Algeria: the ‘Twilight of the Gods’

On 2 April 2019, Abdelaziz Bouteflika officially resigned, notifying the Constitutional Court of his decision to terminate his mandate as Algerian President. This decision came following weeks of widespread popular protests and the mounting pressure put on him and his clan by Ahmed Gaïd Salah, the head of the army. Just a few days before, Salah called for the application of Article 102 of the Algerian constitution to replace the President due to severe illness or inability to carry out his duties.

On the same day, the General Athmane ‘Bachir’ Tartag also resigned, leaving the Département de Surveillance et de Sécurité (DSS – Department of Surveillance and Security). A few days before Bouteflika’s resignation, Ali Haddad, the former head of the Forum des Chefs d’Entreprises (FCE – Business Leaders Forum) and the closest business leader to Bouteflika, was arrested while trying to cross the borders with Tunisia by car in the early hours of 31 March. To make sense of this Algerian ‘Twilight of the Gods’, I wrote an in-depth analysis for the Jamestown Foundation, framing these developments into the broader context of Algerian history.

In this analysis, I highlighted the centrality of Salah to the Algerian system. This centrality, however, has characterised the entire fourth mandate of Bouteflika. It was neither a new, nor an unexpected, development, differently from what some observers have recently written.

I stressed that the ongoing transition“…originally began in 2014 with the election of Bouteflika to a fourth mandate and the dismissal of the once-powerful Department of Intelligence and Security (Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité–DRS). This transition saw the gradual return of the army’s centrality to Algerian politics, embodied by its leader, Ahmed Gaïd Salah.”

Pic_Website_Algeria-side_newOver the past few years, Salah started being perceived more and more like the actualreferee at the center of an opaque and informal political system, in what could be considered a gradual return of what was known in Algerian history as the Civilian Hidjâb, the civilian veil covering the army’s political centrality.” The fifth mandate for Bouteflika was indeed “intended to keep this emerging system in place.”

However, while a systemic shift might not be in sight (yet), Algeria has an obvious generational problem as: “The groups behind the protests will become more and more central in the country’s changing political dynamics, but whether they represent an alternative and can spur systemic change remains uncertain. Generational cleavages, within the society and the army, will be the driving force in Algerian politics over the next years.”

This focus on the centrality of Salah was also part of the analysis I wrote in January, in which I focused on the emergence of the Algerian youth as a crucial actor in shaping the future of the country.

In this analysis, I argued that Algeria is not the “monolithic polity” that some were describing. Against this backdrop, there was the emergence of a new actor in the Algerian public sphere: the youth. An actor who can change the rules of the game as the Algerian new generations “are not used to the methods and the logic that have characterised protest movements… over the past twenty years” and that the local and material focus that often have characterised these protests in the past “...for the younger generations… might not be valid” as “they are not socialized to these methods of protests” and “might express their dissatisfaction” in more “troublesome and violent ways.”

Luckily, these protests were anything but violent, as protesters across the country worked actively to avoid a turn toward violence. Yet, they proved to be very troublesome for the system. These protests triggered the wave of changes that have dismantled the Bouteflika’s clan which was, paradoxically, sacrificed to preserve the system he has shaped over the past twenty years.






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