Algerian president dismisses senior military officers
ALGIERS - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika dismissed a number of senior military officers, the most notable being army chief of staff General Abdelghani Malti, and appointed General Amr Tlemsani to lead the ground forces.
Several judges and procurators in military courts in the areas of Blida, Oran and Ouargla were also dismissed.
Among the top officials sacked were General Boumediene Mazouz, who was in charge of a number of military schools; Brigadier-General Khelifa Ghaouar, chief of staff of the fifth military point; and General Hachemi Bachiri, chief of staff of the second military point of Oran.
Brigadier-General Abdelhakim Meraghni is to replace Ghaouar and Brigadier-General Hussain Mahsoul will take over from Bachiri.
The moves are the latest in a series of changes in the military sought by Bouteflika since 2013, amid a struggle for power between the country’s presidency and the military.
The military grip on power suffered a major blow when Algeria’s intelligence strongman, General Mohamed Mediene was dismissed by the president a year ago.
Unlike previous dismissals in the military, which had been leaked to the media and stirred up a heated debate before being implemented, the new firing came quietly and unexpectedly.
Many questions remain, especially with regards to the differences between the government and the military over the possible choices of succession of Bouteflika who has been ailing.
Since taking power in 1999, Bouteflika has sought to remove the country’s top brass and restructure the military.
Although he was initially supported by the military, which continued to back his presidency in his ill health, Bouteflika has made it clear that he would not be a “quarter of a president” — in a defiance of the country’s military and intelligence institutions.
The pace of the conflict between the presidency and the military establishment had accelerated recently but the roots of the tensions go back to the 2004 election, when Bouteflika dismissed late general Mohamed Lamari from his post as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and replaced him with General Ahmed Gaid Saleh.
Political observers see a connection between the new changes in the military and a move by some members of Algeria’s ruling party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), to remove Amar Saadani from the party leadership.
It is thought that Saadani has become the political arm of Saleh.
Other observers downplayed that theory, arguing that dismissals in the FLN can easily be arranged by the presidency without any pushback, as is the case with the military. They maintain that the change of local military leaders is part of putting younger officers in charge as the military transforms into a professional army.
They add that any change related to Gaid Saleh could come in moves among military officials at the Defence Ministry. Whether his replacement is orchestrated by the presidency or from within the military, the move might come in November or next July.
One scenario would be naming General Benali Benali chief of staff of the armed forces and instead of Gaid Saleh, leaving the latter with the title of deputy Defence minister.
Benali, the chief of the 5th military region with headquarters in Constantine covering the border with Tunisia, is the most popular general with a good record in fighting jihadists.
As for who will be the president’s successor, many influential networks in Algeria are supporting Bouteflika’s brother, Said. The country’s top generals, however, are seen opposing the naming of Said Bouteflika as a candidate for president. That is why some observers see the recent moves in the military leadership as steps by the presidency to make sure the military would not object to Said Bouteflika becoming president.
The military shake-up is also viewed as aiming to undermine the political influence of Saleh by dismissing some of his allies in the army.
It is worthy to note that the president’s decisions to dismiss the military officials did not come at the expected time of such manoeuvres: Around the beginning of July when the nation is celebrating its independence day.
It comes after the end of the summer holidays and as parliament readies to resume work, leading observers to expect additional surprises at the helm of power before the beginning of November.
Lamine Ghanmi, an Arab Weekly correspondent in Tunis, contributed to this report.