Algerian Brotherhood affiliate rebuked over call for army to play role in ‘transition’
TUNIS - Algeria’s military chief and leading political groups dismissed suggestions by the country’s Islamist party for a “transition” involving the army to end President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s stay in power.
Abderrazak Makri, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Movement of Society for Peace (MSP), unveiled plans to “forge a national consensus on a transition” to “end Algeria’s political and economic crisis” before presidential elections next April.
It is unclear whether Bouteflika, 81 and ailing, would seek a fifth term as president. He’s led the country since April 1999.
Makri called on military chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah to “play a direct role in the transition” and visited headquarters of the country’s ruling parties — the National Liberation Front (FLN) and the National Democratic Rally — seeking support.
Makri also lobbied six opposition groups, including the main secularist party Socialist Forces Front and Talaiou El Houriyet (Vanguards of Freedom), headed by former Prime Minister Ali Benflis.
Makri released a statement July 14 saying Salah must “get involved in ending the country’s crisis by presiding over a democratic transition.”
“The military institution must play a role in the settlement of the country’s current crisis… There are senior army officers who are aware of the danger and threats to the country if the status quo remains,” Makri said.
The country’s major political groups, including three other Islamist parties, dismissed Makri’s approach. Salah also refused the request, telling a meeting of senior military officials and cadets on July 25 that Algeria’s National Popular Army (ANP) only gets its orders from Bouteflika.
“The ANP is an army bound by its national duties within the framework of the constitution and will never get involved in political infighting of political groups and their sterile conflicts,” he said.
FLN Secretary-General Djamel Ould Abbes said Makri’s “democratic transition” was a bid by Islamists to win power.
“Gaining power in a democracy is gaining in elections,” said Ould Abbes. “Perhaps they have another definition of the democracy than the one outlined by the Greeks and the Romans.”
“They (MSP) talked about democratic transition with the help of the army. They must go slowly and not forget that we are not in a banana republic. They are wrong. The [army] is from the people. It is the FLN which created the ALN (National Liberation Army) from which the ANP originates.”
The ALN fought a brutal war for Algerian independence from France from 1954-62.
Makri quickly walked back his comments, posting on social media that “I never talked about political transition. I just mentioned consensus over the country’s social and economic problems.”
“I never asked the army to intervene. I believe that Gaid Salah’s remarks were not aimed at me but at the FLN,” Makri said.
The MSP was founded in the 1970s by Arabic language teacher Mahfoud Nahnah, who was influenced by Egyptian members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The group took a more measured approach than other political groups in its relationship with the military-dominated regime that recently evolved into a “liberalised autocracy.”
However, Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s, during which Islamists faced off with government forces, turned most Algerians against Islamist groups.
The MSP participated in 1997 parliamentary elections, helping legitimise the country’s political transition. It joined the government but was ejected because of a corruption scandal.
Makri said the MSP, after ending talks with political figures, would initiate a campaign that would include rallies across Algeria “to talk about our initiative of national consensus. We will make it an issue of society.”