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The future of Algerian politics The future of Algerian politics
by Joseph Gatt
2020-01-23 09:10:09
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Notes on Algerian politics, in no particular order.

-Algeria has just elected Abdelmajid Tebboune as its president.

-A little bit of insider history. During the Bouteflika years, a hierarchy was installed within the army and intelligence services. While there had always been a hierarchy of sorts between officers, lower-ranking officers were often treated with some kind of respect by the higher-ups. As age and rank and region of origin were taken into account in the hierarchy, many officers claimed to be 10 years older than they actually were (35 if they were 25, 45 if they were 35) and many claimed to be from “Bousaâda” which is a rural city south of Algiers, often a euphemism because Bousaâda means “the city of happiness” or “the helpful city.”

alge01_400-Unfortunately, many political, military and intelligence officers refuse to retire, and the older ones reduce their age by 10 years (70 if they are 80, 60 if they are 70) to cling to power. Older officers often have access to higher rank, better paychecks, better housing and business opportunities, and business opportunities that keep increasing, which is why they refuse to retire. Older officers also refuse to retire because their children and extended families often play a role in their businesses, and are under the old officer's protection in business.

-Younger officers were stuck with low ranks, dismal pay (often between 150 and 300 US Dollars a month), scorn, contempt and disrespect from older officers, dismal housing conditions, very slow if non-existent promotions. Also, since around 2010 with all the security threats, younger officers are often overworked, and are not thanked for their work.

-Regional tribalism also played a role to a certain extent during the Bouteflika years. The “Tlemcen” clan (Bouteflika's hometown) was favored over all other regions, and Bouteflika went as far as preventing officers from the Tlemcen clan from retiring. The Tlemcen clan was the de facto leader and assumed many leadership positions in the army and intelligence services, occasionally “crushing” or “bullying” people from other clans in the process.

-So a mixture of young officers and officers from different clans got together, bonded, and decided to “bring massive peaceful demonstrations” in February 2019. The Tlemcen clan did not resist, as the economy was hitting a critical point and cash reserves were almost empty.

-The government and the older generation then “forced” elections, despite the “young” clan opposing the elections. Younger army and intelligence officers wanted a “national debate” where all the “dirt would be dug up” but older officers opposed such an idea and preferred moving forward with elections.

-Tebboune was the candidate of choice. He represents the older generation, is 74 years old (officially) and will let the older clan clean their businesses up before; perhaps, some kind of economic reforms will take place.

-Tebboune is the Soviet equivalent of Andropov or Tcherenko after Brezhnev's death. Tebboune was never a famous high-ranking official (he had a brief, almost unnoticed stint as Prime Minister), is mostly an “insider” with no international connections. Algeria refused people with foreign connections the role of the presidency (such as Mihoubi or Lamamra or others) as they feared a leader who would use foreign connections to sign military pacts that would protect the president, then have the president proceed with purges and reforms while being protected by the French, American, British or other armies.

-Three scenarios are likely for Algeria. First, oil prices could go way up, in which case older officers will go back to the habit of spending and doing business. Second, oil prices could stay where they are (97% of Algeria's exports are oil and gas) in which case Tebboune will have to negotiate emergency loans. Third, oil prices could collapse, in which case Algeria will be a 1992 Russian-style failed state.

-Now Algeria's main problem is that it has not been grooming leaders among younger officers. While the older generation (those who were educated in the 1960s and 70s) often received rigorous French-style education (in French) the generation that was educated from the 1980s onwards often did not receive adequate education (absent teachers, lack of curriculum planning, rote memorization in Arabic, several months of teacher strikes, teachers telling the story of their life and complaining about directives rather than teaching etc.).

-But the problem is the older generation is being cynical about the younger generation's lack of education rather than trying to groom a few elements in the younger generation to lead the nation in the medium to long-term. But the younger generation is more eager for titles and paychecks and business opportunities than to run political institutions.

-Finally, Algeria closely follows what goes on in France. In France, the intelligence services purged the older generation of politicians (who were often incompetent) and brought in a younger generation of politicians (led by Macron). But that younger generation of politicians in France turns out is often not only as incompetent as the older generation, but add cluelessness to incompetence. At least, while the older generation of French politicians were incompetent, they knew how to find their way around political institutions, knew which phone numbers to call, and knew when it was appropriate or not appropriate to make public statements.

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