Algeria’s Bouteflika eases grip of military with dismissal of generals

A woman walks past posters of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers, Algeria April 9, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 03 September 2018
0

Algeria’s Bouteflika eases grip of military with dismissal of generals

  • Changes in Algeria are closely watched as the country is a key ally in the Western fight against militancy in the region
  • The firings point to an accelerating security reform launched several years ago to transform Algeria’s politically oriented military

ALGIERS: Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been dismissing generals to tighten his grip on power ahead of him possibly seeking re-election next year and to diminish the power of the military, analysts and diplomats said.
Two weeks ago, Bouteflika, 81, sacked two more generals, bringing the number of dismissed top military figures to about a dozen in the last few months alone.
The firings point to an accelerating security reform launched several years ago to transform Algeria’s politically oriented military into a more professional body, political sources told Reuters.
Easing the grip of an army dominating the OPEC oil producer since the 1954-1962 independence war with France will take time.
But the first results can been seen — dismissals that once caused tremors in the secretive North African country now seem routine.
“Generals used to sack, not to be sacked,” said one retired intelligence officer, asking like others not to get named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
“Decisions used to be taken at Tagarins, now they are taken at Zeralda,” he added.
Tagarins is the location of the defense ministry in central Algiers, while Bouteflika works in the coastal village of Zeralda, 20 km (12 miles) west of the capital.
When Bouteflika was first elected in 1999, the army and the intelligence services were seen as the real holders of power.
Now, amid speculation that he will bow to calls from the ruling party to run for a possible fifth term in presidential elections in 2019 despite health concerns, Bouteflika has been concentrating power in his inner non-military circle.
Key players are now his youngest brother Said Bouteflika, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and Interior Minister Nouredine Bedoui.
The recent sackings include four regional commanders, the head of military intelligence and several generals at the defense ministry, as well as police chief and army officer Abdelghani Hamel.

INVESTORS
Before this year’s cull, Bouteflika had already sacked in 2015 the top intelligence chief, Mohamed Mediene, and tens of senior generals in the intelligence services.
He also replaced the main intelligence agency DRS with a new body called CSS led by a retired general, Athmane Tartag — it reports to the presidency, not to the military like before.
“It is a long process, the goal is to make the military more professional, and away from politics,” said Arslan Chikhaoui, chairman of a consultancy firm.
Changes in Algeria are closely watched as the country is a key ally in the Western fight against millitancy in the region and a top energy supplier to Europe.
If the shift away from the army continues, this might help investors tired of visa or project applications becoming stuck in a bureaucracy dominated by military and security figures suspicious of foreigners.
“That will be welcome news for foreign direct investors who will see the step as further normalization of the decision making process within the government,” said Geoff Porter, head of North Africa Risk Consulting.
Algeria wants to drum up more investment for its oil and gas sector to end years of stalling output.
Bouteflika hired in March 2017 a US-trained new CEO to revamp state firm Sonatrach who has been rebuilding ties with oil majors who had lost interest in Algeria due to red tape, disputes and tough terms.
The biggest risk remains the health of Bouteflika who has rarely been seen in public since a stroke in 2013 confined him to a wheel chair. A reminder of this was his trip last week to Switzerland to conduct what the presidency described as routine tests.


Israel gives Bedouin villagers until end of month to leave

Updated 23 September 2018
0

Israel gives Bedouin villagers until end of month to leave

  • Israel’s supreme court on September 5 rejected appeals against demolition, allowing authorities to move ahead
  • ‘No one will leave. We will have to be expelled by force’

JERUSALEM: Israeli authorities issued a notice to residents of a Bedouin village in a strategic spot in the occupied West Bank on Sunday informing them they have until the end of the month to leave.
The fate of Khan Al-Ahmar has drawn international concern, with European countries calling on Israel not to move ahead with plans to demolish it.
Israel’s supreme court on September 5 rejected appeals against demolition, allowing authorities to move ahead.
Israel says the village was built without the proper permits, though it is extremely difficult for Palestinians to receive such permission in that part of the West Bank.
The notice given to the some 200 residents of Khan Al-Ahmar on Sunday says they have until the end of the month to demolish the village themselves.
“Pursuant to a supreme court ruling, residents of Khan Al-Ahmar received a notice today requiring them to demolish all the structures on the site by October 1st, 2018,” a statement from the Israeli defense ministry unit that oversees civilian affairs in the West Bank said.
It did not say what will happen if they refuse to do so. Village residents vowed not to leave despite the notice.
“No one will leave. We will have to be expelled by force,” said village spokesman Eid Abu Khamis, adding that a residents’ meeting would be held later on the issue.
“If the Israeli army comes to demolish, it will only be by force.”
The village is located in a strategic spot east of Jerusalem, near Israeli settlements and along a road leading to the Dead Sea.
There have been warnings that continued settlement building in the area would eventually divide the West Bank in two, dealing a death blow to any remaining hopes of a two-state solution.
Israeli authorities have offered alternative sites for Khan Al-Ahmar residents, but villagers say the first was near a rubbish dump and the latest close to a sewage treatment plant.