Robert Fisk: Another ‘sham’ election is over, so what now for Algeria?

The ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika won a fourth term in a ballot decried as fraudulent by his critics

Share

In Algeria, politics is theatre, blood is real. You may joke about Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s re-election for a fourth-term presidency – sick, wheel-chaired, 77 years old – with 81.5 per cent of the vote, but you cannot doubt the ambush and killing of 14 Algerian soldiers at Iboudarene in the Berber mountains not far from Tizi Ouzou. “Al-Qa’ida in the Maghreb” was blamed by the usual military “sources”. Thank heavens, was the government line, that Bouteflika is back. But was it that simple?

For there lies as much cynicism, hypocrisy and sheer mendacity behind this latest election of a man who can scarcely understand what is said to him, as there is hopelessness on the part of Algerians. Take the visit to Algiers – less than a fortnight before the 17 April “election” – of John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, who promised us all an Israeli-Palestinian agreement by the end of this month.

A passing fancy, I suppose, for Kerry the Peacemaker to drop by and give his apparent support for Bouteflika. Mark his words, then – more important than the five more years of Bouteflika which Algerians must now endure. “We look forward to elections that are transparent and in line with international standards [sic], and the US will work with the President that the people of Algeria choose,” Kerry said. “We really want to work in a co-operative way, and we want to do this so that Algerian security services have the tools [sic again] and the training needed in order to defeat al-Qa’ida and other terrorist groups.”

Kerry surely knows that the “tools” of the Algerian security services are electrodes, nail-extractors and water-torture not unlike that the American CIA has used on its enemies. This is one department where the Algerian “security services”really don’t need Mr Kerry’s help. What the Algerian security regime wants from the Americans (and the Algerian Foreign Minister, Ramtane Lamamra, admitted this himself) is shared “electronic intelligence”, which only the US can provide. Thus it can join the cutting edge in the “war on terror” of which Kerry spoke so blithely – and which was the foundation of Bouteflika’s re-election.

Read more: 'One day, you will all be lynched, dead, sick or alive'

All this talk of transparency and international standards, of course, is codswallop in the world of Algerian politics. After the election, the opposition – namely Ali Benflis, the former lawyer and Justice Minister who resigned at the opening of desert detention camps in 1991 and who got a mere 12.8 per cent of the vote – cried fraud at once. Most of the saner, smaller political parties boycotted the election. And not once did Mr Kerry dare to mention that back in 2008, Bouteflika massaged Article 74 of the Algerian constitution to allow a president more than two terms (five years each) in office. He took a third term and, after 15 desolate years, has now grabbed another. Like his former neighbour in Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – and the Emperor Nero, for that matter – Bouteflika can be elected for all eternity.

And why not? It is the Algerian generals and security services who run the presidency and who, in the usual whirlpool of corruption, define the “international standards” of elections. Hitherto, le pouvoir (the name given to the small group of unelected civilians and military figures who make key decisions in Algeria) has been led by General Mohamed Mediène – “Toufik” was the rather chilling nickname he enjoyed – who was head of the intelligence service. But in an unprecedented series of smears amongst the country’s generals and politicians, “kingmaker” Mediène was humiliated. Amar Saadani was appointed the new secretary-general of the National Liberation Front – the time-warped old men who have helped to destroy the lives of Algerians since they won independence from France in 1962 – and ensured that a number of senior generals lost their jobs.

The problem started, according to Le Monde Diplomatique writer Jean-Pierre Sereni, when an Italian claimed to have handed a commission of $200m to Algerian officials in return for a hydrocarbon contract worth $11bn. Suddenly, foreign judges would be involved in an international enquiry. In the past, Algerian courts never touched such scandals. Now the “bosses” of Algeria are said to be Bouteflika’s brother Said, Abdulmalek Sellal, the director of the old man’s election campaign, the aforesaid Saadani and Amar Ghalal, the Minister of Transport, who supposedly influences Algeria’s tamer Islamist movements. This Gang of Four – with apologies to Mao’s memory – will have to suppress the Italian scandal as well as another corruption inquiry into the obscure circumstances under which Chinese and Japanese companies were awarded contracts to build the vast new east-west Algerian motorway.

During his third term as president, Bouteflika took the easy way out. He spent an estimated $10bn on new public housing, loans, salaries, parks and prettified boulevards. But there was a sick side to all this. When Lieutenant Colonel Mohamed Benaire, Bouteflika’s head of “national security” employment, turned up to talk to young people at Ouargla University last year, he offered 16,000 new jobs – for would-be cops!

But was Bouteflika not the man who brought an end to the pouvoir-Islamist civil war (the “Black Decade”, as they have to call it in Algeria) in which 250,000 men, women and children were shot, beheaded, garroted, throat-cut or tortured to death? Which is why the killing of 14 soldiers last week was so shocking. Was the civil war returning? Was al-Qa’ida coming back? Or were – heretical thought – the old government “exterminators” of the civil war, security agents who operated within the Islamist rebel movements, back at work. Could some dangerous, covert branch of the “deep state” have slaughtered the country’s own soldiers to inject fear back into the heart of Algerians?

A theatre of the absurd, perhaps. But who could doubt the wisdom of a fourth term for Bouteflika now?

React Now

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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultan...

Recruitment Genius: Plumber

£22000 - £25900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company is expanding and th...

Recruitment Genius: Corporate Account Manager

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Corporate Account Manager is ...

Recruitment Genius: Chef de Partie

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This award winning conference venues provider...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Hollywood: Stop trying to make Superman cool. The world needs a boy scout in blue

Matthew James
A man enjoys the  

If you really want to legalise cannabis, then why on earth would you go and get high in a park?

Peter Reynolds
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders