Algeria’s old new direction under Bouteflika

August 14, 2015
Holding on to power

There can be no doubt that Algeria is moving in a new direction these days. While opinions may differ as to whether this is good or bad, it is clear that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is the main catalyst for this, despite his lack of response to traumatic events experienced by Algeria in the past.
So, we are seeing the return of Bouteflika using his constitu­tional powers. This is something that has drawn a sharp response from the political opposition and media, which are raising questions about his presence in govern­ment at a time when he has health problems. Incidentally, these are the same health issues that Bouteflika suffered from when he announced, and secured, another term in office as Algeria’s presi­dent.
Regardless of the winners or los­ers in his latest spate of decisions, which saw a reshuffle of minis­terial portfolios, governors and military commands, Bouteflika has reconfirmed himself as the main decision-maker in Algeria. This new decisiveness appears to be in direct response to rumours surrounding his health.
Algeria’s officials answer to him and he has every right to change or fire them, not just due to his constitutional powers as president but also because many of those who support him are motivated by self-interest.
This is something that is natural and that we see every­where in the world.
However, what is not normal is for these officials to become partners in corruption, something that has become a general social phenomenon in the Bouteflika era.
Bouteflika used two things to ensure his return to power. First, the desires and ambitions and loyalties of military, security and political figures. He managed to adapt everything to support his vi­sion of governance, using his long experience in the political game. Therefore, there is nothing strange in seeing parties from across the political spectrum allying with him or seeking to do so.
The other issue is the distribu­tion of oil revenues to the Algerian people. It is true that the methods of distribution are under discus­sion and review, as this money does not trickle down to the majority of the people, but this process is also beset by wide-scale corruption.
However, the majority of the people know that the corruption is not due to the president and that is why Bouteflika was voted in for a fourth term in office and, if he lives long enough, will also secure a fifth term.
As for the call that Algeria is preparing itself for the post- Bouteflika period, this is nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of the opposition. There is no institutional process to selecting a new president in Algeria. Rather this is subject to the military and strategic considerations of the moment. So Bouteflika is not ex­pected to back anyone close to him as his successor, while the view that his brother, Said Bouteflika, could inherit the presidency is also wishful thinking.
Bouteflika’s presidency is found­ed on three main pillars: First, the fact that he was elected as part of regionally and internationally recognised elections;
Second, the military’s unwaver­ing support, which itself is based on a desire to preserve Algeria’s unity and ensure that the country avoids the fate of other neighbour­ing Arab states;
Third, fear of the latest wave of chaos and conflict across the Arab world after learning from Algeria’s bloody tribal past.
Algeria’s political opposition is well aware of the source of Boutef­lika’s strength and is working to erode that.
That is why they are raising questions about the president’s health and calling for early elec­tions.
But Bouteflika’s legitimacy to make decisions such as this is not just based on his constitutional au­thority as president; the reality is that the constitution, government, army, security apparatus and all state apparatus are at the service of his vision. The latter do this not to serve Bouteflika but to pursue what they perceive as service to Algeria.