Rabat – No major external support favors continuity of a military-led government in Algeria after the sitting president’s surprise decision to give up on his re-election bid.
General Gaid Salah, the chief of staff the Algerian armed forces, who expected to replace President Abdelaziz Bouteflika as the country’s next strongman, has allegedly been told that no major power plans to support his presidential ambitions.
As Algerians still experience the aftertaste of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s decision to withdraw from the presidential race, the Algerian military leadership is believed to be seeking what most militaries tend to demand in the aftermath of major political development. They want to sustain or increase their visibility and political clout.
General Salah, the embodiment of the country’s upper and revered military echelons, is believed to have exerted considerable political power for much of the two decades during which President Bouteflika, himself a fruit of the Algerian independence war, ruled the country.
Now that Bouteflika is on his way out of the country’s political arena, Salah expected to seize the moment, according to a number of sources.
The general reportedly eyed Bouteflika’s prospective departure as a golden opportunity to assert himself as the man of the hour of post-Bouteflika Algeria.
One obstacle however is the suspicion that Western powers, including France and the US, are not especially welcoming of “another military government” in Algeria.
According to news outlet Maghreb Intelligence, Paris, Washington, and Brussels have voiced their uneasiness with having General Salah as “the alternative to Bouteflika.”
The West’s change of heart
Citing “reliable sources,” the newspaper noted that one major reason for the negative reaction to the general’s “behind-the-curtain maneuverings” to be the country’s strong man is the increasing perception that supporting “military dictatorship” might not be the ideal move for Western security interests in the MENA region.
Maghreb Intelligence did not provide details or hard evidence to back up its report. But while the newspaper’s claims should not be taken at face value, they are not without precedent.
In the heat of the anti-Bouteflika protests last week, General Salah threatened protesters with a heavy-handed reaction from the army. He suggested that “chaos” would ensue should the protests continue.
In a plea against “another military dictatorship” on March 4, French political commentator Jean Marie Apathie ranted about the “devastating dangers” of military-led governments in the MENA region.
Whatever happens in post-Bouteflika Algeria, Apathie argued, France should make sure that “we do not support another military dictatorship.”
He went on to suggest that the original sin of Western political engagement with the MENA region has been “the fundamentally misguided belief that military power is safer” for Western interests because they “keep Islamists at bay.”
The reality, Apathie explained, citing Egypt’s experience with President al-Sissi, is that repressive military dictatorships nourish and sustain Islamist groups.
Quest for rupture
While the argument of the West’s security interests is grounded, there is also the perception that another obstacle on General Salah’s political path is that Algerians want a fundamental rupture from the Bouteflika years.
“Small victory” was what many Algerian activists called Bouteflika’s decision not to run for another term. As far as they are concerned, upending the status quo is the way forward for Algeria.
That demand was echoed in the statement that announced Bouteflika’s decision to not seek re-election.
“I understand the motivations of the many people who chose this method of expression,” the announcement said. It promised a “new system and new republic [that] will be in the hands of a new generation of Algerians.”