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With Another Bouteflika Term, Algeria Faces Uncertain Future

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The North Africa Journal | President Bouteflika extracted his fourth term like a dentist extracting a tooth from a child. It was a painful and ugly scene, but also an embarrassing moment for a country that has so much to offer.

Less than half of the population voted and so the President cannot say the majority voted for him. And as is the case of most politically outdated Arab countries, he got his 80%+ of those who voted, according to his Minister of the Interior and his election authority.

The outcome of these elections is bad news for Algeria. That country now has a President that is not physically and mentally able to govern. Which means all of the country’s affairs will be managed by his men, many of whom are simply in it for their own benefits, and those of their respective clans and tribes. We all know what happens when government goes unchecked. Bad things happen. And in Algeria, plenty of events remind us of that. The endless corruption scandals that have affected oil giant Sonatrach, with billions of dollars vanishing into foreign bank accounts, illegal real estate dealings, and unreported placements in holding companies in the Arab world. These are crimes committed by government ministers, CEOs, and other managers trusted to run the oil sector. We remember the billions of dollars that have also vanished when Algeria built its east-west motorway. These are two big and visible examples of a politically bankrupt political system. Ask the average Algerian and they will tell you they cannot get a simple birth certificate without paying bribes. People with real housing needs are prevented from building their own houses if they do not pay bribes. This is a country that has a major housing crisis and yet, the corrupt system insists on not letting people build their own homes if they don’t pay up.

A substantial reason why Algeria is in such a dire situation is not necessarily that Bouteflika does not like his country. Actually I am convinced he does. But what I am also convinced is that by not having full intellectual and physical capacity, he lets the “sharks” take over the pond. And that is the biggest risk the country is facing. Hords of out-of-control "Presidential Advisors", linked to unscrupulous importers and businessmen who benefit handsomely from the state of disorder.  In addition to the “sharks” surrounding him, there is so much meddling from foreign powers, including the West and the very aggressive Qatar and Saudi Arabia who have their own ultra-conservative religious agendas. Consider this: while Bouteflika is debilitated and unable to govern, the country is on fire because there has been a wave of anti-Berber attacks affecting not only the usual Kabyles in the north, but also the Mozabites in the south, the Chaouias in the east, the Touaregs in the deserts, etc. Religious Fatwas issued in some obscure mosques controlled by the Salafists in Ghardaia have given a green light to the manipulated local Arab youth to attack and kill Mozabites because their brand of Islam is not necessarily close to that of the Sunny Wahabists. The result is utter destruction and too many deaths, all under the watchful eye of the police affiliated to the Ministry of the Interior, reporting to Mr. Bouteflika. In these divisive tactics, both Berber and Arab populations are the victims. 

Consider that too: right after President Bouteflika imposed himself through a fourth term, the Algerian police went on a rampage in Tizi Ouzou and other Kabyle towns, repressing young men who celebrated the Berber Spring that took place so many years ago. While Bouteflika is sleeping at the wheel, his security men have broken all the rules in the book, disregarding the Algerian human rights obligations. The recent police interventions is no different than what the world witnessed during the apartheid era. Witnesses and videos are here to prove that the brutality of the Algerian police is simply embarrassing to the credibility of the regime.

From our perspective, the situation in Algeria is likely to worsen over the next two to five years. Already the men surrounding the president are jockeying for power and a fight amongst them is brewing as to who will control key ministries and departments. Some of them are the same ones we’ve come to know for years: Abdelaziz Belkhadem, Ahmed Ouyahia, Said Bouteflika, Abdelmalek Sellal, Amar Saidani, and an army of operators who are controlled by powerful lobbyists of private businesses. The military for its part has been neutralized by a reorganization piloted by the President’s brother in an effort to eliminate any meddling from the DRS intelligence service. The DRS has long acted as a counter-balance to the power of the Presidency. It led major investigations against many of the President’s allies, including the infamous ex-oil Minister Chakib Khelil, a man who is now sought by his country’s justice over serious allegations of corruption. Although no actions were taken against Khelil during his tenure, some analysts suggest that the DRS may have transmitted all their corruption dossier to the Italian justice, which has taken the lead in investigating Italian firms involved in Algerian corruption scandals. These initiatives are said to have led the Presidency to go on an open war against the DRS, forcing a reorganization that would ultimately weaken it and let Bouteflika and his men rule without oversight.

Over the next two to five years, Algeria will be thrown into unchartered waters. The outcome does not bode well. We assume that the President will be the absentee landlord, allowing all sorts of abuses to take place. The situation is likely to worsen as Algeria’s oil revenues will continuously drop as the world oil market witnesses new production levels coming from the likes of the United States, Libya, Iraq, Iran, Brazil, and many others, even if Russia struggles with its poor decision to annex Crimea.

What we recommend to the international business community is a simple idea: as long as the Algerian Presidency is in the hands of Bouteflika and his men, stability is unlikely. Look elsewhere for the time being and spare yourself the trouble.

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