Right after the start of the protest movement in Algeria last February, a number of high-profile representatives of the now deposed Bouteflika government faced corruption charges. Some of the cases involving power abuse and government funds theft are still being heard by local courts.
In late May, the Algerian Supreme Court started entertaining graft accusations against twelve former functionaries in an ongoing crackdown on the former ruling elite. Among those who came under fire were Bouteflika’s last prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia along with his predecessor on this post – Abdelmalek Sellal, the former Director General of National Security, Abdelghani Hamel, along with eight other former ministers. Additionally, a military tribunal in Blida detained the ex-president’s younger brother Said Bouteflika, together with two former heads of the Intelligence and Security Department Mohamed Mediene and Athmane Tartag. It was announced that a special judge was appointed to investigate their case.
Further still, the acting secretary general of the Algerian Workers Party, Louisa Hanoun was also place in custody by a military judge for “harming the army’s authority and plotting against state authority.”
It’s alleged that those individuals who made up a considerable part of the now deposed government were brought to justice due to the testimonies provided by the now arrested local oligarchs Ali Haddad and the Kouninef brothers, as they claim that they were capable of obtaining highly lucrative government contracts due to their friendship with Said Bouteflika.
As of now, Algerian political circles remain in a state of shock as it was unprecedented that the Supreme Court would go after fish that big. Many of those charged with crimes against Algeria are risking to face real prison sentences.
It should be reminded that an acute political crisis erupted in Algeria last February, once the old strongman Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his intention to run for fifth presidential term, in spite of his old age and numerous health problems. After several weeks of popular protests that rocked the entire country Bouteflika dismissed the government Ahmed Ouyahia and abandoned his post himself, citing health issues as a pretext.
According to the Constitution, the speaker of the upper house of the Algerian Parliament, Abdelkader Bensalah was appointed interim president for a period of ninety days so that he could prepare the country for holding special elections.
However, the local opposition that is being driven by outside powers keeps claiming that it has no trust in Abdelkader Bensalah as he used to enjoy good relations with Abdelaziz Bouteflika, so they demand the departure of the ruling elite. At the same time, the military brass of Algeria seems to be convinced just as well that special elections must be held as soon as possible, as it was revealed by the Army Chief of Staff, Ahmed Gaed Salah. In his opinion this is the only option to put an end to the ongoing political crisis. At the same time, Ahmed Gaed Salah would initiate a series of investigations against high-profile figures of the former government in a bid to ease the level of protests against the government.
Yet, the opposition would have none of this as it refuses to settle for a cosmetic makeover of the government. In particular, they demand all acting officials to stand down, including Abdelkader Bensalah together with high-profile representatives of the military elite. They also want Algeria to be more pro-Western, which is hardly a surprise for anyone who has been closely following the events on the ground. At the same time, local religious figures have started playing an increasingly important role in the ongoing crisis, which shows that prior evaluations of the role that foreign players play in this debacle was correct.
However, in the absence of strong political leaders there was no point in holding special presidential election on July 4, as was planned initially, which resulted in the protraction of the long political crisis that swept this country down.
Jean Périer is an independent researcher and analyst and a renowned expert on the Near and Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.