Algerian president dismisses senior military officers

Sunday 11/09/2016
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika

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.