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Demonstrations in Algeria: what you need to know Demonstrations in Algeria: what you need to know
by Joseph Gatt
2019-05-03 07:05:52
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In Algeria pretty much everyone wants to be president. OK not everyone, but many members of the elite see themselves as potential presidents. As president you tend to be a father figure to the nation, you tend to have your portrait displayed all over the place, and you take decisions that are often not seconded by anyone. You have access to the country's political and business ventures, and you do pretty much what you want with them.

Algeria is a country where oil revenue tends to be reinvested in business projects. Business projects tend to be costly, specifically because businesses, with complicity of the government, operate under large profit margins that the business magnates get to keep. That is if building a road would coast a million dollars anywhere else, business magnates would charge three million dollars for the road, and keep a couple million dollars in their pocket.

alger001_400_01So as president you get rich, wealthy, famous, all the girls want to sleep with you, your family is guaranteed a life of riches. Your children are assured to become tycoons, your brothers and sisters and in-laws will be sure to make a fortune, so will your wife's family. Your wife's family will prevent your wife from divorcing you so they can stay in business, and your wife will turn a blind eye to your romantic escapades.

So there are many who find the job very attractive. It tends to be a lifelong job, with lots of perks and benefits, and you basically own the country.

Bouteflika gave his last televised speech in March 2011, and was visibly ill during that speech. That's when you had a lot of candidates trying to pull strings for his succession. Very few of the candidates used social media, but most candidates try to use formal media and started touring the army, big business and politics, very subtly suggesting that they could be next in line for the presidency.

The consensus was to kill time until a consensus could be found around a successor. But by killing time, the list of potential candidates kept getting longer and longer. More and more people wanted the job, some wanted the job for themselves, others for their Oxford or Harvard or Cambridge or Sciences Po educated children, in some cases not-so-educated children, or brothers, or in-laws. The Algerian elite became narcissistic to the core, dismissing everyone else as worthless, and airing the merits of themselves or their children, subtly and indirectly, as those most capable of ruling the country.

When Bouteflika's health deteriorated and his days seemed to be counted, the army brought people to the streets. Why am I saying the army brought people to the streets? There was an air of spontaneity in the demonstrations, but the press advertising agency is controlled by the government, and if you write articles in the press that go against the government's position, you lose advertising. So the press only took the risk to cover the demonstrations, and encourage demonstrators to come out, when they were assured that they would not lose their advertising rights.

So the army will likely use the demonstrations until a consensus is found on who should rule the country. The army also warned the media against favoring such or such candidate, as the army wants to decide, and decide alone.

Who would be the ideal candidate? Someone who would not play the army and the intelligence services, someone who would turn a blind eye on oil for business deals, the kind where a one million dollar building is charged five million dollars, and one who would not be tempted by totalitarian rule. That is, one who would not try to micromanage the country. Also, a candidate who would not try to put his family forward, or who would try to set up exclusive business cliques. And one who has a little bit of charisma and a charismatic presence when giving speeches. That's a lot on the army's plate, as whoever the army chooses, there will always be people who say they would have been a better fit for the presidency.

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