Time for Changing of the old Guard

Time for Changing of the old Guard

Algeria Interface, July 27, 2002

The old generation of army top brass who have run the all-powerful military institution are still clinging to power and privilege. They are increasingly challenged by a new generation of technically superior officers who have won their spurs in the counterinsurgency struggle. The balance of power is tipping in their favour.

Paris, 26/07/02 – Senior officers who originated from the French colonial army and the Algerian National Liberation Army are still in command 30 years on from Independence. They are holding back a younger generation, trained in the military academies of Algeria, France, Italy, the USA and the USSR, has been waiting for a decade to take over.

They are seen as less political than their elders, the notorious « decision-makers » who still make and break Algerian heads of state – since 1962, three out of seven presidents have sprung directly from the army and ruled for an aggregate of 31 years. More aptly described as technicians, the younger generation of officers draw their legitimacy from a decade of counterinsurgency and are now prominent in Algeria’s military command structures. Crucially, they have driven the unprecedented drive to modernise the military, upgrading the upgrading the technological and operational resources of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

In was general Liamine Zeroual who began drafting in the second generation of officers when he became Defence Minister in July 1993, replacing general Khaled Nezzar, the standard-bearer of officers trained in the French army. For the first time officers too young to have fought in the War of Independence against France became generals or were appointed heads of administrative and operational structures.

Changing strategic parameters like terrorism and cooperation with NATO and Russia, the constraints of monetary orthodoxy demanded by the IMF, and ageing equipment and command structure have compelled the army to modernise its men and machinery.

Yet the old guard continue to hang on in there. Closely involved in the political turmoil and civil strife since 1992 they will relinquish their responsibilities in intelligence, the military, local government and politics only once they have ensured they can get out unscathed, as allegations mount over their involvement in human rights abuses and corruption. Supreme commander Mohamed Lammari, intelligence chief general Médiène, presidential aide general Touati and powerful generals Brahim-Fodil Chérif, Said Bey and Gaid Salah are all War of Independence veterans. Now well into their sixties, they using all their political clout to ensure they are succeeded by men of their choosing.

They do not all share the same outlook and their esprit de corps is riven by an ongoing, behind-the-scenes struggle for influence and over involvement in politics since the 1992 decision to cancel elections and a policy of all-out repression of Islamists. General Mohamed Lammari’s recent press conference in which he distinguished between real army men (the post-Independence officers) and the top brass embroiled in politics was the mot recent and most public example of the war of words in the military’s top echelons.

The post-Independence generation, which has honed itself in the counterinsurgency fight and is technically superior and less implicated in politics and corruption affairs than its elders, has tipped the balance of power. It has a number of officers at the pinnacle of command structures. Others are waiting in the wings.

Mustapha Bey