'No power struggle' over Algeria's presidency, says analyst

'No power struggle' over Algeria's presidency, says analyst
Analysis: Recent high-profile arrests and re-organisation of the military and counter-terrorism agencies do not mean Bouteflika is preparing for a putsch, says security expert.
3 min read
10 September, 2015
Bouteflika's ill-health is no secret, and many are preparing for his succession [AFP]

Contrary to local media reports, the arrest of Algeria's former anti-terrorism chief does not indicate that the country's leadership is consolidating ahead of potential power struggle over succession, according to security experts.

Abdelkader Ait-Ouarab, known as General Hassan, served for two decades as the head of Algeria's anti-terrorism bureau.

He retired last year, but his arrest on August 27 prompted speculation that Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the 78-year-old who has been president of the oil-rich north African state since 1999, was preparing for a putsch against him by a cabal centred around the notorious DRS intelligence agency.

Security expert Ali Zaoui, however, says no such power struggle exists.

"There is no existing process of consolidating power ahead of a potential succession battle between President Bouteflika and his army chief of staff Ahmed Gaid Salah," he told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

     Such misreading could bring harm to the country economically by steering potential foreign investors away
- Ali Zaoui, counter-terrorism expert

"Only media outlets started speculating, as none were able to access and understand what was going on in the country's ruling spheres," he argued.

The misunderstanding was a result of misreading the country's real political situation and the change occurring at its top.

Zaoui said that such conjecture over sensitive issues such as security and the economy could even spark instability in the country.

"Having such misreading could bring harm to the country economically by steering potential foreign investors away," he said.

According to Zaoui, who ran a civilian counter-terrorism intelligence cell during the country's "dark decade" of civil war, General Hassan's arrest "has nothing to do with any behind-the-scenes power struggle".

"I'm sure this situation will eventually end quickly and in a satisfactory conclusion," he said.

No legal action

What was most surprising about the former counter-terrorism chief's arrest, according to Zaoui, was that the 2006 Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation was not applied to the situation.

The Charter's Article 45 states that "legal proceedings may not be brought against individuals or groups who are members of any branch of the defence and security forces of the Republic for actions undertaken to protect persons and property, safeguard the nation and preserve the institutions of the Republic. Any allegation or complaint shall be declared inadmissible by the competent judicial authority."

Recent changes in the country's powerful intelligence service come as part of a full reorganisation of the institutions of the military, he added.

Read more: Oil curse takes Algeria's economy to the brink - read George Joffe's commentary here

Drawing upon his lengthy counter-terrorism background, Zaoui said the restructuring aimed to withdraw the military from domestic political life.

"The reallocation of several services formerly belonging to the DRS, is a form of restructuring aimed at ensuring that each service joins its original institution," he said.

"It's a good thing because it will continue to improve the work already undertaken in anti-terrorism fight."

It is part of the modernisation and professionalisation of the military, the expert added.

Last year, the intelligence service saw some of its field operatives being reassigned to the ministry of defence's command.

The DRS, now, has no power to carry out judicial-related probes into corruption.

To date, however, there has been no confirmation that the DRS' own powerful counter-terrorism unit, known as Special Intervention Group (GIS), has been dissolved.

According to a security officer, who requested anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to journalists, the GIS was not disbanded - merely reallocated to the ministry of defence.

"No one should have a short memory," he said. "Algeria led its fight against Islamist insurgency alone in the 1990s."