Ottawa - The political role of the Algerian army continues to be factored into the country's policy-making decisions since 1962, in accordance with the vision of the juntas.
Ottawa – The political role of the Algerian army continues to be factored into the country’s policy-making decisions since 1962, in accordance with the vision of the juntas.
This long process of power consolidation with weak institutions is known as the “mummification completion.” Miriam Lowi argues that the pre-existing structure of society presents political elites with a variety of choices in which their decision is the most important factor to the reproduction of an authoritarian regime in Algeria, which is “largely unchanged in its makeup and strategy.”
By studying the process of state-formation throughout Algeria’s history, stretching from French colonial rule until the protracted civil war in the early 1990s, and then comparing the Algerian case with five similar oil-exporting states, Lowi showed how oil is not proven to have a causal effect on the robustness of authoritarianism or the weakness of state institutions prevalent in Algeria. Instead, Lowi attributes it to the strategies employed by the political elites to weaken any opposition to the state, including strategies of repression, co-option and manipulation.
The goal of the reshuffling of military officers of second order, that is to say medium ranking militaries, is to remove all those who had a connection with the former head of the intelligence service, General Mohamed Madin, known as General Tawfiq. Adding that the recent changes precede the comprehensive structure of the military, as it is in preparation for legislative and local elections next year, before reaching the presidential election in 2019. These changes are related to the new law that prevents retired soldiers from declaring and engaging in public affairs, referring to the incident of retired general Hussein Ben Hadid, who launched harsh statements against President Bouteflika
The Aesthetic Mummification
In the late 1980s, dissent against the military regime of President Chadli Bendjedid was threatening the hegemony of the military-politico oligarchy, forcing Bendjedid to call for multi-party elections in 1991. When it became clear that the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) party—who proposed a platform of open markets and privatization rather than having the military dominate in the economy—was going to win the elections, the security forces of Algeria staged a coup d’état against Chadli and violently repressed the FIS in order to maintain power.
Both the presidency and the army leadership are keen to safeguard the two sides to ensure a safe passage to the post-President Bouteflika. The influence of Deputy Defense Minister and Army Chief of Staff Ahmed Kayed Saleh can be clearly seen in the reshuffling of military officers. To fulfill the mummification completion, old guards must be kept around. The changes did not affect senior commanders, except the chief of staff of the ground forces; he was compensated by Major General Omar Telmessani, a descendent from the province of Telmessan (the hometown of President Bouteflika).
The military has also employed the strategy of co-option to divide and fragment the Islamist and Kabilists movements by exploiting the groups’ fractionalization, weak leadership, and a cult of personality, characteristic of parties such as HAMAS and Ennahda. Since gaining independence from French colonial rule in 1962, political leaders have manipulated rents to uphold the “mythology of the state” and the rhetoric of popular incorporation, while simultaneously maintaining a political and economic oligarchy.
The Legal Mummification
Lowi puts forth a compelling argument regarding the process of state-formation and political stability in “high growth, development-oriented, oil-exporting countries” in Oil Wealth and the Poverty of Politics. Lowi contends the more mainstream theoretical framework of the rentier state model, as well as structural functionalism with a qualitative study focusing on the agency of political leaders and the decisions they make at “critical junctures” in history. Lowi dismisses the resources trap argument and the rentier state model which posits that the presence of abundant resources and “rent” is what determines political outcomes.
The reshuffling process of military personnel is a result of article 24 of the new amendment. The amendment details punitive provisions, and stipulates that an army officer must comply with “duty of reservation.” This law prosecutes retired military officers before the judiciary in cases of violation of “duty of reservation”, along with the penalty of lowering the rank. The law states that militaries must “comply with the duty of a reservation in every place and in all circumstances and shall refrain from any act or conduct that would prejudice the honour or dignity of the military or violate the authority and reputation of the military.”
The rentier state framework is also interested in the political implications of oil and rent. Having vast amounts of rent from oil, leaders “become less accountable to the societies they govern, and more autonomous in their decision-making and behavior.” Lowi rejects the rentier state model, as it fails to “trace casual relationships” and to account for “contradictory trajectories and outcomes.” Instead, oil rents are instrumental to political elites as they repress, co-opt, and manipulate society with these resources to ensure they maintain their hegemony in power.
Poverty of Elites
Focusing on “critical junctures,” Lowi attributes the instability of Algeria in the last two decades to the oil bust of 1986. This loss of rent led to the coup d’état in 1992, after which the military leaders fiercely repressed former FIS members and new Islamic fighters, even funding anti-Islamist civilian militias.
The violent repression only increased the ranks of Islamist fighters from 2,000 to 4,000 in 1993, and to 27,000 by 1995 . Changing tactics, the political elites attempted to co-opt the already fragmented and polarized factions within society. They funded and incorporated Islamist parties, as well as granting amnesty to former guerilla through a Peace and Reconciliation process, encouraging Algerians to “forgive and forget.”
Through co-option, the opposition was divided and prevented from mass mobilization. With a $20 billion loan from the IMF in 1994, the state was able to keep clientele networks greased and maintain the façade of a functioning, redistributive state. As oil prices steadily increased in the 2000s, political leaders had more rent with which to manipulate public opinion with and mitigate opposition. Lowi concludes that the decisions made by Presidents Zeroual and, subsequently, Bouteflika in the critical juncture of the Algerian civil war were integral to the re-emergence of the Algerian state.
Pre-Existing Structural Contexts
The agency of powerful political actors is a constant qualitative variable which is often neglected, and Lowi’s argument is a necessary but insufficient analysis of the reemergence of the Algerian state. More than anything, exogenous structural forces well beyond the agency of Algerian elites have produced fertile conditions for the reproduction of a military regime. Deep social cleavages in Algerian society have their roots in a French colonial past, which lasted over 130 years.
The French institutionalized a system of legal discrimination in civil, fiscal, juridical, and political domains, favoring the Jews and Kabilists over the Arab population. This led to the polarization and atomization of power centers among the people. “The reliance on force, the denial and diversity, and the silencing of debate” were part of political life even before the independence in 1962 and nurtured the future militarism of the state . More recently, during the instability incurred from the oil bust of 1986, the Algerian leadership has benefited immensely from favorable international conditions, which has allowed the reconsolidation of power and the re-emergence of Algeria’s authoritarian state. Without the $20 billion loan from the IMF in 1994, the state would have been unable to maintain clientele networks and repress opposition and could have easily lost control to Islamist guerillas .
However, pre-existing structural forces outside of the elites’ agency, such as a history of colonial rule with well established institutions, increasing prices for oil, and financial and political support from international actors, has all contributed to the mummification of the a military regime. To stay in power, to divert the attention and to remain mummified, the military invented the Polisario.
The Invention of Polisario
Employing a discourse analysis as a method of studying how and why former President Boumadyane invented the idea of Polisario helps us decipher the first order denotation and second order connotation. By a clear decoding of Boumadyane speeches that are now easily to access, we discover that false propaganda on self-determination is a pretext to envision an expansion into the Moroccan Sahara. The militia of the so-called Polisario is nothing but a manufactured product of the military regime in Algiers.
The analysis of Ferdinand de Saussure, the Swiss linguist, suggests here that president Boumadyane’s speeches contained signifier of a war over the land, the signified reveals here that this war is between two entities. This is at the level of denotation. At the level of connotation, we observe that Boumadyane presents the discourse of “war is evil between brothers.” Rolland Barthes unveiled the MYTH that Boumadyane was trying to instate Jamal Abdennacer’s plan to overthrow all the monarchies in the MENA region. Unable to fulfill his ambitions to create chaos in Morocco since the 60s, the only remaining alternative was to then create Polisario
Through Lowi’s qualitative approach to explaining the state-building process and authoritarianism in Algeria is contrary to the popular framework of the resource and rentier state models, she dismisses oil as a determining factor in political outcomes and regimes types. Instead, it is the way in which leaders employ these rents which ensures the survival of the regime. By focusing her research on “critical junctures” in Algeria’s history, Lowi was able to isolate the agency and behaviour of political elites and found that they were crucially important to the re-emergence of an authoritarian regime after years of civil war in the 1990s. The process of maintenance of the military regime has now reached its final stage of mummification.