Bouteflika tightens grip on Algeria

Bouteflika tightens grip on Algeria

Following last September´s removal of General Mohamed Mediène as head of Algeria´s military intelligence service, President Bouteflika has undertaken measures to exert even greater control over the country´s intelligence and security services.

On January 24th, an Arabic publication called el-Hilwar announced that Algeria´s 78-year-old president Abdelaziz Bouteflika had signed an unpublishable decree to dissolve the notorious military intelligence organisation, the Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS). On January 30th, the president´s Chief of Staff Ahmed Ouyahia confirmed this information.

To many, it is a nail in the coffin after a long running campaign by the president and his supporters to purge key individuals associated with the le pouvoir or the intelligence and military officials who are believed to run the country behind the scenes. The DRS and its head General Mohamed Mediène were considered to form the backbone of the regime since its creation in 1990.

The replacement for the DRS is the DSS, known in French as la Direction des services de sécurité (Security Services Branch), and is under the control of retired Major General Athmane Tartag. Tartag had already been serving as head of the DRS following the dismissal of Mediène and is considered a close ally of the president.

As part of the new arrangement, Tartag will be in charge of three branches which consist of the Internal Security Directorate, the Directorate of Documentation and External Security, and the Technical Intelligence Directorate. However these branches will be “under the direct authority of the president” as well as independent from the ministry of defence.

Give and take

In parallel to these latest moves, Ouyahia unveiled plans by the president to introduce a series of constitutional amendments. This would include – amongst others – a complete reversal of a 2008 decision to extend the number of terms a president can serve. In April 2014, Bouteflika was elected to serve a fourth mandate, a move that aroused considerable opposition.

On February 3rd, the parliament will meet in order to discuss the draft revision of the constitution. One of the most interesting developments will be the approval of the Berber language Tamazight as one of the country´s official languages alongside Arabic.

Other proposals include the head of state´s obligation to consult with the parliament about the selection of a new prime minister. There are also plans to tackle corruption and improve freedom of the press.

The timing of these political manoeuvres is critical. In a time when the president is seizing greater control of key institutions such as intelligence, promising substantial social and political reforms helps to soften the blow of the regime´s critics.

Despite this, Bouteflika has not been seen in public for two years and according to a recent report in the Sunday Times, he is only lucid during brief periods of the day. Everyone knows a succession crisis is afoot and it is reasonable to argue that those at the top want to unveil a transition plan that will reduce the risk of social unrest.

Algeria´s problems are rooted deep, and in an era of low oil prices, Algeria´s leaders are not in a position to quash unrest with the promise of greater subsidies for food and accommodation.

Fortunately for Algeria, in light of its strategic position in the Maghreb, no one wants to see the country descend into chaos. To Bouteflika and his entourage´s advantage, he can be assured that outside forces, especially France and the United States, will likely support a succession process that is in keeping with the status quo.

About Author

Emily Boulter

Emily Boulter is a Rotterdam-based writer, who is also the creator of the current affairs blog "From Brussels to Beirut". Previously, she worked as an assistant for the vice-chair of the foreign affairs committee in the European Parliament.