In a series of moves that count as bold and radical in a place inured to politics as a hazy shadow play, Mr Bouteflika appears to have grabbed more power for loyalists and emasculated potential rivals. Come presidential elections due in April 2014, the incumbent may either be able to install a member of his own faction as successor or, with truly death-defying drama, run himself for an unprecedented fourth five-year term.
This turn of events was foreshadowed in July with a series of quiet staff changes in the army and security agencies. In August a controversial internal vote in the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), the political wing of the Algerian independence movement that remains the country’s largest political party, installed a presidential loyalist as party head, a position used in the past to challenge Mr Bouteflika’s dominance. On September 3rd Algerian dailies reported a rearrangement of the security bureaucracy: three directorates were removed from the supervision of the intelligence services and placed under the control of the army. And on September 11th a cabinet reshuffle replaced 11 ministers, most of them disgruntled FLN men.
Close associates of the president now control the interior and justice portfolios. Aside from Mr Bouteflika, the main beneficiary of the changes appears to be the army chief of staff, Ahmed Gaid Salah. The 73-year-old was appointed as deputy defence minister (Mr Bouteflika himself is the titular minister). Moreover, the agencies transferred to his fief include one that runs the intelligence services’ relations with the press—or rather, their domination and infiltration of Algeria’s media—as well as a department that ensures internal political security in the army and one that has pursued embarrassing corruption cases.