Algeria: more of the gang go

Summary: very large demonstrations continue. More top level arrests.

Since our posting of 26 April the peaceful demonstrations all over Algeria have continued at a very high level, with hundreds of thousands taking part on Fridays – 3 May was the 11th successive Friday, when some say up to 1 million took part in Algiers alone.

The demonstrators remain unwilling to deal with those in power including the interim president Abdelkader Bensalah and the caretaker prime minister Noureddine Bedoui, whom they regard as part of the discredited Bouteflika gang. On 27 April Reuters reported that a protest leader Seif Islam Benatia had called for a six-month transition period, longer than the 90 days provided by the constitution. He said the interim president and prime minister must go and suggested that Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi, an 87-year-old former minister, conservative and author, might play a leading role. He is not regarded as part of the elite because he was not allowed to register his own political party. On 30 April the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) elected a businessman Mohamed Djemai (50) as its new leader.

More members of the gang have been arrested and face various charges: the finance minister Mohamed Loukal, appointed only last month; the former police chief Abdelghani Hamel, who was sacked last year by Bouteflika for undisclosed reasons, and his son; former Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia. On 30 April the army chief Ahmed Gaed Salah said several big corruption cases would come to light in a crackdown on systematic graft. He rejected calls for the acting president and prime minister to step down and on 1 May said “constructive dialogue” with the institutions of the state was the only way out of the crisis.

On 4 May Bouteflika’s brother Said, regarded as Algeria’s de facto ruler after the president’s stroke in 2013, and two former intelligence chiefs Athmane Tartag and Mohamed Mediene were arrested and charged with harming the army’s authority and plotting against the state. Mediene, known as Toufik, had run the secret services for 25 years. Today 6 May former senator Malik Boujouher, reportedly close to Ouyahia, was sentenced to seven years in prison for corruption.

According to a report on the TSA (Tout sur l’Algérie) website Salah’s position is ambiguous, and he must now choose “whether to make a more serious proposal which would remove doubt about his intentions.” According to a report in Le Monde the 4 July presidential election, rejected by the protesters, is the ideal solution for Salah and the army which in turn will not accept the protesters’ demand for ad hoc transitional arrangements.

Developments in Algeria continue to be followed by the world’s capitals and most of the media in silence; a New York Times report yesterday 5 May is about “Saving the Historic Casbah”. On 30 April the Foreign Minister visited Riyadh and was received by King Salman and several ministers (but not apparently MBS), but nothing has been published about the purpose or outcome of the visit.

A senior IMF official has called for economic stability during the political transition. The budget deficit should be gradually reduced. Algeria has failed to diversify its economy, although the non-energy sector grew 4% last year while the economy itself grew 2.3% due to higher oil prices. On 1 May the new chief of the state energy company Sonatrach Rachid Hachichi said at the end of his first week that the company wanted to develop its partnerships with foreign firms to boost output and exports. A 5 May article by Francis Ghilès on the Arab Weekly website describes the history of the corruption of Sonatrach since 1999 under Chakib Khelil, Ould Kaddour and others, and the delight in the company at the removal of  Ould Kaddour, while emphasising the danger of leaving changes in the hands of the army leader Salah.

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