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Another general out: Larbi Belkheïr

February 24, 2009
Larbi Belkheïr

Gen. Larbi Belkheïr

That Algeria is planning to change its head of mission in the Rabat embassy could perhaps be news in itself, given the state of relations between the two countries. But the important thing here is rather who the outgoing ambassador is: Gen. Larbi Belkheïr.

Gen. Belkheïr was one of the driving forces behind Algeria’s 1992 military coup, as a central figure in the military clique that more or less ran things afterwards. Only under the presidency of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whom he helped get elected, has he been squeezed out of power, like so many others. In Belkheïr’s case, this was taken care of by his 2005 reassignment to the post as ambassador in Morocco: prestigious enough to be an honourable retreat, but at a safe distance from the capital’s political intrigue. (Before that, he headed the president’s personal cabinet, meaning he could monitor day-to-day work in El Mouradia.)

Now, as newspapers — and blogs — have for some time reported, Belkheïr is in a hospital, close to the end of his life, or at least his political career. That adds another name to the list of puppetmasters who have been forced to resign, been gently retired, or simply aged out of politics (but who are not necessarily powerless). Among the most important:

  • Gen. Khaled Nezzar, ex-Min. of Defense etc.; retired.
  • Gen. Mohamed Lamari, ex-army head; retired/fired.
  • Gen. Mohamed Touati, called the “brain” of the coup; retired.
  • Gen. Brahim Fodil Chérif, major commander during the war; retired/fired.
  • Gen. Smaïl Lamari, counter-espionage head in the DRS; died in office.
  • Gen. Kamel Abderrahmane, major commander during the war; retired.

One really big name remains, towering over the country: Gen. Mohamed “Toufiq” Médiène, head of the DRS (military intelligence). By some, he is seen as the most powerful man in the country, and by some as holder of second place, after Bouteflika himself. I guess there’s no way of knowing until one or the other gets the boot?

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