The power struggle between Bouteflika’s supporters and the army intensifies.
All the indications are that the 76-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who suffered a mini-stroke that confined him to hospital in Paris for three months in 2013 and who has not publicly addressed the country for nearly three years, is intending to stand in the April presidential polls.
“Even if he has not completely recovered physically, I can assure you he is in possession of all his mental and intellectual faculties,” Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal has said.
But the army, whose power Bouteflika’s team has recently tried to curb, (Security Services Restructured Vol. 50, No. 9 p.19864), may have other ideas. Retired senior general Hocine Benhadid in an interview published mid-February in Algerian newspapers El Khabar and El Watan called on Bouteflika to step down “with dignity” and not run for a fourth term in April.
“Here is what I’m asking from President Bouteflika: He came to power with the slogan ‘pride and dignity’… so he should retire… with dignity and let Algeria catch its breath,” Benhadid told the newspapers. The country’s stability could not be guaranteed by someone who was “sick” and the “hostage of his entourage,” he said.
He singled out for criticism Bouteflika’s brother Said, the “main actor” in the presidential clan, as well as army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, one of the ailing leader’s key allies. “The chief of staff has no credibility, and no one is fond of him,” Benhadid said.
He accused Bouteflika’s entourage of “playing with Algeria’s destiny” in order to “save its skin, because corruption has reached dangerous levels.”
Benhadid, who once commanded one of Algeria’s military regions, said he was speaking on behalf of others in the armed forces, without saying whom, “because we cannot let this situation continue.”
His comments were the latest sign of an intensifying power struggle between Bouteflika’s supporters and the army, ahead of the presidential poll.
Benhadid said Bouteflika’s clan was guilty of “treason” for calling on General Mohamed “Tewfik” Médiène, the veteran chief of the DRS (Département du renseignement et de la sécurité) military intelligence agency, to quit over alleged security failings.
He was referring to an accusation made by Amar Saidani, the leader of Bouteflika’s National Liberation Front (FLN) ruling party, that the powerful military intelligence chief, General Médiène, was interfering in politics to the detriment of the country’s security.
Many consider General Mediene the hidden force in Algerian politics. “The presence of internal security in every institution gives the impression that power in Algeria is not in civilian hands,” Saidani said. “Instead of managing the country’s security, this department (the DRS) interferes with the activities of political parties, the judiciary and the press,” he added.
Saidani was controversially elected FLN secretary general in August 2013, amid strong opposition from some within the ruling party, just a month before Bouteflika reportedly curtailed the powers of the DRS. Three of the agency’s key units – the army communications bureau, its central security office and its judicial police force – were allegedly placed under the control of General Gaid Salah, who was also made Vice-Minister for Defence at the same time.
Benhadid, however, in his interview accused the president’s inner circle of “treason” He said “the DRS is a military institution, and the army is the ultimate protector of the country. If you undermine the army, then the country is in danger, so that amounts to treason.”
Opposition parties and prominent Algerian figures have also come out against Bouteflika standing for a fourth term and called for a boycott of the poll if he does stand.
In a statement, the former head of the Algerian Human Rights League Ali Yehia Abdenour, ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Talib Labrahimi and retired army general Rachid Benyeles urged Algerian political powers to oppose Bouteflika’s candidacy by all peaceful means necessary.
Despite Bouteflika’s illness, he is still likely to win the election. His FLN party has ruled Algeria for nearly three decades and opposition political groups are weak.
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