Bouteflika fires spy chief in sweeping change
TUNIS - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika sacked the feared head of the military’s main intelligence apparatus in a wide-ranging move as the ailing leader struggles to finish his fourth five-year term as the country’s leader.
General Mohamed “Toufik” Mediene, who headed the powerful Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS) for 25 years, was edged into retirement on September 13th. He was among a string of generals who had risen to dominate Algeria’s ruling regime since 1990 on the back of a rising radical Islamic tide that waned after a civil war that claimed more than 200,000 lives.
“General Toufik embodies the 1990s decade with its rivers of blood,” said Hacen Ouali, a political analyst.
“It is the end of a powerful man many in the country called rab Dzayer (Algeria’s god) and a victory for Bouteflika, who focused his energy on smashing the core of military generals of the 1990s era and swinging the overwhelming power to the presidency,” he added.
The move crowned the president’s step-by-step approach to reshape the security and intelligence services.
The much-feared DRS, which bears similarities with the secret services of the fallen security agencies of former Soviet Union satellites, is the most powerful element in Algeria’s intelligence and security apparatus.
Mediene, 76, joined the “Red Carpet” KGB training class in 1962 in the Soviet Union with which Algeria then had strong military and diplomatic ties.
Bouteflika “today ended the functions” of Mediene, said a statement from the president’s office. Such a simple announcement would have been unheard of a few years ago.
“The president brings down the maker of the presidents,” said the main Arabic-language daily El Khabar, which called the fired intelligence chief the “Shadow” as Mediene had been seldom seen even in photographs. He had long played the role of political kingmaker, analysts said, altering political choices in backroom showdowns between Algerian civilian and military factions that form the delicate balance of the leadership.
Mediene was replaced by Athmane Tartag, who was a Mediene deputy before becoming a security adviser to the president. Tartag, a retired general, left the DRS in 2013 when restructuring began. He was then named one of Bouteflika’s counselors.
The change of the guard took place during a ceremony presided over by armed forces chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah, a staunch Bouteflika ally.
There have been a series of high-level departures over the past two years, including the army’s security chief, General Mehana Djebbar; the head of counterespionage, known as General Hassan; along with changes at the top of the judicial police, the service that oversees the media and the service charged with economic investigations.
An Algiers-based Western military attaché said, “Bouteflika had taken down Mediene allies one by one in a cautious approach before turning on him.”
“The DRS’s shadow was everywhere like the sun and the moon. It was wherever there is human grouping: at the corridors of the ministries, state-owned businesses, government bureaucracy, civic associations and political parties,” said a source close to security services.
The president’s entourage described the restructuring as a move towards democratising the system, while opponents and newspaper commentators described it as settling scores.
Bouteflika was re-elected to a fourth term on April 2014 but has rarely been seen in public since recovering from a stroke in 2013, fanning Algiers’s political saloons over his chances to serve out his mandate, which ends in 2019.
Change in the security bodies also comes while the government is struggling with the repercussions of collapsing energy prices. A major natural gas supplier to Europe, Algeria depends on hydrocarbon sales abroad. They account for 60% of its budget and more than 90% of total exports.
Experts say the country had stepped up military and security spending in the past five years as it faces security threats on its borders with Libya, Mali and Tunisia.