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Power struggles in Algiers

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Abdelaziz Bouteflika will be standing for a fourth term as president of Algeria, even though he hasn’t spoken in public since having a stroke a year ago. His re-election in April seems more or less assured. For the last six months he’s been engaged in a much tougher struggle, against the chief of the Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité, General Mohamed ‘Toufik’ Mediene. ‘The enormous power of the intelligence services,’ as Hugh Roberts has put it, ‘has long been the open secret of Algerian political life.’

Last September, the presidency stripped the DRS of three strategic bureaux. By decree, Bouteflika dissolved the judiciary police, which had exposed a number of corruption scandals involving high-profile members of Bouteflika’s inner circle. At the same time, he transferred control over the army’s press office and the Central Directorate of Army Security from the DRS to the general staff, headed by a Bouteflika appointee.

In January, the military authorities staged a secret show trial. The commander in chief of the general staff, Gaid Salah, presented dossiers against four senior officers, each one a close ally of Toufik, in a meeting with Toufik and the heads of the six military divisions. Three of the officers were forced into retirement; the fourth was fired and placed under judicial supervision pending legal action.

The third blow, on 3 February, brought the war into the open. In an interview with Tout Sur l’Algérie, Amar Saidani, the leader of the National Liberation Front, attacked the DRS for infiltrating and destabilising institutions while failing to secure the territory from attacks such as the siege of In Amenas. ‘The agents of this department are everywhere: in municipal councils, in the presidency, at the heart of political parties. This cannot contribute to the construction of a civil state,’ he said.

Saidani’s accusations were delivered with a directness to which Algerians are unaccustomed, but otherwise moderate in tone and broadly substantiated. ‘The department is overriding its prerogatives,’ he said. Who could disagree? But the papers the next day flayed Saidani. Is the press still under the DRS thumb, I wondered, or could Algerians be more loyal to their secret services than their politicians? I asked a former police officer what he thought. ‘Without the DRS,’ he said, ‘who will hold the politicians accountable?’

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