The Algerian Presidential Elections: When the Food is Rotten, it is not Enough to Simply Change Spoons
Robert Prince, Website, December 30, 2019
Pressured by foreign energy companies, the Algerian military, the de facto government during this transition period, pushed the country into earlier elections with milquetoast candidates, all connected to the former discredited and corrupt Bouteflika government. In so doing, the military was trying to insure the new government would stand behind a new hydrocarbon law that gives foreign oil and natural gas companies much greater control over Algerian energy production.
“When food is rotten, it is not enough to simply change spoons”
– slogan on an Algerian protest banner –
Originally published at Inside Arabia
1. The Election, a Masquerade?
On December 12, 2019, Algerians, at least some of them, elected a new president. A former prime minister of the Bouteflika years, 74 year old Abdelmajid Tebboune, was declared the country’s new president. Voter turnout, at a modest 40%, was the lowest in the country’s post-colonial electoral history.
This election failed to even begin to meet the aspirations of the Algerian people. Instead the country got recycled Bouteflikists to a man. It was a strange election with all five “approved” candidates directly, if not intimately connected to Algeria’s “old government,” that of Abdelaziz aBouteflika and his entourage. Not a new face, nor a new idea among the lot. What a motley crew!
The election left many Algerians with an empty feeling that in no way did justice to the powerful protest movement active over the past nine monthsq. Often in the hundred thousands, sometimes in the millions, they’ve been on the streets every Tuesday and Friday since last February in Algiers, Oran, Tizi Ouzi, Ourgla, Ghardaïa and Tamanrasset all calling for an end to one of the world’s most corrupt, ruthless governments
The months of angry nationwide peaceful demonstrations by “the Hifak” – The Movement – called not just for the resignation of the Bouteflika team but for a new government and social order. Bouteflika was viewed as little more than a push over for the Troika, the genuine power behind the scenes, Tebboune no more than “Bouteflika lite”. His repeated offers to enter into a dialogue with the country’s demonstrators was not taken seriously.
The slogans that repeatedly appeared on the banners and posters of Hifak demonstrators reflected a remarkable public lucidity.
• Dear USA, there is no oil left, so STAY AWAY unless you want olive oil
• Algeria is kidnapped by a gang
• Voleurs, vous avez mangé le pays! (Thieves, you have stolen our country)
• Monsieurs our generals! If you dare to fire a single shot, to spill one drop of our blood, THE PEOPLE will drag you to the International Criminal Court and indict you for crimes against humanity. The blood of the people is the red line you dare not cross.
• No the FLN, ni RND, ni DRS/GIA
• Those who plant misery will harvest the people’s wrath
• The government pisses on us and the media tells us that it’s raining
• When food is rotten, it is not enough to simply change spoons
2. An Algerian Blogger Silenced
The day before the election, Benabdelhamid Amine, a young blogger in Oran, was sentenced to a year in prison, with nine months suspended, for having published a cartoon on his personal blog mocking the expected election results. Amine was found guilty of “insulting the president,” “violating territorial integrity,” and “disseminating publications harmful to national security” according to news reports.
The cartoon portrays a military officer with an obvious similarity to military strongman General Ahmad Gaid Salah placing a golden slipper on someone obviously resembling Abdelmajid Tebboune.. Behind General Salah, holding a red satin pillow, is Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria’s longstanding – and disgraced – ex president. Welcome to the elite club, Algeria’s troika: the military, the security apparatus and the country’s energy elite!
Looking on with interest in the cartoon are four well-dressed gentlemen, all bearing striking resemblance to the other four presidential hopefuls, themselves all high ranking members of the country’s old guard: Abdelkader Bengrina, a former Minister of Tourism; another former prime minister, Ali Benflis; a former Minister of Culture, Azzedine Mihoubi and Abdelaziz Belaid, head of the Moustakbal Party.
Regardless of which of the five “approved” candidates would have won, the results for the country would have been more or less the same: a government since independence in 1962 controlled from behind the scenes by “the unholy trinity,” as unwilling today to step aside and cede power as in 1988.
The cartoon suggests Algeria’s presidential election was little more than a charade, yet another backroom deal concocted by the same ruling circles clinging to power and with it the control of the country’s energy industry – and profits it produces. The cartoonist’s trial and sentencing was a warning.
3. The election and the new hydrocarbon law
A nation divided prior to the election remained so after the vote was tallied.
Understanding that in their bid to cling to power, Algeria’s ruling elite would do little more than shuffle the cards the Hifak, “the Movement” called for a boycott.
Referring to Tebboune caustically as “the army’s favorite candidate” and to the election itself as “an electoral masquerade,” “a rigged election,” angry demonstrations erupted throughout the country. In Oran, Algeria’s second largest city, things got ugly when the army and local police showed their fangs. Protesters were badly roughed up, some 400 were arrested. The security services employed a degree of physical violence since the protrests began in February they had refused to unleash.
For most of its post independence history the Algerian government has not hesitated to use force against its population to maintain its grip on power. With its crushing of dissent in Oran, the military reminded the population of the repression it unleashed during the “Dirty War” years of the 1990s. It was also a warning that the party’s over, that its toleration for dissent has reached its limit.
But is it over? It’s not a party and it’s not over, not by a long shot.
One issue missing from the electoral debate is a new hydrocarbon law approved by the former Bouteflika Council of Ministers, many of the provisions of which remain secret, as is the process by which the law came into being. Critics of the government are concerned that it is little more than a major give-away “la grande braderie” to foreign energy companies forced on the Algerian people. The troika is counting on a government willing to implement the new hydrocarbon law, bound to be unpopular. One reason that the de facto Algerian ruler pushed so hard for an election at this time was to provide a legal framework for the law before the opposition could seriously amend or derail it. Again, the indications are that with the election of Tebboune, the troika has gotten its way.