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Now for the post-election purge

June 9, 2009

capo di tutti capiSo, days after rumors surface that Bouteflika’s brother will create a new party, the Algerian press reports that the president is about to launch a purge of the army. After asking the Ministry of Defense to issue a list of officers that have reached retirement age, something curious happens: the president orders the list rewritten. Says “trusted sources” to El Khabar, in what must be an orchestrated leak from some party to this:

The president has told his closest aides that he will have the list revised, and it is understood from this that he did not find the names of certain officers that were expected to be retired, or that he wants to retire them.

Now, let’s not get overly excited, but the fact is that the truly powerful officers — such as those remaining of les janvieristes, foremost among them that rotting old corpse Gen. Mediène of the DRS — are well above their retirement age (64 years in the highest rank, or 42 years of service). The president can extend the retirement age of an individual officer at will, which has kept many of these men in power, in the give-and-take between military factions and Bouteflika’s presidency. But there’s a precedent here. After his reelection in 2004, heads started rolling pretty much immediately, with the immensely powerful Chief of Staff Mohammed Lamari resigning (“personal reasons”), after having allegedly opposed the reelection and tried to sponsor the electoral challenge from Ali Benflis. Whether it’s Mediène’s turn to go now is an open question (El Khabar mentions no names), but Bouteflika now seems so completely entrenched in power that I’m not sure that anyone could oppose him if he really decided to clean out the military establishment, which he has been doing step-by-step for over a decade now anyway. At any rate, it seems like something big might be going down. El Khabar claims that as many as 40% of the top brass may go, and ominously ends its article:

This brings us back to the question of which of these two forces can overrule the competences of the other, and which of them has the final word in the country: the president of the republic, or the officers of the military establishment?

Maybe we’re about to find out?

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