Who could succeed Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika?





Algerians draped in the national flag take part in a demonstration against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the capital Algiers on March 22, 2019.Image copyright
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Protesters took to the streets after Algeria’s president said he intended to run for a fifth term

After weeks of protests against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the Algerian army’s chief of staff has called for the presidency to be declared vacant. BBC Monitoring profiles the country’s main centres of power and possible successors to Mr Bouteflika.

The Military

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A rare photo of Gen Toufik from when his dismissal as the spy chief was announced in 2015

Algeria’s military has always had a pivotal role in politics, which was strengthened during the 1990s – the “Black Decade”. This is when the army annulled elections and fought a fierce civil war with Islamists.

However, President Bouteflika has managed to push some of the generals aside. In 2015, he sidelined the once powerful head of intelligence, Mohamed Mediene (known by his alias General Toufik). He was the last of the “Janviéristes”, who steered Algerian politics for over 20 years after cancelling the January 1991 polls.

However, pro-government media and politicians hailed the move as a step towards democracy and demilitarisation of the state.

Ahmed Gaid Salah

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Gen Gaid Salah called for the president to be declared unfit to be president

Lt Gen Ahmed Gaid Salah called for Mr Bouteflika to be declared unfit to rule on 26 March, adding to commentators’ suspicions that he has presidential ambitions.

A French parliamentary report published in January 2017 said Lt Gen Gaid Salah “sees himself as a likely successor”.

This is despite regular affirmations that he would not betray his “liberation war brother-in-arms”.

The army chief of staff has managed to weather shifting fortunes and has often helped Mr Bouteflika undermine the position of other generals.

He was rewarded for his loyalty with the title of “deputy defence minister” ahead of Mr Bouteflika’s last re-election. The president remains the country’s official minister of defence.

He has repeatedly taken credit for successful counter-terrorism efforts and his ministry’s budget has climbed steeply in the last few years, despite a budgetary clampdown due to low oil prices.

He also obtained legislation passed to prevent ousted generals from speaking out against him.

However, some Algerian media outlets suggest there are tensions between Lt Gen Gaid Salah and the presidential clan.

Presidential clan

The president’s trust is notoriously hard to earn. He is mostly surrounded by family members and childhood acquaintances.

A notable member of this close-knit circle is Chakib Khelil, who grew up with Mr Bouteflika in their native Oujda in Morocco. He went on to become Mr Bouteflika’s minister of energy, president of state oil giant Sonatrach and chairman of Opec.

After six years on the run over corruption scandals, Mr Khelil made a flamboyant comeback to Algeria in 2016, touring the highly-regarded Soufi lodges and drawing ample coverage from the press.

Many reports speculate that he lobbied for his presidential bid during his exile in the US, where he studied. He denies being a US passport holder, which could disqualify him from running in presidential polls.

Said Bouteflika

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Some believe that Mr Bouteflika’s brother makes decisions for the president

The leadership intentions of the president’s younger brother have long been the subject of speculation, and many Algerians believe he is already the de facto ruler of the country.

The former physics lecturer and trade unionist joined his brother at the presidency as a special adviser as soon as he assumed office in April 1999.

When Abdelaziz Bouteflika suffered a stroke in 2013, his brother Said travelled with him to France and oversaw his treatment. He is often described as being the president’s gatekeeper, leading the presidential clan and protecting its interests from behind the scenes.

The collapse of potential rivals, including his once-untouchable protégé Amar Saadani, suggested he will want a bigger role than just being one of a number of kingmakers. However, the protest movement in Algeria may have moderated his ambitions.

Public servants

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Mouloud Hamrouche is one former prime minister who could be called up to lead

In the 1990s, after nearly a decade of a bloody civil conflict, Algeria’s generals chose Mr Bouteflika as a consensus veteran diplomat, seen as an intellectual, to rehabilitate the country without encroaching on their considerable powers.

Little did they know that Mr Bouteflika would be able to play them off against each other for four terms, mastering the game of shifting alliances to displace his rivals one by one.

Similar candidates today would include Mouloud Hamrouche and Ali Benflis, two former prime ministers who have also previously run for the highest office. One of these two insider reformists could be called upon if the ruling elites come under pressure to modernise the state.

Recently dismissed Ahmed Ouyahia was prime minister three times and now leads the ruling coalition’s Democratic National Rally (RND). He is reputed to be close to the president, but is seen as an enforcer, not a leader.

Amar Saadani, once thought to be the frontrunner to succeed, was forced to resign from his office as the head of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party and to run instead for a seat in the upcoming parliamentary elections. His political demise was brought about by the many powerful enemies he made in aggressively critical statements to the press.

Both men were among the first to support Lt Gen Gaid Salah in his call for enacting Article 102 of the constitution to declare the presidential post vacant.

Lakhdar Brahimi

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Lakhdar Brahimi has been described as one of the world’s most brilliant diplomats

Lakhdar Brahimi is one of Algeria’s most respected veteran diplomats. He held key posts in the foreign ministry, culminating in his two-year term as minister of foreign affairs at the beginning of Algeria’s civil war.

Mr Brahimi went on to have a successful career at the highest level in the UN General Secretariat. His mission as a joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria brought him back to the fore in 2012, and his resignation after the failure of the Geneva talks in 2014 earned him respect from Algerian pundits.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described him as “one of the world’s most brilliant diplomats”.

Mr Brahimi has since voiced his opinions on several regional issues. In contrast to his country’s longstanding stance, he as called for Algeria to intervene in Libya, for the International Criminal Court to prosecute war crimes committed in Syria, and for Morocco and Algeria to reopen their shared border.

In June 2015, the US geopolitical analysis firm Stratfor intimated that he was viewed positively by international partners. Several North African media outlets interpreted this as Western backing for his eventual candidacy.

This would normally have sparked a backlash in Algeria’s perpetual war of clans, but Mr Brahimi was welcomed back in Algiers’s inner circles, meeting Mr Bouteflika several times and receiving an award from the country’s state-sponsored human rights body.

However, Mr Brahimi’s chances of wielding real power might be dented somewhat by his age. He was born in 1934 and is older than the ailing president.

Opposition

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Islamist leader Abderrazak Makri tried to get a role for his party in a transitional government

Algeria’s opposition is fragmented and has failed in its attempts to present a single candidate for the presidential elections, which were cancelled after protests broke out across the country.

The historic opposition parties are the secular Socialist Forces Front (FFS) and Rally for Culture and Democracy (RND). They can regularly mobilise voters in the Kabylie region and the capital Algiers and had been calling for a boycott of the presidential election before the protest movement started.

They were also the first to denounce Lt Gen Gaid Salah’s call for declaring the presidency vacant, saying it amounted to “a coup d’etat” and that it sought to “revive the regime”. Other opposition parties were intending to compete in the elections and were meeting over electoral alliances when the protests took them by surprise.

Former Prime Minister Ali Benflis, who ran against Mr Bouteflika in 2014, had a more measured response and asked for more guarantees for the transition of power. The Islamist leaders Abdalla Jaballah and Abderrazak Makri made similar comments, with Mr Makri seeking to guarantee a role for his Muslim Brotherhood-linked party in a transitional administration before elections.

Ali Benflis

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Ali Benflis lost two elections against Mr Bouteflika

Mr Benflis has more in common with insiders who fell out of grace such as Mr Ouyahia and Mr Saadani than with opposition activists.

A popular lawyer in his native Batna and a founder of the state-run Algerian League for Human Rights, he climbed the ranks in the bar association and was appointed minister of justice in 1988. The following year, he was on the central committee of the ruling FLN. He resigned as justice minister in the early days of the crisis leading to Algeria’s decade-long civil war.

As Mr Bouteflika returned in 1999 to end the unrest, Mr Benflis ran his successful presidential bid and became his chief aid. Mr Bouteflika named him as prime minister the following year. He also became secretary-general of the FLN. However, he was dismissed in 2003 as his popularity grew and his presidential ambition became apparent.

He then attempted two failed presidential bids, running against Mr Bouteflika in 2004 and 2014.

In recent years, he has been received in Western capitals as a potential successor to Mr Bouteflika. He had high hopes for the 2019 election, publishing a biography – Ali Benflis: An Algerian Destiny – in France months prior to the race, which depicted him as “the man to lead a transition”.

Business interests

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The authorities stopped Issad Rebrab from building a media empire

One of the most remarkable transformations in Algerian society under Mr Bouteflika’s rule has been the rise of the business tycoons, a class of oligarchs who came to counterbalance the once-all-powerful generals. Often closely linked to political backers, they amassed wealth, power and media clout.

Issad Rebrab, one of the richest men in Algeria, has clearly expressed his political opinions, and opposed Mr Bouteflika’s 2014 re-election.

In 2016, the authorities stopped him from achieving his dream of building his own media empire when they prevented him from purchasing one of the country’s largest media groups, El Khabar. Mr Rebrab already owns the pro-opposition French-language daily Liberté.

Ali Haddad

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Ali Haddad went from managing his family’s small hotel to excelling in winning public contracts

Media mogul Ali Haddad has given positive coverage of the army chief’s call to declare Mr Bouteflika unfit to be president.

He also appears to rub shoulders with those in power.

In February 2017, He stood side-by-side with French presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron at a news conference when he visited Algiers.

In an interview with Algerian news website TSA in 2017, Mr Haddad did not hide his proximity to the powerful, including Said Bouteflika and other military and civilian officials whom he described as “Algerian patriots”.

Mr Haddad was identified by the Algerian and French press as being one of the main financiers of Mr Bouteflika’s 2014 re-election campaign.

Mr Haddad went from managing his family’s small hotel in Kabylie to owning a construction empire, a football club, a partnership with a US healthcare provider and several media outlets. But his real speciality is obtaining public contracts, some of which have sparked controversy, like the costly and long-running East-West national highway project.

On 27 March, his Le Temps d’Algerie newspaper gave positive coverage to the chief of staff’s call to enact Article 102. Hours later, he resigned from his post at Algeria’s business forum.



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