Bouteflika dissolves Algeria’s security service

Friday 05/02/2016
A 2014 file picture shows Abdelaziz Bouteflika being sworn as Algeria’s president for a fourth term in Algiers

ALGIERS - Algerian President Ab­delaziz Bouteflika has succeeded in his long fight to dissolve the country’s powerful se­curity service, the Département des Renseignements et de la Sécurité (DRS).

In effect the DRS, which has been viewed as “state within a state”, was dissolved on September 13th, when feared intelligence chief Gen­eral Mohamed “Toufik” Mediène was removed from office in a tricky power struggle. Mediène, who led DRS for 25 years, was considered the world’s longest-serving intelli­gence chief.

It is not unusual for intelligence chiefs to be cloaked in mystery but the extent of Mediène’s influence and power in Algeria had reached mythical levels. The myth was shattered when Bouteflika, who no longer appears in public, dismissed Mediène, who never appears in public.

A new agency, the Security Ser­vices Department (DSS), aims to merge security information coming from different services, including the police, military and rural police. The goal of the new agency is to bet­ter manage and harmonise security issues.

General Bachir Tartag, once a close aide of Mediène, will oversee the DSS and was promoted to the rank of minister.

The DSS will not be under the au­thority of the Minister of Defence, as was the DRS, but will answer to the head of state, as will the entire security and intelligence appara­tus. With this move, Bouteflika has full power, both constitutional and informal, and will be able to make decisions regarding his succession.

A unique feature of the Algerian regime has been its decision-mak­ing process. A secret conclave of senior military leaders has always co-opted the heads of state, from Ahmed Ben Bella (1962-65) to Chad­li Bendjedid (1979-92) to Bouteflika.

The establishment of the DSS sig­nifies a shift in the political process, transforming it from a collegial pro­cess to an individual decision. But the process is still neither transpar­ent nor democratic.

Algeria is at a crossroads. It badly needs a profound reform of its se­curity sector and more transparent civil-military relations. The meas­ures taken over the past years do not fundamentally alter the meth­od of governance since the aim is strengthening Bouteflika’s position.

The decision to dissolve the DRS was made in a special non-public order, as was the case with previous changes in the security apparatus.

Most critically, observers worried about the question of the political police, whose power has spread throughout the social fabric. As long as this is the situation, it will be hard for Algeria to be seen as a civil­ian state.

The question of succession re­mains at the heart of the political power struggle. The purge in the intelligence services has been a cru­cial step in the co-optation of one of the ruling groups, including Boutef­lika’s brother Saïd.

In any event, the next Algerian head of state will not have a free hand as oil revenues continue to fall. It will not be as easy to buy social peace if popular discontent starts to spread.