The Algerian Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaid Salah, accused a nondescript "gang" of infiltrating the protest movement in the country and damaging the relations between the Algerian people and Army.
More than 35 weeks on, Algeria continues to witness protests in support of democracy and economic opportunities and against corruption and repression. Protests have become especially intense in recent weeks as elections, due to take place on December 12, draw closer.
Although the protests have remained peaceful, tensions are rising over numerous concerns, including the fact that the Algerian Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaid Salah, is running for the position of the President. Opposition activists, who have faced increasing clampdown from authorities, have nevertheless remained steadfast in their calls for the removal of all elements of the former regime, including Salah and for the formation of “a civilian not a military state”.
For his part, Salah has employed tactics that will be familiar to most from the region, accusing a nondescript “gang” of attempting to sow discord between the people and the army. Speaking at a symposium titled “The role of the army in society”, organised by the Ministry of Defence and broadcast on state television, Salah suggested that the “gang” is misleading public opinion by spreading malicious ideas about the army’s relations with the people.
Salah was unclear about who was leading this “gang” but insinuated that those responsible are the loyalists of the former President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who have infiltrated the protest movement. Salah emphasised that the military’s role has always been to protect the state and preserve the national unity no matter the circumstances and added that the elections would go ahead as planned.
While Salah was careful to not blame the protest movement, for fear of eliciting a backlash, his rhetoric is nevertheless straight out of the playbook of authoritarian leaders across the Middle East and North Africa, blaming vaguely-defined “gangs” and “forces” of conspiring against national unity.
In doing so, Salah likely hopes to take the social and political pressure off the Algerian People’s National Army whose role as the real power behind the Presidency has come under increasing scrutiny ever since Bouteflika was forced to resign, leading to calls by protesters for the establishment of a civilian state.
While Algeria has not witnessed the level of violence experienced by other countries in the region, officials sceptical of the protests have occasionally insinuated that the protests could lead to the repetition of Algeria’s “Black Decade” in the 1990s, when civil war gripped the country. These warnings were received coldly by protesters who feel that the spectre of the civil war is being used to de-legitimise the protests. For them, their demands remain simple and straightforward: the release of political prisoners and an end to the manipulation of the legal and political system by powerful elites.