MEA Risk analysis | 25 July | 2019: There were no new efforts by the military command this week to ease tension or to roll out a transition process aimed at stabilizing Algeria. The military stance is extremely alarming because Algeria is operating without a legal government framework, while the military command continues to issue orders outside of their constitutional purview. Orders and official announcements without any legal backing made this week include new appointments in the military regions allegedly ordered by the Minister of Defense, which is a position that no longer exists since the resignation of President Bouteflika.
Although military chief General Gaid Salah refrained from making political speeches and pronouncements this week, as he did every week for months, his silence is interpreted by civil society as a sign of defiance. Hopes that the military would order the release of individuals arrested for their political positions have all faded for the time being. There have been efforts by the military to define the political agenda by hiring civilian politicians to call for dialogue. But all of these calls for negotiations have been rejected by the Hirak (protest movement) on the ground that they are still driven by remnants of the Bouteflika era and defined as being the creation of the military.
This deadlock in Algeria politics is evidence of the military command either unable to find a path forward or looking to worsen the situation in the country. Observers say the command is doing both. The situation is blocked because the two competing views about the crisis operate on two different levels and do not seem to intersect: the military command analyzes the crisis as the start of a clan warfare and a fight between the Gaid Salah clan (current military command), and the forces loyal to former intelligence chief Mohamed Mediene (currently in military prison). On the other side of the conflict is the Hirak anti-government movement, who sees this crisis as the beginning of a new era with democracy, rule of law and the end of corruption as being critical elements of the movement and demands a complete regime change. These two currents do not seem to meet, largely because the military authorities have taken a one-dimensional approach to crisis management and have neglected appeasement and conflict resolution. What is certain, the military command and the regime in general are out of balance, unable to control the crisis to the point that panic has set in. The Hirak for itself appears leaderless making it extremely difficult to control. On the Hirak side there is no appetite for negotiation.
This week was also marked by comments made by several western sources, some alarming as they showed an implicit support to the Algerian military, others acknowledging the rights of the Algerian people to democracy. This was the case of the Belgian ambassador to Algiers who issued a statement supporting the aspirations of the Algerian people. His French counterpart, however, was reported by Maghreb Intelligence newspaper as having sent a letter to the Foreign Ministry in Paris in which he confirmed the gravity of the situation in Algeria, but recommended an immediate presidential election to avoid further destabilization. The French ambassador’s assessment was rejected by the Algerian opposition, arguing that this is precisely what the military command wants, a step that would allow it to designate its own candidate.
What is ahead is still uncertain. The military command is expecting the Hirak movement to dwindle in strength during the holiday month of August. But if student marches on Tuesdays are any indication of what to expect, the Hirak is not likely to ease pressure on the government. After August comes the highly sensitive period of back-to-school season, which tends to be socially tense and brings labor unions in the forefront, and so an escalation of the conflict could ensue. Given these facts, both parties are expected to maintain their respective positions during the summer season, and some movement could take place in fall.