A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, September 30, 2013

Bouteflika Comes Back Fighting

Algerian President Bouteflika chaired a Cabinet meeting  yesterday. (Link is in French.)  The primary reason this is news is that it is his first this year.

You may recall that Bouteflika suffered a stroke in April. There were widespread rumors he was in a coma and periodic rumors he had died. The usual photos of the President in the hospital in France did not appear.  Officially he was said to have suffered only a "mini-stroke" or "transient ischemic attack." But later the media began referring to a "cardiovascular accident," suggesting something more serious. He reappeared in June, and then returned to Algeria in July. He made few public appearances and speculation has been rife about the succession. Before the stroke, there had been signs Bouteflika was planning to run for a fourth term in elections next April. The President, now 76 and the few surviving fighters from the war of independence still active in politics, clearly has been out of the political center for months now.

Until this month, when Bouteflika has come back fighting. On September 11, he reshuffled the Cabinet, naming new Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Interior, and Justice. This has been widely interpreted as reinforcing his own supporters, in order to either give him a fourth term if he chooses to run, or giving him control over the succession.

Even more importantly, he has reportedly moved to strengthen his allies in the Army command against the powerful head of the Army's Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS), the main military intelligence wing, Lt. Gen. Mohamed Mediene. Mediene, usually known by his nom de guerre Toufik,  has led an anticorruption campaign that jas targeted some of the President's allies. According to some reports, he has taken the Police Judiciaire and other agencies and put them directly under the Army Commander,  a Presidential ally.

The indefatigable Algerian blogger Kal at The Moor Next Door offers a summary of the moves that Bouteflika has been making and also has prepared this chart of the reported changes in the DRS, which is copyright by him:

It's still far from clear whether Bouteflika will seek a fourth term or will merely seek to ensure that his allies control the succession, but the wave of moves since September 11 appear to at least confirm that reports of Bouteflika's political death were as premature as reports of his physical death.

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