Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Algerian Army

In a carefully reasoned post, Riccardo Fabiani argues that contrary to some analysis, recent years' political shuffling in Algeria have not displaced the army from a privileged position in that country's regime:
Does the evolving balance of power between regime clans mean that a civilian regime is finally in the making for Algeria, as Bouteflika's mouthpieces have been claiming? After decades of military interference in politics, the presidential clan has been quick to assert that the recent reshuffle within the DRS marks the end of this and the birth of a civilian regime – a narrative that many inside and outside Algeria have repeated. Stripped of many of its powers, the DRS has lost influence, leading the government to claim that the decline of this institution is the end of military meddling into politics.
However, the picture is more complex than the one the presidential clan has painted. The much-rumored decline of the janvieristes and General Mediene, coupled with the rise of a new business class, is only half of the story. While it is undeniable that "civilian" actors play a much more influential role than twenty years ago and that the generals have lost their stranglehold over the decision-making process, the truth is that the army continues to be a key stakeholder of the current political system. It is thanks to General Gaid Salah's consent that Bouteflika has managed to sideline General Mediene – specifically through the Special Commission on Security. Without the army's support for this decision, Bouteflika would have probably never attempted to marginalize General Mediene.
In this context, while the army has lost the dominance over politics that it had in the 1990s, the military still remains a pillar of regime stability. The continuity between the Ben Bella and Boumedienne years and the latest evolution of the Algerian regime under Bouteflika cannot be mistaken: the army is still the backbone of the system and, despite the rise of new factions and competitors for power, these challenges are a weak match to the military. The difference lies in the Bouteflika clan's ability to maneuver around the army to strengthen its own power and in the heavy legacy of the 1990s, which makes the army's direct intervention into politics very difficult given the adverse domestic and international environment (unless exceptional political or security circumstances were to justify such an extreme move again).

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