For the last three months the ruling Bouteflika clan has been mustering political support to defeat an anti-corruption (or at anti-Bouteflika) effort backed by leaders of the intelligence and counter-terrorism services. Corruption won and that was made clear with the recent announcement that the number of generals in the intelligence services would be reduced from 25 to six by the end of the year. The intelligence and counter-terrorism generals will now be selected more for their loyalty than their competence. The deposed (mostly retired, some jailed) intel and counter-terror experts were the senior people with the most knowledge of what was really going on in Algeria and that included the widely known fact that corruption and dictatorial rule by a few families (which were prominent in the 1960s rebellion against France) were the main problems. This is a common pattern worldwide and especially in the Middle East. Everyone knows that corruption and bad government are the main cause of stagnant economies and general unrest but not enough of those in charge are willing to give up enough wealth or power to fix the problem. Thus the 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings largely failed because too many people with power were not willing to give it up and had the means to eventually defeat the rebels and keep up the old ways. By weakening the counter-terror forces the government makes it more likely that there will be another revolution, most likely led by Islamic radicals. This is a cycle that keeps repeating.
This power struggle went public with the August 27 arrest of Abdelkader Ait Ouarab. This was the guy who led the counter-terror campaign in the 1990s that defeated the Islamic terrorists. Ouarab continued serving until he retired (apparently under pressure) in late 2013. All this internal strife has been going on, quietly, for over a decade. Things heated up in early 2013 when president Abdelaziz Bouteflika had a stroke and was disabled. Pro-reform members of the senior leadership pushed for Bouteflika to resign followed by free elections. The Bouteflika clan and corrupt officials allied with the Bouteflikas got organized and resisted. No one wanted a civil war, but the two sides were sharply divided and compromise was not possible. By late 2013 it was clear that most Algerians wanted the government to clean up the rampant corruption and that there was support for that on the inside led by several senior Intelligence officers. Most of the corrupt officials and their civilian allies belong to the extended family of the elderly (born 1937) president Bouteflika. The clans of several other families that led the country after freedom was achieved in the 1960s have dominated government and the economy ever since. The Bouteflikas were apparently slow to realize that their most dangerous political enemies were the senior people in the intelligence and security agencies who had decided that some fundamental changes (cleaning up the corruption) were needed. There were also a lot of military officers who favored anti-corruption reforms. Fortunately for Bouteflika many senior military commanders were corrupt, some because they felt refusing the economic perks offered when they achieved high rank would be seen as disloyal. Bouteflika always believed the loyalty of the military was essential to keeping his corrupt crew in power. Yet by late 2013 many Bouteflika loyalists noted the split within the military and began moving more of their assets out of the country, just in case. That’s because if there’s another large-scale uprising and the military refuses to suppress it (or, worse, splits or falls apart because of disagreements among officers) the current government is done. Bouteflika realized that most of the troops favored anti-corruption efforts. Now the more loyal intelligence services will devote most of their efforts to ensuring the loyalty of the army and police.
There had already been hints of trouble. In late July 2015 local media revealed that the government had unexpectedly replaced three of the most powerful generals in the military (the heads of counter-intelligence, the Republican Guard and presidential security). This was immediately linked with two other odd events. First there was the large number of troops showing up at the presidential residence on July 16th. Whatever was going on there was never made public. Finally there is the fact that president Bouteflika has not spoken or appeared in public for months and many Algerians believe he is dying or at the very least not getting any better. Then in August general Ouarab was arrested and in mid-September came the news that general Mohammed Medien was retiring. In power since 1990 Medien was always believed more powerful than the president. But he was only two years younger than Bouteflika and rarely seen. It is still unclear what his views on corruption and the current political situation was. Medien was mostly concerned with keeping tabs on Islamic terrorism and other threats to Algeria.
Meanwhile the Algerian counter-terror forces and adroit diplomacy have so far managed to protect Algeria from the Islamic terrorist threats in Mali and Libya. Algeria helped arrange a workable peace deal in Mali but has been unable to do the same in Libya. Instead Algeria has managed to seal its borders sufficiently to keep most Libya based Islamic terrorists out. Algerian security forces have managed to hunt down and destroy those that do get in.
October 21, 2015: The government revealed the impact of the low oil prices. For the first nine months of the year the trade deficit was $10.3 billion versus a surplus of $4.1 billion for the same period in 2014. Gas and oil exports, which account for 95 percent of all exports, were down 41 percent (in dollar value) for the first nine months of the year compared to 2014. Despite that imports fell only 11 percent. The 2015 budget keeps spending levels largely the same and to do that the shortfall has to come out of the reserves. This cannot continue for long as Algeria only has $150 billion in reserves and not much in the way of credit for big loans to cover budget deficits. The government has decided to raise taxes (especially on fuel, Internet access, electricity and imported computers) but that will not eliminate the problem of long-term low oil prices.
October 20, 2015: Troops sweeping an area 55 kilometers east of the capital encountered three armed Islamic terrorists and killed them in a gun battle. All the dead were armed with AK-47s and had additional ammo and nine cell phones with them.
October 18, 2015: In the northwest (Ain Al Delfa province) there was an explosion at a government owned munitions factory. Four soldiers were killed and the cause of the mishap is being sought.
October 12, 2015: In the northeast, just across the border in Tunisia Islamic terrorists ambushed an army patrol killing two soldiers and wounding four. Tunisia and Algeria both have a lot of troops on this portion of the border (the Atlas Mountains near the coast). The Islamic terrorists tend to stay on the Tunisian side of the border where it has been safer for them.
October 5, 2015: West of the capital (Tipaza province) troops searching a remote area encountered an armed Islamic terrorist, killed him in a brief gun battle and seized an AK-47. Meanwhile east of the capital (Boumerdes province) an Islamic terrorist hideout was found containing five bombs.
October 4, 2015: An al Qaeda spokesman released an audio announcement admitting that one of their most notorious leaders, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, was dead. A lot of groups looking for Belmokhtar, like the U.S. want more proof but none has been offered. This announcement contradicts an earlier (mid-June) one where al Qaeda insisted that their second-in-command in Libya, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, was not killed by a recent American air strike. Mokhtar Belmokhtar (the planner of the January 2013 natural gas facility attack in southern Algeria that got 37 workers killed) has survived several attempts to kill him and has a reputation for being elusive. He survived such attacks in 2013 and 2014. Belmokhtar is elusive within AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) as well. He split from the organization in 2012 and founded another Islamic terrorist group (Al Mourabitoun). After about two years of this he rejoined AQIM but did not disband Al Mourabitoun. For over two years Al Mourabitoun has been operating from a base in southern Libya and found operating in northern Mali and Niger. The U.S. is offering a $5 million reward for information that would lead to the death or capture of Belmokhtar. AQIM admits the death of seven Islamic terrorists during the American attack in June and named them. In Libya the Tobruk government forces are cooperating with Americans to confirm if Belmokhtar is alive or dead and so far that effort has not produced any proof-of-death. In August ISIL called for the death of Belmokhtar, who had openly denounced ISIL. So Belmokhtar remains, as usual, a mystery.
October 3, 2015: The government decided to keep the Libyan border closed until the two rival Libyan governments agreed to a unification deal the UN has been pushing. At that point the border will be reopened when the new government demonstrates that it is capable of policing its side of the border and dealing with all the Islamic terror groups operating there.