Political Observation - President Tebboune’s Return to Algeria and his Trip to Germany to Resume Treatment

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Political Observation - President Tebboune’s Return to Algeria and his Trip to Germany to Resume Treatment

Algerian state television announced on 29 December 2020 that president Abdulmajid Tebboune had returned to the country “safe and sound” after receiving hospital treatment for Covid-19 lasting two months in Germany.

Soon after his return, Tebboune presided over government meetings, signed the budget law for 2021 and ratified the new constitutional amendment. A short while after his return, it was announced that he would travel to Germany to complete his treatment, without indicating the length of his absence; this cast doubt over the reality of his health condition. His return to Algeria and then his departure less than two weeks later to complete his treatment denoted an urgent mission to ratify the new constitution, sign the budget law of 2021, and corroborate the reality that the army had designed to contain the popular dynamism, muzzle political parties and lend legitimacy to the authority that has become concentrated in the hands of the new faces from among the top brass who have inherited the deep state under the leadership of General Said Chengriha and his cronies, following the fierce struggle which saw a host of liquidations between the various wings, including the liquidation of the wing loyal to former chief of staff, Gaid Saleh, through a white coup against his men, and the work to restore the credibility of the historical military icons and security services, with the aim of neutralising Algerian mainstream public opinion once and for all.

It seems the return of the president from Germany was designed to dissipate the rumours surrounding his health and thwart the calls for effectuating article 102 of the constitution stipulating the removal of the president on the grounds of poor health; such calls were implicitly echoed by the President of the Peace Community Movement, Abdul Razak Makari.

This denotes that the return of president Tebboune, who is but a puppet and a political façade for the rule of the generals, was coordinated with Gen. Said Chengriha to circumvent any calls that could prevent the approval of the budget and the constitutional amendment which has impacted the function of the army, and to thwart the attempts at hampering the progress of the formation of the new authority, or giving the initiative back to the masses after they have been discarded from the equation.

The mysterious death of Gaid Saleh immediately after Tebboune assumed power has initiated a new phase in the chapter of struggle for power and positions of influence, and in the attempts at containing the Algerian dynamism. Soon after the death of Gaid Saleh, president Tebboune carried out extensive changes within the Algerian army, which affected the leaderships that former chief of staff had appointed, and consolidated the clique of Gen Said Chengriha. The most prominent leadership figures that Tebboune and Said Chengriha hastened to do away with was Head of Intelligence, General Wasini Bouazza, who had backed the rival of president Tebboune, namely former information minister Azzeddine Mihoubi. The dismissal of Wasini was to the advantage of former head of intelligence, Mohammed Mediene, aka Toufiq, Security Services Coordinator, Major General Athmane 'Bachir' Tartag, and Said Bouteflika, brother of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. This was an indication that the waters of the deep state had infiltrated the cracks of the establishment.

President Tebboune toppled, last August, a host of senior officers working in three key administrations within the defence ministry, including Gen. Abdelkader Lashkhem, head of the Communications, Information Systems and Cyber Warfare Department, Gen. Ali Akroum, head of the Organisation and Logistics Department and Gen. Rashid Shouaki, Head of the Military Industries Department. All this falls under the endeavour to turn the page of the interim period and its icons and reproduce the military leadership positions to guarantee the role of the army and tighten its grip on the authority after it had succeeded in circumventing the popular dynamism thanks to the presidential elections and the constitutional amendments. It falls also under the initiative aimed at healing the rifts with the old guard and its men, such as Gen. Toufiq, who is expected to be prosecuted anew to either exonerate him or alleviate his sentence, and Said Bouteflika, who is affiliated to the camp of the old guard, now that the path has been smoothed by absolving former Algerian Labour Party leader, Louiza Hanoun, of corruption charges, in addition to cancelling the subpoena issued to Khaled Nezzar who commented after the appointment of Said Chengriha as general chief of staff that the “army is now in safe hands”. Soon after, Khaled Nezzar was absolved of money laundering charges in Spain and the 20-year sentence issued against him in absentia was rescinded one month after his return to Algeria; he has recently returned to one of Algeria’s military bases onboard the presidential jet to face trial and have his case closed. This was exploited by opponents of the current authority to incite public opinion against it.

These facts indicate that Tebboune is nothing but a façade brought by the army and that the army are the de facto rulers of Algeria. The recent presidential elections were simply a measure designed to pacify the masses, give the military time to draw its breath and reproduce the political leadership that satisfies the interests of the military, pleases those behind them, dominates mainstream public opinion and dismantles the hard nucleus of the Algerian dynamism.

Tebboune’s continuance in power is currently dependent on the volition of the army and on their ability to benefit from his continuance in his capacity as a façade to reshuffle their cards domestically and send reassuring messages to their employers abroad. As for Tebboune’s slamming of normalisation and of the scurrying of some countries to sign peace treaties with the Jewish entity, it does not exceed being an alignment with the popular standpoint in Algeria that strongly rejects normalisation, especially as the rulers of Algeria and the army derive their legitimacy from their standpoint towards the Western Sahara and their standpoint towards the Palestinian issue, which is consistent with the emotions of the people in Algeria, despite their declared commitment to the Arab peace initiative and the two-state solution.

It is well known that Gen. Said Chengriha exploited the regional developments in Libya in which the role of Algeria and the interests of its leaders were marginalised due to the rapprochement between the al-Sarraj government and Egypt and due to the circumvention of the Turkish role that was consistent with the Algerian vision, and took advantage of the surprising developments in the issue of the Western Sahara, with which the army nurtures its intervention in ruling matters, to openly veer back towards the wing of Gen. Mediene and his security surrogates, and to arrange for the return of Gen. Khaled Nezzar, in an attempt to restore the reputation of the army, activate its role through the gates of the Sahara issue, and strengthen the security apparatuses and unify their ranks, ensure the cohesion of the regime and end its divisions which led the various wings to harness the popular dynamism and bulwark themselves behind it, and encouraged France to launch a smear campaign against the Algerian situation and incite chaos, a narrative reflected in Macron’s statement to the French magazine “Jeune Afrique” in which he said that he “supported president Tebboune in his bid to lead the transitional period and help the country overcome its political crisis.” This entails dissolving all the elected institutions and replacing them with a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution before holding fresh presidential and parliamentary elections.

The smear campaign against the Algerian situation was also reflected in the European parliament’s criticism of human rights abuses in Algeria and in the activities of France’s ambassador, Francois Gouyette, who was slammed by several Algerian MPs and party leaders and accused of meddling in Algeria’s affairs. MP Amira Salim accused him of “hosting the propagators of the interim period at his residence under the guise of supporting free political speech and defending human rights.” She added that “the French ambassador is taking advantage of our political vacuum to spread chaos and incitement, no to a transitional period whatever the cost." Algerian information minister Ammar Belhimer for his part told the official press agency that his country was “facing verbal attacks from France.”

Gen. Said Chengriha’s restructuring of the army and security agencies has come amidst these atmospheres to neutralise French meddling through which France is attempting to incite the Amazigh to seek secession, by taking advantage of the deteriorating economic situation caused by a drop in demand for oil due to covid-19; Algeria’s oil revenues suffered a setback and dropped by a third, and foreign currency reserves dropped from $200 billion in 2014 to $44 billion this year. The Algerian dinar lost 20% of its value against the euro in 2020 and some Algerians commented that UNESCO may declare the Algerian currency an endangered species.

The structuring undertaken by Said Chengriha aims also at unifying the stance of the deep state in the face of any popular dynamism or regional changes in the forthcoming period such as the Libyan file, normalisation and the role of the army in foreign missions, especially in Mali where America is attempting to curb French presence now that France has resorted to financing and forming a military force affiliated to her to avert losses among her soldiers, which have been on the increase in recent days.

5 Jumada al-Oolah 1442
18 January 2021