freely. The south is the next big battleground, for a much longer war. While Algeria appreciates the absence of terrorists in its territory, it is eager to help Libya take care of the problem there.

June 23, 2013: MUJAO, a Mauritanian faction of AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) has offered to trade an Algerian diplomat (one of several Algerians it holds) for three Islamic terrorists held in Algeria. MUJAO did not identify which terrorists it wanted released and threatened to kill their captive if Algeria did not agree to the swap. MUJAO is holding several of the seven Algerians seized in April 2012, as Tuareg rebels and Islamic terrorists took control of northern Mali. They lost control a year later to a French-led offensive. MUJAO had previously demanded millions of dollars in ransom for each of its captives, but Algeria refused to pay because they knew that would just make the terrorists more powerful (lots of cash does that) and even more dangerous. It’s unclear where MUJAO is holding their captives now. If the hostages are still in northern Mali they are likely to be found by the continuing French-led counter-terrorism operations there. It’s more likely MUJAO has either gotten the hostages to southern Libya or wants to unload them for whatever they can get before the French-led search finds them.

June 20, 2013: The government said it would blacklist foreign companies that had bribed Algerian officials. This is a common technique for governments under pressure to “do something” about corruption and is an effort to avoid the fact that the corrupt officials are the main problem, not the foreign companies who are told they must offer bribes if they want the business. The problem lies mainly with the local officials, and the blacklist tends to backfire when it comes to some categories of equipment (military, oil production) because there are few suppliers. In Algeria the big problem with corruption is not foreign firms willing to pay but that the entire procurement bureaucracy and the senior officials they report to are in on the scam and everyone gets a cut.

June 13, 2013: The state controlled media finally released recent (day old) video of their elderly (76 years old) president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. There was no sound for the video and Bouteflika looked weak and not back in charge (as the government claimed). Bouteflika has been gone for six weeks, hospitalized in France after a stroke. At first this was declared (unofficially) a state secret and Algerian media that talked about it were shut down. But in the Internet age you can’t stop the news that easily and there is growing public anger at the inaction from this older generation of rulers, that are seen as responsible for all the corruption and poor economic performance. The government is at least aware of this. Now most Algerians are demanding a new generation of leaders and Bouteflika is seen as old, ill, and unable to lead. But the elderly allies of Bouteflika cling to their disabled leader and refuse to share power or reform. This could get ugly because it’s common knowledge in the medical community that major strokes can take months, or years, to recover from and to all appearances Bouteflika is in no shape to run the country. This means he will not be able (or not want) to run for reelection next April or lead any resistance to the growing calls for change.

Two years ago Bouteflika himself sensed that something was very wrong. He ordered a survey of public attitudes and was told that the people were very unhappy because the centralized economy was mismanaged, there was too much corruption and favoritism in the government and the government officials were out-of-touch with the Algerian people. Then there was the way elections were handled. It was commonly believed the voting was rigged and government resistance to foreign election monitors seemed to confirm this. All this was nothing new to foreign observers of Algeria, but it apparently was surprising to many senior Algerian officials. The report warned of the potential for a violent uprising. This was supposed to be avoided with parliamentary elections last year that would create a legislature whose main chore was to create a new constitution. This was expected to toss out the old elected dictatorship of families who were prominent in the fight against colonial France half a century ago. As Algerians expected the old "revolutionary" families did not give up power, but they surrendered some of it. This was apparently because the vote was so overwhelmingly against the ruling party in some districts that it was considered prudent to surrender these rather than risk local uprisings. The 2012 elections saw the ruling party win only 48 percent of the 462 seats. A pro-military party got 15 percent, giving the military dictatorship another lease on life. The seven Islamic parties got only 13 percent of the seats. The opposition claimed fraud, pointing out that international observers were not allowed to examine most electoral records and that only 42 percent of eligible voters turned out.

June 11, 2013: The government finally admitted that president Bouteflika had a full stroke two months ago. 

 

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