From Algeria, a lesson in how to bypass democracy

Our Middle East Correspondent on the Bouteflika regime, Pentagon folly, the many faces of Assad, and precious lessons from and old handbook in his Beirut briefcase

Share
Related Topics

Why should readers be deprived of the intriguing tales that didn’t quite make it, the “back of the notebook” stories of past months? And since Algeria is in the news, take the case of the Algerian Mourad Dhina, executive director of Al-Karama (“dignity” in Arabic), a Swiss NGO researching human rights violations in the Arab world; he’s also founder of the Rashad movement, a group of former Algerian journalists, officials and ex-diplomats who want to rid their country of the Bouteflika regime (above) and its military supporters.

Living in Switzerland, Mourad encouraged the Swiss to question Khaled Nezzar, one of the top generals who overthrew the Benjadid government in 1992, cancelled elections. A civil war with Islamists followed the coup, in which Algerian goons tortured and executed thousands of their opponents.

Mourad and his Rashad group, which even has an office in Paris, wanted to overthrow Bouteflika in democratic legislative elections last May but – bingo – on a routine trip to Paris in January, he was arrested at Orly because the Algerian authorities had accused him of “terrorist acts” in Zurich and wanted him extradited to Algiers. The Swiss, it seems, were quite unaware of these “acts” – Mourad’s wife and children are Swiss citizens – and so, it seems, were the French. But they banged Mourad up in La Santé prison, the very jail in which those well-known Algerian FLN troublemakers of half a century ago – Ben Bella, Ait Ahmed and Boudiaf – were imprisoned.

Of course, Mourad could play no part in the May elections, and old Bouteflika – he of the side-combed hair and health problems resolved by Paris doctors – won with a handsome majority. And Mourad? Well, surprise, surprise, the French judiciary freed him two months after those all-important elections, deciding – it took this august body all of seven months, remember – that the Algerian warrant was “ill-founded”. And Franco-Algerian relations were said to be improving.

Pentagon folly

Just a year ago, the Pentagon produced its restricted file on “ Special Forces Unconventional Warfare” – missions to overthrow governments “in the absence of overt or eventual hostilities by the sponsor [sic]”. Among the tactics: “USG [US government] agencies co-ordinate with allied government-in-exile or resistance leadership for desired US support”, “SF [Special Forces] team organises, trains and equips resistance cadre. Emphasis is on developing infrastructure.”

As for the locals, “key to transitioning from growing discontent to insurrection is the perception by a significant portion of the population that they have nothing to lose by revolting and the belief that they can succeed. In addition, there must be a spark that triggers insurrection, such as a catalysing event that ignites popular support against the government power…”

Resistance movements should operate within “ethnic ghettoes… within sympathetically densely populated urban areas. These areas often create safe havens that HN [host nation] forces are unwilling or unable to access.” And the resistance will need “moral or political support in the international forum [sic] … resources, such as money, weapons, food, advisers, and training; sanctuary, such as secure training sites, operational bases over a border, or protection from extradition.”

Now let’s apply the above to Syria. The “sponsor” (the US) wants to keep out of the battle, the Syrian “government-in-exile” has already been chosen, all FSA propaganda (YouTube videos etc) suggest constant victories on the part of the resistance. The “ spark” was the torture of children by government forces in Deraa, the “ethnic ghettoes” – for which read sectarian ghettoes – are Sunni areas of Aleppo, Homs, Hama and the suburbs of Damascus.

The international “moral and political support” comes from Obama, Cameron et al, the money and weapons from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, “sanctuary” over the border is in Turkey and Lebanon. Oh yes, and “UW [unconventional warfare] operations may involve HA [humanitarian assistance] to benefit populations sympathetic … to a particular UW effort.” In other words, bread for those who support the resistance, starvation for the rest.

But let’s be fair. Any similarity or parallel with Syria this past two years is unintended.

The many faces Bashar al-Assad

Combing anew through the Wikileaks files on Syria, I am struck by a conversation Bashar al-Assad enjoyed with US senators in 2009. Those were the days when the president was Bashar-the-Good, a possible ‘partner for peace’, still two years away from the uprising in which the West (and a lot of Syrians) decided he was Bashar-the-Terrible.  The good senators, needless to say, were beating the drum for peace with Israel, a break in Syria’s relations with Iran, etc.

Bashar was too shrewd to buy this line. He wanted a fact-based treaty before real peace. Here are his thoughts, in the words of a US diplomat:  “Asad (sic) likened the process to how a doctor should treat cancer. Condemnations and mutual recriminations might be self-satisfying, but the cancer still grows unless the doctor is able to treat the root illness.”  And one wonders – let us speak the truth – if Assad remembers this advice.

Lessons for today from an old handbook

It sits in my Beirut bookcase, very politically incorrect, deadly serious, Murray’s 1892 “Handbook for Travellers in Syria and Palestine”. This is Ottoman-travel, where it’s quicker to sail from Beirut to the northern city of Tripoli than go by road.  Damascus’s Ommayad mosque “seems only second rate” and “the dogs of Damascus, like those of other Oriental towns… are exceedingly useful in discharging the functions of scavengers…”  At Hama, Murray records that “the inhabitants are proud and haughty Moslems, fanatical and ignorant in the extreme.” As for Aleppo, the city is “ notorious for a peculiar and unpleasant complaint, known by the name of the ‘Aleppo Button’, a small red, hard tubercle, which…f orms a scab, which, falling off, leaves an indelible mark.”  Any safer today, I wonder?

 

Robert Fisk on Algeria

Buy the new Independent eBook - £1.99 Two decades of reportage on a tragic conflict the West can no longer afford to ignore - by one of the world’s great foreign correspondents

kobo iBooks Amazon Kindle

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Residents of the Gravesham constituency are 10 times closer to what Peter Hain scorns as the “Westminster elite” than are those of Linlithgow and East Falkirk  

Will no one stop the march of localism?

Jonathan Meades
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam