Despite Intelligence Shake-Ups, It’s Politics as Usual in Algeria

Despite Intelligence Shake-Ups, It’s Politics as Usual in Algeria
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika after taking oath as president, Algiers, Algeria, April 28, 2014 (AP photo by Sidali Djarboub).

On Jan. 25, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika dissolved the Department of Intelligence and Security, the country’s powerful military spy agency known as the DRS, replacing it with a new entity under executive control.

The move was one of several recent shake-ups in Algeria’s shadowy government. In September, Bouteflika announced the retirement of Gen. Mohamed “Toufik” Mediene, the longstanding head of the DRS and a powerful political figure, confounding Algerians and observers. The president argued that Toufik’s dismissal was “in line with the constitution.” But as Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck wrote for WPR at the time, “that muted explanation belied the stunning decision to remove Toufik.” It also signaled “major shifts within Algeria’s opaque power structure, which has exhibited surprising signs of public tension in recent years, as a battle to succeed Bouteflika looms.”

Changes within the DRS began in 2013, when the agency came under fire for its excessive response to a hostage crisis at the In Amenas gas complex in the Sahara. A raid by Algerian special forces killed nearly 40 foreign hostages. In response, Bouteflika fired and replaced some top DRS officials, precipitating a series of reshuffles that, according to Ghanem-Yazbeck, hinted at a “cold war between the military and Bouteflika’s inner circle—made all the more intriguing given Bouteflika’s fragile healthy and the mystery over his successor.”

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