In exactly one year, on 5 July 2022, Algeria will celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of its independence. The North African country is experiencing yet another mutation in an apparently immutable system. A privileged bureaucratic class and the oligarchic group of the Military have taken the present and the future of the country hostage. Algeria is North Africa’s sleeping giant. It has the continent’s third-largest oil reserves and its second-biggest gas deposits. But economic, social and political life is marked by an endless crisis.
The legislative elections of 12 June did not mark the turning point. Indeed, the election result shows that the country is once again in the hands of the military. The polls were deserted by most of the population, despite the fact that 1,500 lists and over 13,000 candidates were contending for the victory. In the end, only 23 percent of eligible voters voted. This is the lowest turnout ever recorded in independent Algeria’s electoral history. The real winner, therefore, was the Hirak movement.
Expelled from the electoral competition, with several exponents arrested and tortured (at least 220 arrest warrants carried out in the run-up to the elections), Hirak had called on the Algerian population to boycott the elections.
Hirak is the movement that triggered the anti-system revolt with the mobilization against former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was forced to resign in the spring two years ago.
To avoid street demonstrations, and to silence Hirak, the Algerian Interior Ministry deployed a task force of over 16,000 security service agents in the days leading up to the elections. Every corner of the country has been brought under control to block Hirak’s political propaganda.
Thus, the elections of June 2021, the first since the fall of Boutlefika, mark the lowest point in the democratic history of independent Algeria. The revision of the Constitutional Charter launched in November 2020 also flopped. The new system of selection of the political class had to mark the break with the past, giving space to young candidates not linked to the recent history of Boutlefika. It did not work and the institutional architecture remained linked to an ultra presidential dimension.
On the formal level, the elections were won by the National Liberation Front. The old “single” post-independence party won 105 seats out of 407 in the Assembly. In the second place were the independent candidates, with 78 seats, while the Islamists of the Society for Peace Movement are the third force in the country with 64 seats.
Why have the Algerian government and its president Abdelmadjid Tebboune declared war on Hirak? In the days of the fall of Boutlefika it was Tebboune himself who thanked the effort made by the peaceful movement to avoid yet another presidential term, the fifth in a row, in favor of the elderly president.
In reality, the role of the military can be seen behind the anti-democratic rules of the Algerian elections. The People’s Army had declared that it would remain neutral with respect to the elections. But it didn’t happen that way.
The increasingly decisive role of the army is leading the country to play a geopolitical game that risks bringing relations with France back to zero.
Because, if the Algerian institutional structure remains immobile, this cannot be said of the Armed Forces. In the last three years, the armed forces have been upset by an internal revolution that has radically changed political and geopolitical leaders and visions.
Today, General Saïd Chengriha is in command of the Algerian armed forces. He is the strongman of the regime, and takes the most important domestic and foreign policy decisions.
For Chengriha, Hirak is not a spontaneous movement born of the population, but a tool created by French intelligence to put Algeria under pressure. Hirak, therefore, would be remotely guided from Paris. Thus, although President Abdelmajid Tebboune is rather in favor of new relations with France, General Saïd Chengriha continues to remember the “millions of martyrs” who fell against France during the war of liberation.
General Saïd Chengriha took command of the armed forces with a surgical purge. Generals and colonels who did not share his line were removed or arrested. The most striking case is that of General Wassini Bouazza, former head of the Directorate General for Internal Security (DGSI), sentenced to 16 years in prison.
To understand the political line dictated by the general, it is enough to recall his speech of March 17 at the seminar on “Memory and national unity”. Chengriha compared the positions of the Algerian people to those of the mountain, “immutable and unshakable, since they are inspired by our national doctrine and our glorious revolution of liberation, sealed by the blood of millions of chouhada (martyrs) “. Around the figure of Saïd Chengriha has gathered the revolutionary old guard, nationalists of all kinds and Islamists – an explosive mix for the future of Algeria.