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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate Sales Executive

17.5k + Commission (£18.5k after probation period): ESI Media: You will be res...

History Teacher

£110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a teacher o...

IT Teacher

£110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a suitably ...

Legal Cashier - Oxford

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Legal Cashier - Oxford We have an excellent ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: Joe on Vlad, banks of the Jordan and Blair's radicalism

John Rentoul
 

Believe me, I said, there’s nothing rural about this urban borough’s attempt at a country fair

John Walsh
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor