Algeria’s Political Fault Lines Emerge as Elections Approach

Algeria’s Political Fault Lines Emerge as Elections Approach

Since the early 2000s, Algerian politics have been generally understood as a behind-the-scenes struggle between, on one hand, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his regional and administrative allies and, on the other, the military intelligence service chief, Mohammed "Tewfik" Mediene. Over the past several months, however, Algeria’s deep politics have risen to the surface, exposing the main fault lines between the country’s most powerful political camps. With the April presidential election approaching, Algeria’s elite appears locked in dispute at the highest levels. Proponents of a fourth term for the aging and ailing Bouteflika are charging ahead, while his institutional rivals are struggling to find a viable alternative. And both sides appear to be searching for their own compromise candidates.

When Bouteflika took power in 1999, he was widely seen as a junior partner to Algeria’s powerful generals, who dominated politics during the brutal civil war in the 1990s. Many Algerians saw Bouteflika’s rise to the presidency as a maneuver designed essentially to provide a facade of procedural civilian reform-oriented democracy that Algeria’s military-political elite—know as “le pouvoir,” or the power—would continue to manage.

However, Bouteflika quickly went about a series of personnel and administrative changes intended to curb the power of the military high command and strengthen his own position. Though his efforts were met with early resistance, he was able to remove a number of key figures from the heart of the security apparatus, while others died in place. Bouteflika managed to restore the office of the presidency to a level of power relative to the military not seen since the 1970s under Algeria’s best-known strongman, Houari Boumediene. He also promoted a large number of colonels to the rank of general, while pushing many long-serving generals with suspect political loyalties into retirement.

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