Unprecedented infighting divides Algeria’s ruling class

Sunday 23/10/2016
FLN party chief Amar Saadani

TUNIS - The chief of Algeria’s ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) voiced hard-hitting criticism of the former head of the powerful mili­tary intelligence agency (DRS) and one of the country’s top political figures, causing a backlash that puts pressure on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to intervene in the un­precedented infighting.
“The latest statements of [FLN Secretary-General] Amar Saadani in which he made dangerous accusa­tions against Abdelaziz Belkhadem and General Mohamed Mediene un­dermine the country’s security and North African region stability,” said Abderrahmane Belayat, a top FLN official, following Saadani’s state­ments.
Saad Okba, lead political com­mentator in the main Arabic-lan­guage daily el Khabar, said: “If this situation remains the same… the ultimate loser will be President Bouteflika and not Saadani.”
“Heading to the polls with an FLN led by Saadani means real suicide for the political system on which Bouteflika is basing his policy,” Okba added.
Breaking a four-month silence, Saadani told a party leadership meeting that Mediene, the former chief of the military intelligence service, had “fomented deadly riots and ethnic strife in Ghardaia [dur­ing] popular protests against the government’s plan to develop shale gas”.
In the swipe against Mediene, commonly known as Toufik, and other top military officers known by the DAF acronym for Desert­ers from the French Army, Saadani said: “The DAF, upon whom France had bet to pursue control of Algeria, has been defeated.”
“They were the ones who mas­terminded plot against FLN in the 1990s. They were those who sowed the civil war, sidelined political cad­res and caused the bankruptcy of state-owned enterprises,” Saadani added.
Many Algerian soldiers and offic­ers deserted the French colonial army to join FLN guerrilla fighters in the late 1950s to fight alongside the nationalists in a bloody war that led to Algeria’s independence in 1962.
Among those were Algeria’s first president Ahmed Ben Bella and in­fluential generals Khaled Nezzar and Mohamed Lamari, who led Al­geria’s fight against a radical Islam­ist insurgency in the 1990s.
Dubbed kingmaker because of his 25-year tenure as head of DRS, Me­diene saw five presidents and a doz­en prime ministers come and go. He was known as “Rab Dzayer”, which means “God of Algeria”.
Bouteflika fired Mediene last year, ending the dominance of the shadowy and powerful DRS over politics and business affairs. That move solidified Bouteflika’s author­ity over Algeria’s armed forces.
Saadani accused Belkhadem of being “part of the network of France’s officers. He has been among those agents planted by France within our ranks. He is an agent of France within the FLN.”
Although Saadani verbally at­tacked Mediene three months ahead of presidential elections in 2014, his renewed attack on the re­tired general and on Belkhadem, a former FLN chief, prime minister and close aide to Bouteflika, is un­precedented in Algerian politics.
The cascading reactions to Saada­ni’s comments within and outside the FLN increased concerns about the country’s political stability as Algerians prepare for a major tran­sition: Bouteflika’s leadership will end in 2019 after two decades in of­fice.
Local and legislative elections in 2017 are seen as key milestone in the transition.
Top FLN officials, including mem­bers of parliament, rallied along­side rank-and-file activists against Saadani in the central city of Aflou on October 14th, while in the west­ern city of Sebdou, FLN members staged a protest urging Bouteflika, who is the party’s honorary chair­man, to fire Saadani.
Louisa Hanoune, leader of the leftist Workers Party and an ally of Bouteflika, said Saadani’s remarks were a “serious threat to the na­tion… because of the identity and profession of who made such state­ments”.
The leader of the National Front for Social Justice, Khaled Boune­jmaa, said “Bouteflika shoulders the responsibility for Saadani’s lat­est political sortie” and warned that Saadani’s comments “might trigger strife that would be difficult to con­trol”.
The most serious accusation Saadani made concerns the alleged role the DRS under Mediene played in the Ghardaia protests, which cast doubts about the ability of govern­ment bodies to handle political and economic challenges.
Ghardaia is home to two ethnic communities who share a history of rivalry. Chaamba Arabs, originally Bedouins, follow the Malikite Sunni sect of Islam, while Berber Moza­bites are Ibadis, practising a form of the religion distinct from Sunni and Shia.
The two groups have often clashed over property, housing, land ownership and employment opportunities.
Protests against hydraulic frac­turing for shale gas in southern Al­geria turned violent in March last year when security forces clashed with demonstrators outside a facil­ity run by the US-based firm Halli­burton near the town of Ain Salah.
Commentators in newspapers and on social media speculated about why Saadani made his re­marks at this time, and some blamed France for its alleged “influ­ence” over Saadani.
Political analyst Mustapha Ham­mouche said: “Saadani’s statements raise the question of whether there is an authority, a pilot on the plane, ahead of the elections.”