Algeria: Children Of The Mountain
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The government is in a good mood and wants most Algerians to feel the same way despite an unemployment rate of over ten percent and continued daily reminders of corruption. The government has been helped by oil prices not falling as much as expected. Oil revenue went up 18 percent during the first ten months of 2018. The program to reduce imports has also been a success. That allows the government to delay implementation of cuts to subsidy programs for food and fuel. Cuts here anger most Algerians and the government can put this off until after the 2019 presidential election. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is running for reelection in 2019 despite being incapacitated and unlikely to recover. Bouteflika did not make the announcement because his stroke (or strokes) have left him unable to speak. Because of the health problems, Bouteflika could still withdraw but his allies have no one with the name recognition and track record of the elderly president. Few of the senior leaders want a real election with other political parties putting forward candidates. That is unwelcome because more of the presidential candidates would be running on a strong anti-corruption platform that would probably include promises to recover money stolen by the previous government (which has been in power since the 1990s.)
With president Bouteflika incapacitated his 60 year brother Said and Army chief-of-staff Ahmed Gaid Salah now appear to be in charge and that does not make the government any more acceptable. The younger brother has been a key aide, especially in supervising (and fixing as needed) his older brothers’ election campaigns since the 1990s. Because of that, it is not considered unusual that Said Bouteflika is the one who communicates with his older brother and passes on his instructions, or at least what Said believes are his brothers’ intentions.
One of those intentions has led to all the senior military and police commanders who might oppose the stealthy government takeover of Said Bouteflika being arrested and accused of corruption. This was apparently supervised by Army chief-of-staff Ahmed Gaid Salah. Said Bouteflika knows who is corrupt because one of his jobs was to see to it that there were no unseemly feuds among senior officials over who got what in corrupt deals. Said Bouteflika never managed to gain enough key supporters, or popular support, to run for high office. Until now he has been content to be the kingmaker. But now it is feared he may try to succeed his brother. Many believe Said Bouteflika has too many enemies for that, which adds to the unease about how the Bouteflika era will end. Most Algerians would prefer honest government and a lot less corruption but the Bouteflikas would prefer to keep things as they are. That attitude, shared by most but not all of those running the country, is the major obstacle to meaningful change in Algeria. The corruption prevents rewarding the most capable people and generating enough economic activity to make Algeria a place most young Algerians would want to live and work. For a long time, too many young Algerians either rebelled (at great cost to themselves and Algeria) or emigrate.
There is one difference now, compared to the appeal of change when the Cold War ended and the communist model was shown to be an epic fraud and failure. Free elections were held in the early 1990s and Islamic parties won on the promise of imposing a religious dictatorship that would deal harshly with the corrupt leadership they replaced. That led to a bloody war with Islamic terrorists that ended with the surviving Islamic radicals discredited. Islamic political parties still exist but they do not have the appeal they once had. If free elections were held again the Islamic parties would not dominate but would a new secular government be able to deal with the corruption? It is uncertain and this is a problem not just for Algerian but for all Moslem majority nations. Islam does not recognize the separation of church and state and that created a tolerance for Islamic radicals that has blocked efforts to clean-up corruption and make some real economic, cultural and political progress. But some Moslem majority nations handle this better than others and one of the successful nations is right next door. But rather than work with Morocco Algeria insists on feuding with the most successful Moslem nation in North Africa.
Resistance To Reality
In early October the king of Morocco proposed peace talks between Algeria and Morocco to finally settle a four-decade feud over Algerian support for a failed rebellion against Moroccan rule of its southern most region (Western Sahara). Algeria ignored this latest peace offer because, well, the Algerian government in power all that time does not like to admit mistakes. Meanwhile, that mistake simmers in southwestern Algeria (Tindouf Province) where local police have a growing problem with the many supporters of Islamic terrorism living in refugee camps for people from Western Sahara. Algeria has long tried to avoid confronting the growing problem with Islamic terrorists and criminal activity in these camps. That is changing as is the Algerian attitude towards Palisario. Back in April Algeria assured neighbor Morocco and the UN that it no longer had anything to do with Polisario, a group of Moroccan terrorists that Algeria helped create decades ago. Then on April 11th, an Algerian Air Force transport crashed on takeoff and among the 257 dead were 26 Polisario members. The transport was taking off from a base near the Algerian capital carrying mainly military personnel. This was more than an embarrassment, it confirmed the accusations that Algeria could not be trusted when it came to Polisario, and perhaps other matters as well. For example, Algeria is one of the few Sunni majority Arab countries that supports the Syrian Assad government. Algeria is a major customer for Russian weapons and admirer of current Russian politics (the creation of a “president for life” in what is supposed to be a democracy), which is now very similar to what Algeria has had since the 1960s. Back (before 1991) when Russia was the Soviet Union the Russians backed Algerian efforts to support and encourage Polisario and thereby weaken neighbor Morocco (which was, and still is, a centuries-old monarchy and a more efficient government than the democratic dictatorship in Algeria). Morocco has accused Algerian leaders of being lying hypocrites and now the UN and many other nearby nations are agreeing with that.
Polisario has always caused problems with neighboring Morocco and the problem got worse in 2013. Algeria and Morocco recalled ambassadors and there was talk of escalation. This made cooperation in counter-terrorism efforts (or anything else) with Morocco impossible. Meanwhile, Polisario provided Islamic terrorists safe haven in Polisario refugee camps in Algeria (90,000 refugees) and Mauritania (24,000). This is all connected with the declining prospects of Polisario, which has been in bad shape since 1991. Back then, Morocco finally won its war with Polisario Front rebels, who were seeking independence for the Western Sahara (a region south of Morocco). Polisario remains powerful in Mauritania, where the rebel group has official recognition and maintains several refugee camps. At the beginning (the 1960s) Polisario was so well-subsidized by Algeria, back when Algeria was a radical state, that Polisario still had enough diehards out there to keep lots of people in Western Sahara unhappy. This situation has also provided recruits and sanctuary for al Qaeda and other Islamic radicals. Since the 1990s the UN has been trying to work out a final peace deal between Polisario and Morocco. During the 1990s Algeria said it cut off all support for Polisario. But that, and UN efforts to mediate the differences, have just not worked. The contested area is largely desert with a current population of less than 600,000. Logic would have it that the area is better off as a part of Morocco. But there are still thousands of locals who would rather fight for independence than submit to Morocco.
Some resistance is tribal and cultural, with the Moroccans seen as another bunch of alien invaders. The area was administered until 1976 as a Spanish colony. Most Western Saharans have made peace with Moroccan rule, especially since Morocco has been spending a billion dollars a year on infrastructure and other improvements and doing so for decades. Western Sahara is a much nicer place because of that. Polisario still has several thousand armed men based in the refugee camps and refuses to accept Moroccan rule of Western Sahara. Polisario has become an outlaw organization with no real purpose. If the fighting breaks out again Morocco could defeat Polisario, but Polisario still has a sanctuary in the Algerian refugee camps. There Polisario discourages any talk of peacefully returning to Western Sahara, even though a growing number of the camp residents are quietly doing that. The refugee camps have become police states run by Polisario and tolerated, until now, by Algeria. As more veteran Algerian Islamic terrorists are captured or surrender the information they provide keeps pointing back to Polisario as a major source of support for AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and its lucrative smuggling (drugs, people, weapons) from the south into Algeria. Polisario was hoping to avoid a major confrontation with Algerian security forces over this that is becoming more difficult to do.
November 27, 2018: In the southeast (Illizi Province, where the Tunisian, Algerian and Libyan borders meet), the state oil company is completing removal of its oil exploration equipment from the Ghadames area of Libya. Here, since 2005, Algeria has had the contract to explore for and extract oil. The work was interrupted by the 2011 revolution and subsequent chaos but was resumed in 2015. But now it is being halted once more because of the persistent problems with local security.
November 25, 2018: China agreed to invest $6 billion for the construction of a phosphate extraction facility near the Tunisian border (Tebessa province, 650 kilometers east of the capital). The plant is to be operating by 2022 and will provide 3,000 jobs and generate nearly two billion dollars in revenue a year. Algeria will own 51 percent of the phosphate plant. Currently, Algeria exports 1.5 million tons of phosphates a year and the new planet will increase that to more than 10 million tons. This is part of the Algerian effort to grow and diversify the economy, especially for items that can be exported. Currently, over 95 percent of export revenue comes from oil and gas.
November 20, 2018: In Boumerdes province (122 kilometers southeast of the capital), police arrested four Islamic terrorist suspects.
November 10, 2018: In the east (Skikda province, 500 kilometers from the capital), a known Islamic terrorist surrendered, accompanied by his wife and five children. Also surrendering were the widows of two other Islamic terrorists and three children. Since the 1990s the numerous mountains and forests of Skikda have been a hideout for Islamic terrorists and, after the 1990s, families of Islamic terrorists. More than a decade of army patrols moving through the rural areas of the province, and other soldiers and police manning road checkpoints, have made Skikda less hospitable for Islamic terrorists and that could be seen by the increasing number of abandoned Islamic terrorist hideouts and abandoned supply caches. These were usually bunkers dug into the side of hills or in caves. Many contained explosives and weapons, often stuff that had been there for years. The government will provide amnesty to Islamic terrorists or their families who surrender and cooperate (telling what they know and promising to behave). That information indicates that there are still over a hundred families up there, many of them headed by widows, and over 500 children, many of them born in those hills. Local call them “children of the mountain” and from rare encounters know that these kids grew up in mountain hideouts with no medical care, education or regular food supplies. After 2014 Skikda was a base area for some of the local Islamic terrorists who tried to create an ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) branch in Algeria. That disappeared after a few years with most of the active members killed or arrested and the rest moved to Syria or Libya. Some widows and orphans were left behind in Skikda, which is about a hundred kilometers from the Tunisian border.
Two other armed Islamic terrorists surrendered in the southeast, near the Libyan border.
November 6, 2018: The government freed six senior military and police generals arrested in October on corruption charges. The six men freed had apparently convinced Said Bouteflika, the younger brother of the president and Army chief-of-staff Ahmed Gaid Salah that they were not a threat. Said Bouteflika and general Salah appear to be running things and make all the major decisions. The younger brother has been a key aide, especially in supervising (and fixing as needed) Abdelaziz Bouteflikas’ election campaigns since the 1990s. Because of that, it is not considered unusual that Said Bouteflika is the one who communicates with his older brother and passes on his instructions. Meanwhile, all the senior military and police commanders who might oppose the stealthy government takeover of Said Bouteflika had, by the end of October, been arrested and accused of corruption. This was apparently supervised by general Salah. Said Bouteflika knows who is corrupt because one of his jobs was to see to it that there were no unseemly feuds among senior officials over who got what in corrupt deals. Most Algerians would prefer honest government and a lot less corruption but the Bouteflikas would prefer to keep things as they are. There is one exception now. Senior officials who are caught committing corrupt acts are allowed to be prosecuted. They can unofficially gain a lighter punishment by agreeing not to inform on any of his cronies. Doing so would bring retribution against him and his family and perhaps even a fatal accident.
This article is copyrighted and republished with permission from our friends at Strategy Page.
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