Algeria: A Dangerous Time

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September 28, 2013: So far this year the security forces have killed 140 Islamic terrorists and arrested another 49. Most of this action took place along the borders with Mali, Tunisia, and Libya. Thousands of additional troops have been sent to the borders of these countries (plus Morocco), to prevent Islamic terrorists from moving in or out and to keep weapons smugglers out. This has led to an increase in smugglers being caught, although drugs and consumer goods are still the most common cargo. There have been more weapons coming in from Mali and Libya. On the Morocco border the traffic is mainly fuel, which costs 4 times as much in Morocco because that country has to import all its fuel. The most aggressive and violent drug smugglers are coming out of Niger, where al Qaeda still runs the drug smuggling. Troops from Algerian and Niger cooperate to spot and go after these smugglers, who tend to travel in convoys of 4x4 pickups and SUVs full of drugs and armed men. You don’t just arrest these guys, you have to fight them and some of the convoys contain 10 or more vehicles.

While most Algerians want the government to clean up the rampant corruption, many senior government officials resist these efforts and that has produced a strange power struggle. The outcome of this conflict will decide whether there will be another revolution. The anti-corruption effort is led by several senior Intelligence officers, some of them from the Berber minority. Most of the corrupt officials and citizens belong to the extended family of the elderly (76 years old) president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and clans of several other families that led the country after freedom was achieved in the 1960s.

Bouteflika had a stroke back in April and spent 6 weeks in France receiving treatment. He returned in June and has now sufficiently recovered to direct a crucial battle against the anti-corruption drive. Bouteflika is doing this by removing or transferring any senior officials who are or appear to be allies with the anti-corruption groups, especially those in the military.

Bouteflika had planned to run for reelection after his current term ends next April. That has changed because of the stroke, and now the plan is to halt the anti-corruption effort and get a Bouteflika ally elected as the next president. This could get messy, as it means rigging the election, just the sort of corrupt behavior the reformers are trying to shut down. Meanwhile, Bouteflika is having more problems controlling the news. This was obvious when news of his stroke 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 signal that easily and there is growing public anger at the inaction of 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 and the fact that most Algerians are demanding a new generation of leaders. 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. These old guys are backed by their clans, which contain lots of younger men who want the good times to continue. This could get ugly. While Bouteflika is in no shape to run the country, he appears to realize that. Thus, his maneuvers to remove senior people who have anti-corruption attitudes and replace them with those who don’t mind the dirty deals.

Two years ago Bouteflika himself seemed to sense 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 the 2012 parliamentary elections that were supposed to 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 7 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. If the vote had been run fairly, Bouteflika and his allies would be gone.

At the moment Bouteflika’s most dangerous enemies are the senior people in the intelligence and security agencies who are keen on cleaning up the corruption. There are also a lot of military officers who favor the anti-corruption drive. Fortunately for Bouteflika, many senior military commanders are corrupt, some because they felt refusing the economic perks that were offered when they achieved high rank should not be refused. Bouteflika believes the loyalty of the military is essential to keeping his corrupt crew in power. Now there is a split within the military and many corrupt leaders are moving more of their assets out of the country, just in case. 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 also realizes that most of the troops are keen on anti-corruption efforts. In short, it’s a dangerous time in Algeria.

September 27, 2013: East of the capital (Boumerdes province) troops clashed with Islamic terrorists and after four hours of fighting killed five of them.

September 22, 2013: East of the capital (Boumerdes province) troops ambushed a group of Islamic terrorists and killed two of them.

September 12, 2013: On the Libyan border near the Zintan crossing several hundred Libyans fled into Algeria to get away from a tribal feud that had left 11 dead and over 20 wounded in the past few days. 

 

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