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Algeria: How Far With The Changes Go? A Radio Interview With Rob Prince. KGNU, Boulder Colorado. March 26, 2019

March 27, 2019

 

Audio Interview – KGNU Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues

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(Above the audio interview. It begins at 1 minute and 37 seconds into the recording)

Concerning the program notes below: these are the notes I work off. Generally, and this case follows the rule, most of notes form the basis of the program.  Several people have asked me for them, so they are provided. The goal in this case was to introduce listeners to the historic demonstrations taking place in Algeria at present, some background to the current crisis, which is about much more than presidential elections in the country.)

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After a twenty year hiatus “the Algerian Question” is back on the map

Hope to explore some themes related to the current events..

1. What is happening and why

2. Some general background for our listeners.

2. What I refer to as the ongoing crisis of legitimacy in Algeria

3. The U.S-Algeria Connection

1.

Begin with current situation – unprecedented demonstrations

– country-wide – several Fridays more than a million people demonstrating since February 22.
-they are demonstrating in opposition to the current president, Bouteflika, standing for election for a fifth term
– he has been severely ill for at least seven years – probably more.
– do not mean disrespect but he is more dead than alive.

The demonstrations are of great ampler, size and organization. They began just after Bouteflika announced he would seek a fifth term.

The same issues that triggered the massive nationwide 2011-12 uprising known as the Arab Spring – economic disparity, corruption, repression, the breathtaking waste of the country’s natural resource wealth, the government’s growing dependence, if not subservience, to foreign powers, especially the USA and France – are fueling the current demonstrations in Algeria. Given the regime’s ultimate fragile hold on power, it is possible that the current nexus of power could collapse. (1) As the oppositional momentum gathers, the crisis of state has intensified.

As my friend, Francois Gèze, publisher of Decouverte Publications out of Paris noted in a blog entry at MediaPart:

“These demonstrations reflect the remarkable lucidity of the Algerian people.

• “Dear USA, there is no oil left, so STAY AWAY unless you want olive oil”
• “Algeria is kidnapped by a gang”
• “Voleurs, vous avez mangé le pays!” (Thieves, you have stolen our country)”
• “Monsieurs our generals! If you dare to fire a single shot, to spill one drop of our blood, THE PEOPLE will drag you to the International Criminal Court and indict you for crimes against humanity. The blood of the people is the red line you dare not cross.”
• “No the FLN, ni RND, ni DRS/GIA”
• “Those who plant misery will harvest the people’s wrath”
• “The government pisses on us and the media tells us that it’s raining”
• “When food is rotten, it is not enough to simply change spoons”

They are now countrywide, not just in the capitol, Algiers, and they threaten to bring down the government that has been in power since 1965 – more than half a century.

The make up of the demonstrators is breathtaking – virtually the entire country
– secular and religious
– all classes, all regions
– business elements as well as trade unionists

a truly national uprising, peaceful so far.

While the immediate demand is for Bouteflika not to run for a fifth term, there are deeper issues at play – a history of government corruption, repression and economic mismanagement – the failure of a model.

At this time it is not clear what the revolt will produce.

– another round of unspeakable repression as in the 1990s
– some moderate reform – at least a change in characters, more symbolic than real.
– more far-reaching institutional change.

While the country does have political parties, and within certain limits a relatively free and active press, this is deceptive; they are more trappings of democracy than the real thing.

It has been run by three cooperating networks, and in a very basic way is a totalitarian state;

– the military, the security apparatus and what can be called “the comprador bourgeoisie” – ie, the representatives of foreign finance and corporate interests in the country. 2.

So…let’s talk a bit about Algeria..what is it, where is it?

Algeria is located in a region of Northern Africa known in the Arab World as “The Maghreb” – or simply “The West”…it is contrasted with The Masreb, or simply the East, ie, the Arab-Muslim heartland that would include Egypt, Israel-Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

Algeria is one of the world’s major producers of oil and natural gas..
It is strategically located on both the n-s and e-w axis.
Since sometime after 9-11, Algeria became – and has been ever since – the key U.S. ally in what Washington referred to as “the second front of the war on terrorism” – the Sahara and Sahel region of Africa.

It borders, clockwise on 7 countries – Tunisia, Libya, Niger, Mali, Mauretania, Western Sahara (under Moroccan control) and Morocco.

Its northern border faces the Mediterranean. It is a part of what Francois Braudel referred to as “the Mediterranean Culture” and has a long history with Europe.

It is a major cross roads between Europe and Africa, and between through the Sahara trade routes between sub-Saharan Africa and Europe as well.

The current population stands at 42 million at last count 99% of whom are described as Arabo-Berber.

The Berber’s – actually an insulting term that means “Barbarian” – they call themselves Amazigh…So the Amazigh – those who speak the language and define themselves culturally as such include some 9 – 12 million Algerians..

Algeria was a French colony from 1830 to 1962 when it gained independence
Both the France’s war to control the country in the 19th century and the war of independence against French colonialism 1954 – 1962 were vicious affairs.

The U.S. burnt earth policy against native peoples – the decimation of the buffalo and destroying Native American food supply were based in large measure on the French burnt earth policies in Algeria in the 1830s and 1840s.

During the independence war in the 1950s…the United States offered France napalm which the French used generously, especially in the mountainous border areas between Algeria and Tunisia to the east.

Emerging from the Calvary of war as an independent nation, Algeria was often understood to be a classic example, a model of left national economic and social development with the economy strongly controlled and regulated by the state.

As in other places (Angola, Mozambique, Syria, Iraq) that model ultimately was corrupted and failed.

It failed in Algeria too – but punishing repression has kept the power brokers in power. 3.

The crisis in legitimacy…

Since 1965 coup that resulted in Houari Boumedienne seizing power shortly after it gained independence from France, the actual power behind the scenes in Algeria has been the military and the security apparatus, to the exclusion of all other possible social forces.

This leadership has – from its early days – claimed to represent the heritage of the country’s national liberation front, those who did the fighting, dying and political work that actually resulted in Algerian independence from France. To this day, some 57 years after independence was won, the vision, values and sacrifice of the NLF remains the conscience of the country. Moving ever further away from the NLF’s vision, traditions, still, every Algerian government since 1965 has claimed the NLF’s heritage as its own, including the present one.

When their rule was threatened in the late 1980s by elections that would have almost certainly led to an Islamicist dominated government – effectively curtailing their access to the country’s oil and gas wealth – or worse – eliminating access to it, the military and security apparatus suspended the results of the 1988 elections, triggering a civil war of horrific violence and brutality. Twenty six years after independence, thus, the military and security apparatus had already lost the confidence of the Algerian people, lost their legitimacy before the nation and had electoral democracy won the day, they would have been swept from power.

The heart of the matter is simple: without the cover of the NLF, Algeria’s power brokers cannot claim legitimacy. Now, 57 years after independence, there are no other “NFL founding fathers” to hide behind, period. They have all passed from the scene, some assassinated, others simply died. All that is left is Bouteflika to give the generals and the security apparatus legitimacy. This is the crisis.

They fear that without the Bouteflika cover they have no legitimacy…no Plan B…4.

Not much attention in the US media to Algeria – that does not mean it is not important to U.S. foreign policy, especially where it concerns both the Middle East and Africa.

a.
– There is a long history of US-Algerian cooperation on energy, going back to the late 1960s, early 1970s.
– Algerian ruling circles have long connections to the Texas oil and gas – the Bush family and Halliburton
– this despite Algeria’s well known militant anti-Imperialist, anti-American, anti-Zionist rhetoric

b.

Since 2000, especially after 9-11 there has been enhanced US-Algerian security cooperation as Washington opened in 2003 what it referred to as “a second front in its war against terrorism.

Since that time there has been essentially a US-Algerian security alliance – it isn’t a secret – the documents are public…

They had a problem in 2001 – 3 – there was no terrorist threat in the Sahara…in fact, the Sahara was one of the safest places to transit in the world.

So a terrorist threat had to be fabricated..

First effort didn’t really work very well –

the kidnapping of 45 German tourists in the Sahara..

Second effort – the collapse of Libya…created the instability necessary to justify AFRICOM, etc.

2. Who is Bouteflika…

Some history

member of the negotiating team of Algeria’s National Liberaton Front – usually known for its French acronym – the FLN – that negotiated Algeria’s independence from France, the Evian Accords,…signed on March 18, 1962 – France grants Algeria independence

Not a major figure in the negotiations but a part of the team, which gives him legitimacy…

His history in power circles quite sketchy…there, but a minor figure most of the time. No real base in Algerian society… but has symbolic importance

is called to be president at a turbulent moment in Algeria’s history. A decade of horrific violence…without going into the details – a decade of rejection by the Algerian people of its political leadership. Crisis in legitimacy for the regime.

Main stream narrative – accepted in the US media – a secular state fighting the rise of Islamic fundamentalism..

A little of that but really something else was going on – an alternative narrative.

What was it?

A rejection of the Algerian people as a whole of what had been a corrupt, repressive government that had not “delivered” on the promise of modernism – development and democracy – in yet another country rich with oil and natural gas that had the means but not the will, to build the nation’s economy and national well-being.

Something else that one has to keep in mind – might not be important to Americans – but it is there in the minds of Algerias – the sacrifices – the horrific brutality, the savagery of the 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence – the price paid for independence.

Algerian people expected, demanded social progress. Instead they got stagnation, corruption and repression

Under the surface three networks came to control the nation’s political system:

a. the military
b. the security apparatus (their version of the FBI)
c. compradore millionaires (now billionaires) – essentially the Algerian representatives of multi-national companies…

All this came to a head in 1988 – in local and regional elections, the government’s political party took a beating in the elections…Islamicist elemens won. Looked very much like they would win the national elections and then come to power in 1992.

Elections were suspended – and a horrific wave of repression and violence followed.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. William Conklin permalink
    March 27, 2019 8:55 am

    Wow, another part of the world to be upset about. It is hard to conceive of a valid hope that humans will ever figure out a way to leave peacefully without having to rob other humans of their resources. We are still hunter-gatherers, we are just hunting larger things and the psychopaths always stay in power. The Hemispheres piece was very enlightening. Thanks, Rob.

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