Algeria Army Magazine signals continuing divide between military and radical opposition

The editorial carried the title, “Woe to the traitors of the homeland.”
Monday 11/05/2020
 Algerian protesters take part in an anti-government demonstration in the capital Algiers, last February. (AFP)
Divide. Algerian protesters take part in an anti-government demonstration in the capital Algiers, last February. (AFP)

ALGIERS – An editorial in this month’s issue of The Army Magazine violently attacked political activists opposed to the government’s move to make a break between the military establishment and the political opposition that emerged from the popular protest movement.

The editorial, carrying the ominous title, “Woe to the traitors of the homeland,” did not hesitate to level charges of treason against certain unnamed parties. It accused individuals of “operating on social media networks from some European capitals,” a clear reference to opposition activists outside the country.

The Army Magazine, a mouthpiece of the military establishment, has expressed the institution’s view of Algeria’s political situation since longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down in early April 2019 and a military elite led by the late commander General Ahmed Gaid Saleh emerged to the forefront. The magazine’s recent editorial states: “When we say Algeria has enemies waiting to pounce on it and who question its achievements, it is not an exaggeration but rather a visible fact that only the ungrateful will deny.”

It seems that the Hirak movement’s demand of a “civil state” is rather irksome to Algeria’s military elite. This simply renews the struggle between the political establishment and the military establishment over who is really in charge of the country’s affairs.

The strong demand for a “civil state, not a military one” raised in nationwide protests, which were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, seem to be the crux of the arm-wrestling between the ruling authority and the angry Algerian streets. It marks a crucial stage in the country’s very sensitive path towards political change and may either lead it to a new historical stage or keep the country under the influence of the military.

The editorial accused the opposition and protesters of “refusing to use the slogan, ‘The army and the people are brothers’,” and instead choosing “to continue barking like rabid dogs ‘a civilian state, not a military one’, in addition to other slogans that were cooked up in the laboratories of the enemies of the country.”

The piece went on to castigate the opposition, saying: “More than that, spreading rumours has become their favourite pastime, reporting the smallest details of what was going on during the meetings of the military leaders as if they were present in the same room with them. They went on to announce the arrest of certain officers and the promotion of others, and even went so far as to report the illness of some and the death of others.”

For years now, opposition activists have appeared in several European capitals claiming to have extensive knowledge of inside details of influential state institutions. They said that “honourable men” inside the state apparatus were keeping them updated about the situation, including with details of what they described as “the backgrounds and signs of the rivalries between the different wings inside the ruling regime.” This might explain why the army has chosen to break its usual silence and outline its position in the mentioned editorial.

The veiled threats in the editorial have sparked a wave of criticism on social media networks. Commentators pointed to the unprecedented use of vocabulary that foreshadows a coming tug of war between the military leadership and activists in the political opposition and the popular movement. They said that the editorial clearly laid the foundations of a break between the two sides, which is likely to lead to future political confrontations immediately following the lifting of social distancing measures.

The editorial went on to say that “social media platforms have become a hotbed for many traitors and some ignorant people, distorting facts and fabricating lies … pages on Facebook, videos on YouTube, and opportunists intruding on human rights activities … quasi-media professionals and professionals of lies and false news running after fame and money but who in reality are nothing more than a gang of mercenaries.”

It also hinted at the form and content of the state pursued by the new authority under the leadership of President Abdelmedjid Tebboune, and the powerful military elites behind him. This new state model is based on the draft constitution announced last Thursday, which included fundamental changes to the present model, such abolishing what has become known as the “presidential one third” inside the National Assembly, allowing the president to rule by decree during periods of parliamentary holidays, and other amendments.

Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether the basic demands raised by the popular movement that have so far been ignored and swept aside by the establishment will be met. There is even more uncertainty given the broad campaign launched by authorities against political activists. Arrests of activists still occur almost daily, in a move meant to intimidate protesters before any return to the streets after the end of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Many activists are still in police custody or are already serving prison sentences on charges of threatening national unity or mob incitement. Opposition political activists Karim Tabou, Samir Belarbi, Abdelwaheb Farsaoui and Rachid Nakaz are still in jail, in addition to dozens more recently arrested.