2019-2020: Algerian Power versus the Hirak

It would be delusional to look for ways out of the general economic, political, and social crisis through futile technical or financial actions. To part with the rentier model, create a productive modern base, and restore the State would necessitate overcoming the authoritarian forms of governance of an ossified power.
2021-02-10

Omar Benderra

Economic expert, member of “Algeria Watch”


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Photography: Hassane Mezine, Algeria.

This publication has benefited from the support of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. This text may be reproduced in part or in full, provided the source is acknowledged.

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
Milan Kundera ~ The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

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Convinced to be safe from any organised protest, the Algerian regime did not anticipate, until the very last minute, the flood of Hirak protestors that momentous Friday of February 22nd, 2019. The decisionmakers atop the politico-police apparatuses were sure of their total hold over society. Just like the majority of political commentators, the generals thought the Algerian people to be largely subjugated and compliant.

A few weeks before announcing the nomination of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, on February 10th, 2019, for a fifth presidential term, Ahmed Ouyahia (1), one of the reviled figures of the regime and currently in prison for corruption, with typical arrogance proclaimed police command of the public space. Indeed, the political organisation, born out of the 1992 coup d’état, has never seemed so in control of the situation as it was now. The political police dual territorial and institutional coverage of the country had proven its effectiveness. So confident was the ruling class that re-electing an elderly 82-year-old in poor health and who, in 2014, had already been incapable of public speaking, let alone campaigning, was considered a pure formality.

The Cupola stupefied by the Hirak

The outburst of millions of protestors into city streets throughout the country one Friday 22nd of February 2019 has thus completely took the regime by surprise. The announcement of a fifth presidential term for Bouteflika, enthroned in 1999 by the military establishment that runs the country, was considered an insult to the population. It was the undeniable trigger that catalysed widespread unrest, already extremely noticeable. In fact, the human tsunami of that inaugural Friday was certainly no storm in blue skies. Public opinion, extremely indignant at the spectacle of predation, carried out by a caste of arrogant gangsters leading the country, had already protested, a long time ago, against the deteriorating conditions of its existence – of which the Harragas phenomenon (2) remains a tragic marker. Outraged and offended, but certainly far from resigned, Algerian men and women –in their bewilderment and contempt– had thus been invited to a tragicomedy of morals played by phoney, subaltern, and vulgar politicians, reduced to walking portraits of a nominal president, in a completely absurd and surreal electoral campaign.

The extent of the mobilisation, its nonviolent character for the entire world to see, and, last, but not least, the fact that the troops’ support for the regime was not guaranteed, were all factors that helped prevent leaping into a bloody unknown.

The muted discontentment of the population, perfectly visible for years, had never before revealed itself in the open in such a united and nonviolent manner. The scope of the demonstrations, extending to the far corners of the country, was as surprising as the peaceful form of protest. Alongside the impressive effect of the masses, the absence of “subversive” slogans (namely, “Islamist”), the forceful presence of women, and the friendly, calm, ambiance of the protests consolidated the undeniably unprecedented character of the event. The vast, highly mixed, and colourful processions of relaxed protestors matched none in the register of national political expression following Algeria’s independence. The only past comparable one would be the pro-independence demonstrations of December 11th, 1960. In between its repression and corruption of presumed “leaders”, the regime had been perfectly used to managing local riots, which regularly broke out here and there, for all kinds of reasons under the sun, and for decades. This once, however, it failed to regain control of political weather.

Members of the Cupola  (3) were obviously taken aback by such a phenomenon. In response, they deployed the riot police in a largescale operation and, during the first Fridays of protests, sporadically attempted to provoke protestors through repressive deadly actions (4). The executive generals, however, quickly took note of the impossibility to resort to repression. The memory of the atrocious 1990s war against civilians was in fact intact in each of their minds. Even the most determined and merciless generals could barely get themselves to imagine resorting to force with unpredictable consequences. The extent of the mobilisation, its nonviolent character for the entire world to see, and, last, but not least, the fact that the troops’ support was not guaranteed, were all factors that helped prevent leaping into a bloody unknown.

Feeling cornered and without social intermediaries, already undermined by serious disagreements between the three main branches of real power –political police chiefs, army chiefs, and presidential family’s wheeling-dealing entourage– the regime leadership quickly appeared as incapable of maintaining the bare minimum of consensus, not to mention its electoral platform.

The chief of staff wins the war for the summit

Following a brief series of procrastinations, particularly characterised by the odd proposal the presidential entourage laid out, of postponing the elections by a year – “the time needed to prepare for a democratic transition”– the army comes out of the woodwork and, on April 2nd, 2019, following no known procedure, removes Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Pretending to have listened to the vox populi and publicly congratulating the Hirak, while disparaging it in their own internal circles, the ANP leaders used the former to remain in power and settle old scores, simultaneously reasserting their control over the entirety of State apparatuses.

The “Cupola” splits into three poles with divergent interests: the presidency, led by Saïd Bouteflika, the DRS, represented by Lieutenant General Mohamed Médiène, alias “Toufik”, and, quietly advancing to assume the position of an arbiter, the military pole, which centres around the chief of staff, General Lieutenant Ahmed Gaïd Salah.

The resignation-dismissal of the incumbent president, openly assumed by Chief of Staff General Gaïd Salah, introduces a phase of settling of scores between power-sharing interest groups (“clans” in common parlance) (5). These diverse groupings, led by the most influential generals, are comprised of senior civil servants and wheeler-dealers (the “oligarchs”), who are directly connected to oil and gas revenues. Hence, with Algeria dependant on exporting these fuels as a key resource of its foreign currency and taxation, interest groups that quietly coexist during periods of elevated hydrocarbon prices tend to clash whenever the revenues drop and, along with them, their own distributable shares. That was the case, in fact, in the mid-1980s, which resulted in the 1988 October riots.

Under Bouteflika’s reign, the disagreements that sprung out of the competition between the upper groups around the public oil company, Sonatrach and some of its subsidiaries, came to light in 2010. The “Cupola” splits into three poles of divergent interests: the presidency, led by Saïd Bouteflika and, later, his brother (ever since health issues befell the former), true master of El Mouradia Palace (6); the Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS), represented by Lieutenant General Mohamed Médiène, alias “Toufik” (7); and, quietly advancing to assume the position of an arbiter, the military pole that centres around the all-powerful chief of staff, General Lieutenant Ahmed Gaïd Salah. The disagreements between the two first poles transformed into a war on positions during the months that followed the 2014 drop in petroleum prices.

In 2015 and in tune with the presidency, the general staff managed to fire General “Toufik”. The coexistence pact between the presidency and the general staff worked to the satisfaction of both parties until the appearance of the Hirak, where the former quickly shattered. As soon as President Bouteflika was removed from office, the general staff dismantled the political-wheeler-dealer network (and its military and police subdivisions) built up around Saïd Bouteflika and side-lined “Toufik’s” accomplices in intelligence services, administration, and business. The pretext behind the purge is quite known and illustrates the incestuous intergroup relationships at the height of power. Saïd Bouteflika and Toufik Médiène, who had long since been at odds, seem to have attempted a rapprochement to counter the manoeuvres of the general staff and impose a political solution in step with their interests.

A show of scrupulous observance of legal formalities, voided of any substance. The end behind such parodic observance of the constitution to the letter is to show, specifically foreign partners, how the system is a structure based on the rule of law, and functions as such…The military-police bureaucracy got rid of some of its most corrupt figures, but its incompetence remained unaltered.

The two heads of group and a number of their sidekicks were arrested on May 5th, 2019, tried and condemned on September of that same year to heavy prison sentences (8). The appeal trial, held in February 2020, would only confirm the decision of the first legal proceedings.

The regime exposed by the Hirak

Among the immediate, and most tangible, effects of the Hirak is quite obviously irrefutably proving the State to be controlled by the ANP, the country’s de facto supreme authority. Following Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s removal, the interim presidency was Abdelkader Bensalah’s – a particularly insignificant figure who presides over the Senate, an institution as fictitious as the parliament, and final destination for old apparatchiks.

Starting April 2nd, 2019, the interim government was initially intended to cover whatever time remained for the removed head of State and to organise presidential elections once the interregnum was over. Such a process finely demonstrates one of the compulsions of the regime, which consists of showing scrupulous observance of legal formalities voided of any substance. The end behind such parodic observance of the constitution to the letter is to show, specifically foreign partners, how the system is a structure based on the rule of law, and functions as such…

The hasty and summary trials that followed successively, however, and at a sustained pace, allowed for a glimpse at the embezzlements and, as such, revealed some of the system’s mafioso modes of operation.

The military-police bureaucracy got rid of some of its most corrupt figures, but its incompetence remained unaltered. Unable to keep an appointment, the regime confirmed that the presidential elections set for April, then for July, would be postponed to December 2019. As such, the interim presidential term would be extended for several months, in flagrant violation of the constitution, which the chief of staff was committed to scrupulously observe. However, given words, proclamations, and promises could only bind those, very few, who accord any credibility to a system of men incapable of complying with the rules that they themselves had set.

Changing everything to change nothing

Having swept off its rivals, the Cupola was now a general staff monopoly. The political police –undergoing structural reform ever since “Toufik”, who served 25 years as its irremovable leader, was dismissed– were brought to heel, while the presidential entourage was broken up. Generals and senior officers suspected of belonging to either of the two undone networks were put to retirement, imprisoned, or fled abroad (some of whom ran off with sensitive information).

The purge the general staff had set off struck the regime higherups, prime ministers and ministers, as well as businessmen with colossal fortunes built under the protection of leaders of groups currently falling apart. The hasty and summary trials that followed successively, however, and at a sustained pace, allowed for a glimpse at the embezzlements and, as such, revealed some of the system’s mafioso modes of operation.

Such vast settlement of accounts was presented as a local version of the Italian mani pulite operation, token of the army’s sincere desire to meet the people’s expectations. That was not really the case, of course: such a cathartic purge only aimed to convince the entire world that the regime was undergoing a systematic overhaul by eliminating its most corrupt branches. Subsequently, the popular protest would no longer need be, as the chief of staff recounted. Thus, without needing to question the authoritarian and delinquent nature of the regime, and at a low price, the generals implemented, in their own way, the famous recommendation of Lampedusa’s Leopard…(9)

All the way to its suspension, in the shadow of the pandemic in mid-March 2020, the Hirak and its protestors never stopped reiterating, in every possible way, the same slogans that called for the army to leave office so that the country would, finally, be governed by a “civil” State. To them, there is no such thing as good or bad interest groups at the top; all military leaders belong to the same “’Issaba”.

The least we could say is that such strategy, which one could see right through, was not really convincing. All the way to its suspension, in the shadow of the pandemic in mid-March 2020, the Hirak and its protestors never stopped reiterating, in every possible way, the same slogans that called for the army to leave office so that the country would, finally, be governed by a “civil” State. To them, there is no such thing as good or bad interest groups at the top; all military leaders belong to the same “’Issaba”, that is, to the same “gang” … where power is a single “clan” monopoly, a monopoly of military commanders.

Following the Hirak’s obvious and absolute rejection of their agenda, staff generals attempted various approaches to reconstruct their base, by more or less renewing it, and convincing others of their sincere will to change. Shortly after the appointment of the interim president, former ministers, who took a back seat during Bouteflika’s reign, were successively entrusted with leading dialogue forums or national debates (10). The subsidised pseudo civil society, created from scratch by the political police, was revived in an attempt to provide substance to a debate deeply out of step with the political realities and the dynamics of the popular movement. These manoeuvres, however, fizzled out and ended up abandoned. Consequently, the regime set sail for the presidential elections of December 12th, 2019.

General Ahmed Gaïd Salah’s vendetta

During the same period, and at a rhythm of at least a speech per week during oversight visits across the country (which might have finally gotten the better of his health, according to the authorised narrative), it appeared that Ahmed Gaïd Salah, the ANP chief of staff, sole authorised spokesperson for the regime, was the true leader of the country’s political life. Until his death (caused by a heart attack, as per the official narrative) and in between imprecations, threats, and fake affability, the old general (aged 79) would attempt to put an end to the Hirak, all the while pursuing and condemning anyone who opposed him in the army or the intelligence services.

Ahmed Gaïd Salah was convinced that the Hirak was product, first and foremost, of destabilising plots coordinated by those political police who remained loyal to General “Toufik” Médiène, his ruined rival. He was particularly convinced that these networks, especially in Kabylia, were the real instigators of the popular uprising. Based on such a conviction, playing on highly overestimated linguistic divisions, a repressive (and provocative) tightening was decided upon in June 2019. Such a security turning point notably translated into banning the Amazigh emblem from the demonstrations, which served as a pretext to the first arbitrary Hirak activist arrests.

According to his entourage, the slogans denouncing the chief of staff and his notorious complicity with the United Arab Emirates (11)  came from the still-very-active black box of the former Department of Intelligence and Security. Such paranoiac fixation the Lieutenant General suffered did not correspond with reality, however; that is, regardless of the fact that the inner circles of the former chief of “moukhabarat”, working alongside other segments of the nomenklatura or together with them, may have very likely attempted to manipulate the Hirak to their advantage. Notwithstanding the source of information, rejecting the entire the military-police system is at the core of popular demand. To those who scorn it, the “’Issaba” (12), whatever its internal contradictions may be, is an indivisible totality. No current or fallen figures from the Cupola could find grace in the eyes of the majority of the population, which can precisely identify the real heads of corruption networks and illegal commissions. Moreover, thanks to an effective word-of-mouth tradition that has long learned to thwart the political police’s fake news, the Algerian public opinion is also well informed about the external alliances of power and, as far as the chief of staff connections are concerned, knows the regional political role assigned to the United Arab Emirates (13). Likewise, everyone is aware of the capital-recycling role Abu-Dhabi plays – the financial centre of a country with whom the ANP is associated, for no rational justification, and in highly sensitive sectors. (14)

As such, authoritarianism and arbitrariness, to terrify society, remain the automatic recourse of an organisation that could not bear the slightest openness, to avoid risking its collapse. The will to reduce the Hirak has thus translated into a hunt for citizens, guilty of voicing their opinions, and imprisoning journalists…

In an atmosphere of serious boycotts, the December 2019 presidential elections took place –as unconvincing a formality as its predecessors– with more than 85% of abstentions, according to all credible observers. President “Elect” Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a chief-of-staff protégé, is a one-dimensional cadre in a regime that, over the course of its reproduction “by successive amputations”, as famously put by Hocine Aït-Ahmed, is reduced to choosing its staff from a regressive, obsolescent, and increasingly mediocre pool of personnel. The Cupola, however, is precisely in need of such a profile: integrated into the system, malleable, and disciplined. More than ever before, the presidential palace, El Mouradia, appeared for what it is: one more barrack on the map of real power.

Covid-19: enter Deus ex Machina

The brutal death of General Gaïd Salah on December 23rd, 2019, seemed to mark a respite from the vendetta carried out by the general staff against the Department of Intelligence and Security. Otherwise, the death of the highly vindictive and tiresome chief of staff came at just the right moment to facilitate restructuring the regime’s equilibrium.

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The new chief of staff, General Saïd Chengriha (aged 74), does not harbour the same grievances towards the other, military-police, pole – the group led by the former head of the political police. And with good reason: this special forces commander and DRS official, who stuck out in a particularly bloody manner in the 1990s war against civilians, committed crimes against humanity at the time, and today presides over the military and political police – namely, real power (15). Moreover, the new chief of staff is well aware that Algeria is headed towards an economic and social storm zone, and that the regime, more than ever, must solder its ranks together and unite to stand as one front. In the meantime, its priority objective would be to put an end to the Hirak and return to the previous status quo, having rid itself of the most inexcusable Bouteflika dregs.

Very discretely, General Chengriha, established in his position as chief of staff in July 2020, sets about a process of rapprochement with figures close to the former DRS. As such, retired officers, close to General Toufik, were appointed to important posts in the presidency of the Republic, while others, tried in court and given infamous sentences, were unobtrusively liberated from prison (16). Only members of Saïd Bouteflika’s entourage remain sacrificed on the altar of change. Their expiatory calling resulted from becoming outsiders to the core military-police system: they were no longer capable of being a nuisance, and were thus rendered into sacrifice material.

The virus constituted a divine surprise for those in power, who had been on the defensive for more than a year. What every manoeuvre of a psychological stunt attempted by the secret services (moukhabarate) failed to achieve, the novel coronavirus managed it. Conveniently, by mid-March 2020, the Hirak decided to suspend its weekly marches.

The context is dominated by a chaotic management of the public health crisis. The serious disorganisation on all levels (anarchic hospital management, disrespecting the lockdown…) illustrates well the completely dysfunctional and negligent administration. The resumption of clandestine migratory movement towards Europe, the “Harga”, eloquently articulates the state of general demise.

The internal measured reconciliation (emphasis on “measured” as Toufik is still in prison…), carried out by General Chengriha (convinced that the Cupola should reunite in order to face the Hirak), was consolidated by the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus constituted a divine surprise for those in power, who had been on the defensive for more than a year. What every manoeuvre of a psychological stunt attempted by the secret services (moukhabarate) failed to achieve, the novel coronavirus managed it. Conveniently, by mid-March 2020, the Hirak decided to suspend its weekly marches.

Thus, the window of opportunity that opened up to regain control over the political situation is a godsend that the regime is attempting to make the most of, in its own characteristic fashion, alternating repression and manipulation. On the agitprop front, the thesis of a changed era rapped out by regime communicants is backed by the umpteenth draft of constitutional amendments. Such bureaucratic ritual is observed with every change of a chief of staff, whereby the message is always the same; that is, to reaffirm the civilian character of the regime, reiterate a commitment towards more democratic openness, and to attest to the leadership role played by the president, recently enthroned by the ANP. Of course, very few people would make much of such a formality of a clause (17). The constitution is a notoriously restrictive worthless text for a system before which its real leadership, beyond its institutions, is neither accountable nor respectful of any of its rules.

Nothing could answer the proclamations of a head of State, channelled through particularly inconsistent media performances, but the derision of its TV viewers. The “pitches” for a “new Republic” or a “New Algeria”, which he intends to embody and promote, are completely out of touch with the aggravated repression on the ground. In fact, the intense campaign of bullying and arrests, launched by the police services that keep a watchful eye over social networks, constitutes an open and relentless refutation of a catalogue of good intentions, trotted out throughout every televised speech.

For several months now, dozens of activists have been imprisoned, tried, and heavily condemned for having simply exercised their right to self-expression. In the bleak history of violations of freedoms perpetrated by the dictatorship, save the repression carried out by the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) at the beginning of the Dirty War, never has such a number of citizens been thrown into prison for having dared to voice their opinion on the political situation of their country. Dozens of prisoners of conscience joined journalists and political activists behind those bars, that is, beside the detained and forgotten of the 1990s war against civilians. News websites have thus been censored and blocked (18)  and magazines publicly threatened by the executive branch, which has returned to the morals, though not the know-how, of the long-gone one-party era.(19)

The “New Algeria”: renewed incompetence and authoritarianism

Hardened, and long-since in a terminal stage it strives to prolong, come what may, power falls back into the methods found at the root of its political DNA. As such, authoritarianism and arbitrariness, to terrify society, remain the automatic recourse of an organisation that could not bear the slightest openness, to avoid risking its collapse. The will to reduce the Hirak has thus translated into a hunt for citizens, guilty of voicing their opinions, imprisoning journalists, along with campaigns to slander and demonise totally honourable political actors. Likewise, the usual communicants have been mobilised to produce second-rate literature that portrays some of the popular movement’s prominent figures as foreign agents. (20)

Toufik’s psychological stunts, practised by his followers during the “Dirty War”, regain influence and reappear in public with a resumed discourse of eradication and demonisation of political Islam. As such, manoeuvres to fragment the Hirak would be purely based on fake contradictions between secular and Islamist groups.

Nonetheless, the context is dominated by a chaotic management of the public health crisis. The serious disorganisation on all levels (anarchic hospital management, disrespecting the lockdown…) illustrates well the completely dysfunctional and negligent administration. The triumphalist declarations of the executive branch regarding its claimed “mastery over the situation” confirm its lack of touch with reality. The impossibility of implementing a lockdown other than by a semi unnamed state of siege –as in the closure of all ground access to the capital on the eve of Eid El-Adha, to prevent as many ritual holiday gatherings as possible– says much about the ethics of a cynical and repressive bureaucracy.

The Algerian authority, concentrated more than ever in the hands of senior military and police commanders, is attempting to reorganise and regroup in order to prevent, in any way it can, the return of the Hirak after the end of the pandemic.

Furthermore, the regime is incapable of taking even the most minimal of measures to help economic operators make difficult ends meet. Likewise, it is incapable of ensuring a universal basic income, vital to dozens of thousands of workers, especially those employed in the informal sector, unemployed since the pandemic broke out. Such a situation was aggravated by the complete disarray of administrative departments; furthermore, cash liquidity shortages, which affect the banking sector, is an extreme embodiment of a punishment in a country where no other form of payment is available. In such created and sustained disorder, militaristic rigidity, brutal and manipulative cynicism, as well as contempt for the people all formulate the grammar of those unchanging pillars of power.

Contrary to incantatory denials of its spokespersons, the de facto management of the country knows that it should meet the inevitable economic and social deadlines. The shrinking hydrocarbon revenues have intensely reduced the level of foreign exchange reserves, which today covers no more than one year of imports (as opposed to three or four years in 2013). In a similarly disconcerting manner, having exhausted all monetary fixes, the governors cannot but notice the extent of an inflated deficit. The regime is thus inexorably stripped of its margins of financial manoeuvres and the means to anesthetise social wrath. At the end of all miscalculations, negligence, and pillaging, it is the most vulnerable classes, who already suffer appalling conditions, who will have to pay the price of the economic crisis. The resumption of clandestine migratory movement towards Europe, the “Harga”, eloquently articulates the state of general demise. What will happen tomorrow, at the end of 2021, when the annual revenues will no longer suffice to pay the fixed importation bills? What possible exists could be accessible to the regime when the availability and prices of essential goods, amidst shortage and scarcity, surpass small pockets?

A frozen dictatorship and a society in movement

What miracles, what “friendly” country or “an understanding” financial aid institution could make up for the serious imbalances of a country that contains more than 44 million inhabitants? As history would have it, such aid is always more discursive and diplomatic than concrete. Power could, nonetheless, bank on politically pressuring its external networks, as we witnessed in July 2020 during the grotesque episode where France returned the historical skulls of resistance fighters. The way this act, with its strong symbolic load, was managed, whose date was thought of as a communicative gift to the Algerian regime from its neo-colonial sponsor, has especially exposed the nature of its relations with its former capital. (21)

While the health crisis granted the regime a godsent respite, it did nothing to advance or respond, at the very least, to the people’s expectations. The Algerian authority, concentrated more than ever in the hands of senior military and police commanders, is attempting to reorganise and regroup in order to prevent, in any way it can, the return of the Hirak after the end of the pandemic. Though dreaded by the regime, such resurgence is inscribed in the natural course of the country’s history. The disastrous management of the health crisis helped quantify the dereliction of the State, and thus further fuel indignation and anger. The widening gap between authority and society is too great to return to the status quo that had prevailed until February 22nd, 2019.

Algerian society has progressed throughout the last decades and, by force of the digital age, has greatly opened up to contemporary challenges. The Hirak consolidated such political and cultural maturity and presented it to the world in its peace-seeking and democratic pluralism. The regime’s brains, however, are lightyears away from a rapidly changing society, which it systematically hinders from its aspirations for attaining a State of law and national development.

Formed around the army and the moukhabaraat, liberticide and predatory, the system remains intact in its organisation, untouched in its refusal of the law, and fixed in its methods. The military-police dictatorship, timeless, frozen in brutal authoritarianism, and a rare type of incompetence, is leading Algeria into chaotic realms.

And tomorrow?

The prospects following the end of the lockdown are particularly unsettling. Does the regime, product of the January 11th, 1992 putsch, and often favoured by circumstances, expect a trend reversal in the oil market, to recover its elevated prices and a certain financial affluence? The political economy of a predatory and sterile power, clearly incapable of reforming itself, is, despite its drastic shrinkage, entirely founded on economic rent to guarantee its permanence, by buying its supporters and anesthetising popular protests. Police repression, served by a debased legal system, and psychological manoeuvres, are the ultimate instruments of a system in dire straits. One needn’t be a genius to measure the damages caused by these methods and multidimensional implications of rushing headfirst to disaster. From such a perspective, power clearly appears to be leading a rear-guard battle. Authority is reconstructing itself around its fundamentals and preparing itself for a violent confrontation with society. Military commanders, among the fiercest executors of the Dirty War against civilians, believe that “defibrillating” – (22) though undoubtedly resorting to other expressions– the social body would be the price to pay for a return to dictatorship and normalcy.

Even without imagining such worst-case strategy, the risks of a State collapse, in a state of such exacerbated general crisis, are no longer purely hypothetical. The picture is a bleak one, but History shows that the worst is never sealed as fated. The economic crisis could be averted, and avenues for recovery are perfectly imaginable. Other countries have crossed even more problematic and turbulent patches from which they emerged prosperous and strengthened. Political clairvoyance, proof of which is the Hirak, popular creativity, and the enormous untapped but available potential of skills form the basis for an acknowledged political contract that respects the dignity of all. It is right within this level that the essential precondition lies – for resolving the entirety of problems with which the country grapples.

It would be delusional to look for ways out of the general economic, political, and social crisis in futile technical or financial actions. To part with the rentier model, create a productive modern base, and restore the State would necessitate overcoming the authoritarian forms of governance of an ossified power. Likewise, national rebuilding is preconditioned on respecting public freedoms and the State of law.

It is under these conditions that a free society could regain trust in its destiny; that the people could finally mobilise the means to rebuild a viable State in which they would find full expression of themselves; that Algeria, in its very ancient dynamic of emancipation and thirst for freedom, would be able to finally prepare for itself a future where everyone would find reason to live and hope.

The content of this publication is the sole responsibility of Assafir Al-Arabi and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation cannot accept any liability for it.

Translated from arabic by Yasmine Haj
Published in Assafir Al-Arabi on 08/10/2020

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1- See https://www.tsa-algerie.com/ahmed-ouyahia-letat-a-prouve-par-le-passe-quil-peut-maitriser-la-rue/ [in French].
2- “Harga” is a movement of young Algerians feeling to Europe. It subsided during the Hirak but now seems to have largely picked up. See “The Algerian Harraga flood the Spanish coasts,” ObservAlgérie, July 27th, 2020.  https://www.observalgerie.com/les-harraga-algeriens-affluent-vers-les-cotes-espagnoles/2020/ [in French].
3- From the Italian Cuppola, which denotes, in mafioso language, the superior regulatory and coordinating authority of the Cosa Nostra gang members.
4- See https://www.elwatan.com/edition/actualite/la-famille-benkhedda-fait-appel-de-lordonnance-de-non-lieu-01-03-2020 [in French].
5- For more on these networks, see Omar Benderra, “Algeria of the Oligarchs: An Alliance between Bayonets and Chests,” Algeria Watch, December 2014. https://algeria-watch.org/?p=5126 [in French].
6- The presidential palace is located in Algiers’ heights (previously Le Golf), in an old colonial army barrack.
7- A Janviériste general, committed crimes against humanity, and headed the Department of Intelligence and Security –the political police military– from 1990 to 2015.
8- https://www.jeuneafrique.com/834888/societe/proces-de-said-bouteflika-en-algerie-pour-lavocat-du-general-toufik-le-verdict-aurait-pu-etre-pire/ [in French].
9- The Leopard, a novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. In reference to creating the illusion of change in governance to appease the people, and so ensure one’s reign.
10- Abdelaziz Rahabi and Karim Younes (today’s “mediator of the Republic”) were tasked in July and August 2019, respectively, with coordinating a “national forum for dialogue” and launching a “national debate”. The two projects, which elicited no public response, ended in absolute failure.
11- Precisely at the eve of the outbreak of the Hirak, Ahmed Gaïd Salah was carrying out one of his frequent visits to Abu Dhabi: https://algeria-watch.org/?p=71101 [in French].
12- Criminal conspirators, an organised gang.
13- To learn more about the geopolitical role the UAE plays, see https://www.lepoint.fr/monde/tribune-les-emirats-maitres-de-la-contre-revolution-arabe-23-05-2019-2314718_24.php [in French].
14- On the trade and industrial relations between the ANP and Abu Dhabi, see https://www.elwatan.com/edition/contributions/algerie-les-dangereuses-liaisons-emiraties-21-07-2019 [in French].
15- See “Who is General Saïd Chengriha? Account given by Habib Souaïdia”, Algeria Watch, December 28th, 2019, https://algeria-watch.org/?p=73005 [in French].
16- General Mehenna Djebbar, one of General Toufik’s particularly sinister assistants.
17- On the draft Constitution, see “The ‘New Algeria’ Constitution reaches no consensus”, Le Monde, May 12th, 2020. https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2020/05/12/la-constitution-de-l-algerie-nouvelle-ne-fait-pas-consensus_6039444_3212.html [in French].
18- On the censorship of Maghreb émergent and Radio M, see https://www.afrik.com/redouane-boudjema-on-ne-peut-faire-evoluer-le-systeme-mediatique-sans-mutation-du-systeme-politique [in French].
19- See Redouane Boudjemaâ, "Journalism is hostage to financial interests and to bureaucracy”, July 13th, 2020, https://algeria-watch.org/?p=73881 [in French].
20- See the critique written by Khaled Satour of the theses that regime intermediaries promoted: “The Hysterisation of the debate on the Hirak: on Ahmed Bensaada’s Revelations’,” Algeria Watch, June 25th, 2020. https://algeria-watch.org/?p=73796 [in French].
21- See the "Legitimate and important repatriation in Algeria of the remains of the resistance fighters from the 19th century”, Colonial and Postcolonial History, July 10th, 2020, https://histoirecoloniale.net/Le-rapatriement-legitime-et-important-en-Algerie-des-restes-de-resistants-du.html [in French].
22- A word King Hassan II used, in reference to the political restlessness in Algeria following the events of October 1988.

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