We ended the last post with the government’s cancellations of elections (which the Islamists were certain to win with an overwhelming majority) in January 1992. This put an end to the hopes of the FIS that they might attain power by peaceful means, and effectively turned a huge number of its supporters into armed insurgents against the state. Those shadowy elements in the military who had engineered these developments claimed that they were cancelling democracy temporarily in order to ‘protect’ it from those who would cancel it for good if they came to power. So who were these people, who I have been euphemistically referring to as ‘the state’ and le pouvoir up till now? The most important thing to note about this elite is they had no over-riding ideology besides keeping power, enriching themselves and clearing the path for their kids to do the same.
They were the kind of grafters who do well under any regime. When the rhetoric of socialism had suited their purposes, they had espoused socialism; now they espoused neoliberalism. I have always suspected that many of the people who thrived under ‘communism’ in places like the Soviet Union and East Germany were probably the same people who did alright when these countries adopted capitalism. Algeria was (and is) run by such people. Bendjedid had been useful as a figurehead because those shady generals didn’t enjoy being in the spotlight. Because of this, it’s fun to shine such a spotlight on them, so before we get into the descent into chaos, lets identify some of the key figures in the military establishment who are going to do whatever (and I mean whatever) it takes to cling on to power.
Space doesn’t permit a detailed biography of each of these characters. It should be noted, however, that these dudes who really ran the country, the overseers of the ‘deep state’ if you like, were mostly French-trained officers alluded to in the previous post, who had joined the Algerian independence struggle pretty late on when the war was already won. They had been around a long time and Mediène would be around a lot longer. Also known as ‘Toufik’, he was often regarded as the most powerful figure for his power to make or break political opponents at will, as head of the secret services, the DRS (Département du renseignement et de la sécurité), from 1990 to 2015, that is twenty-five years: a long time to wield such terrifying power. Mediène, Nezzar (the minister of defense) and Belkhier, the interior minister, were the leading hardliners, along with Lamari, and they suspected Bendjedid for allowing the Islamist threat to grow out of control on purpose, in order to increase his power at their expense.
If there was a less hardline member of this group it was Zéroual, who was rumoured to have favoured negotiations with the Islamists. Within the regime, the following years would see a factional struggle between these two camps. Although Zéroual would become president (1994-99) and seem to have the upper hand for some years, you could argue that in the end it was the hardliners who won out, as they kept their positions of power later on when Bouteflicka became president. Before all that, though, in the Spring of 1992, this military junta established a body called the High Council of State as a front for their rule. The chairman of this institution would be the new head of the state of the country. Of course, none of them wanted the job and they sought a useful figurehead to take the spotlight off them. Various names were bandied around, and of all the people to be chosen, it was Mohamed Boudiaf, one of the founders of the FLN who had been in Moroccan exile for almost three decades. Regarded as a neutral figure, untainted by the corruption staining all other major political figures in Algerian politics, and without a network of supporters in the country (he had not even been politically active in exile, running a brick-making business instead) the generals and securocrats believed Boudiaf would be a malleable pawn who might lend legitimacy to their coup d’état. He was welcomed back to Algeria as the returning saviour on 16 January and met at the airport by his new ‘friends’.
Within six months, he would be dead.
To everyone’s surprise, Boudiaf turned out to be way more energetic and proactive than they’d expected, and (from the point of view of those who appointed him) not in a good way. Although he was clearly against the establishment of a theocratic state (why would they have appointed him otherwise?) Boudiaf quickly went off-script on his return. Instead of painting the situation in the simplistic terms of fanatical Islamists vs civilised secularists that le pouvoir wished to portray it, the old man offered a much more nuanced and honest assessment of the country’s problems to the Algerian public, arguing that the Islamists had only been able to get this close to power because of widespread disaffection with the regime and its corruption. It was this root cause that he intended to tackle. Although largely forgotten by the public (having been airbrushed out of official histories of the war), he was widely commended for these sentiments, and energetically went about a campaign of confronting corruption at the highest level of society.
While this campaign won over the public and engendered a brief feeling that things might, after all, be alright, it also won him enemies in high places. The very elite that had placed Boudiaf in power realised that instead of a puppet with which to combat the Islamists, they had someone threatening to expose and punish their own venality. No-one, it appeared, was safe. There were rumours that he was preparing to remove Lamari and Mediène by presidential decree. What all of this context suggests is that there are real questions to be asked about the assassination of Boudiaf on 29 June 1992, at a cultural centre in the eastern city of Annaba. It has never been proved conclusively that the army was involved in the killing, but the official version—that it was carried out by a lone Islamist, Lambarek Boumaarafi, a lieutenant in the GIS (Algeria’s version of the SAS)—raises its own questions and sounds so implausible that one of the many conspiracy theories seem a more likely explanation. These problems with the official account are neatly summarised by Evans and Phillips:
Why, given the train of events in Algeria, was the protection afforded Boudiaf on that day so lax and uncoordinated? At least three security agents left their posts beside Boudiaf just before the attack happened, and differing branches of the security services were operating on the scene apparently oblivious of each other’s presence. Commander Hadjeres and Captain Sadek, charged with Boudiaf ’s close protection, subsequently claimed to be ignorant of the presence of a unit of the specialist Groupe d’Intervention Spéciale (GIS) standing just behind Boudiaf. But it was as a member of this GIS detachment, included at the very last minute, that Boumaarafi was given such close proximity to Boudiaf. Moreover, when the shooting began, Hadjeres and his two adjutants Captains Zaidi and Sadek were conveniently outside the hall, while none of the GIS agents reacted to the gunshots. In fact one of them, Driham Ali, went so far as to shoot and wound Hamadi Nacer, the only police officer who pursued Boumaarafi.
There was, furthermore, no autopsy on Boudiaf’s body and the weapon used to kill him was conveniently lost. Perhaps most damning, several years later a dissident group of high-ranking officers based in Madrid affirmed that he had been the victim of a plot by the army and security services and explaining the subsequent killings of several figures who had tried to expose the crime. As of yet (2018) conclusive evidence is lacking, but all that can be said is that almost no-one believes Boudiaf was killed by an Islamist acting on his own. Perhaps most importantly of all, no-one believed it at the time either.
So hope drained away, and the momentum towards civil war seemed unstoppable. Neither the army nor the Islamists seemed particularly keen on avoiding one, but of course a significant proportion of the Algerian population supported neither side. Even among the combined 70% who voted for the FIS or FLN, there were no doubt large numbers who didn’t support a war, certainly not the kind of war that it was destined to become. The way the situation was deteriorating, it is hard, even now, to see what could have been done to avoid it at this stage. Fatwas and hit lists were being circulated in the mosques; by the start of 1993, there were over 20,000 armed Islamists active, mostly, for the moment, in mountain hideouts. Belhadj smuggled a letter (he and Madani had been sentenced to twenty years’ in prison) lending his support to the armed groups, especially the Armed Islamic Movement (MIA) led by Abdelkader Chebouti, but in no sense were these groups under the control of the FIS. Many of the recruits for these armed groups came from disenchanted young men from the cities, and influential (although not hugely numerous) leadership was provided by veterans of the war in Afghanistan.
The killing started, on both sides, even before the cancellation of elections. The army and police were already killing unarmed protesters, and the MIS launched a major attack on a police station in November 1991 from which they obtained a large amount of weapons and ammunition. From the very beginning, however, the jihadists were weakened by internal divisions and rivalries, which sometimes descended into violent confrontation with one another. They were also infiltrated by the security services, which sowed further mistrust between the different groups and made co-operation all but impossible. The army had several successes throughout 1992, largely due to information obtained from spies within the Islamists movement. The government made no attempt at negotiations making clear they had committed themselves to all-out war. If this had merely involved seeking out and attacking the Islamists in their mountain strongholds, the consequences of the war might have been contained, but it didn’t. What was already a rather authoritarian state became even more repressive: suspected sympathisers with the Islamists were put under surveillance, phones were tapped, people disappeared and tortured. If all this seems reminiscent of the methods practices by the French in the final years of the war of independence thirty years earlier, the probably wasn’t lost on many older Algerians either.
As we have seen so many times before in this blog, however, the very effectiveness of the government’s repression, instead of cowing the Islamists into submission, alienated significant parts of the population into sympathising with the latter’s cause. As we saw in the efforts of the French to hold on to their Algerian colony, a tactical victory does not automatically translate into a strategic one. There was also a growing belief, which posterity has rendered more and more credible, that the state was allowing some of the more horrific acts of violence to occur, or even colluding in them, in order to terrify the population into supporting it and turning against the Islamists. A bomb at Algiers airport in August killed 10 people and wounded 128 others, which it subsequently emerged the security services had known about and made no attempt to evacuate the airport. Worse was to come in this respect, and it came most notoriously in the form of the GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé, the armed Islamic group), which was hardly a group at all, but a collective term for number of different groups that emerged throughout 1993, acting more or less independently, who were under the leadership of figures who viewed the MIA as insufficiently Islamic and insufficiently militant.
The evolution of this group was accompanied by a clandestine return to the cities by many militants. The rural guerilla campaign wasn’t working and it was clear that the army believed it could maintain the violence at an acceptable level if they could restrict it to the mountains. The jihadists focused on creating insecurity and making the country ungovernable by striking in the cities and towns. Although it would not ultimately win them the war, they succeeded in this way in escalating it far beyond the capacity their numbers and resources would suggest they were capable of. They seemed capable of striking at will and carried out numerous attacks on the army and police, killing over forty people at an army barracks in March 1993 in one particularly successful attack. As terrifying as the randomness of such attacks was the methods of killing. Decapitation, throat-slitting, torture, leaving bodies out in the street to rot as a warning to others-such things became commonplace.
Suddenly on the back-foot, the authorities imposed draconian curfews and restrictions on the civil rights of everyone, guilty and innocent, and parts of the country (even parts of Algiers) slipped entirely out of their control, with militants roaming freely and enforcing their strict Islamic moral code on the inhabitants. Desperation on the government’s side manifested itself in a widespread belief within the corridors of power that only a terrorism of equal savagery could win back the momentum, and suspicion towards anyone who didn’t adopt this mindset. A special counter-insurgency force was created that sped around in Landrovers, acting outside the law, men who were accountable to no-one and for whom human rights abuses were a routine part of their work. To conceal their identity, they usually work masks and hoods, for which reason they became known as ‘ninjas’.
As often happens in these situations, it became increasingly impossible to stay neutral. Non-commitment to one side was regarded as active assistance to the other. A grim joke from 1994 says it all:
A man is stopped by a roadblock. The hooded men ask him if he supports the government or the GIA. He replies ‘the government’ so they cut his right ear off. Shortly after, he is stopped by another roadblock of hooded men. They ask him the same question. When he replies ‘the GIA’ they cut his left ear off. The following day he goes to the doctor, who asks him which part of his face he wants sewn up first. ‘My mouth, so I cannot speak,’ he replies.
Besides army and police personnel, the GIA began to target intellectuals and public figures they considered hostile to their cause. To give just two high-profile examples (there were many others), the internationally-acclaimed novelist Tahar Djaout was killed in May 1993 for his criticism of the Islamists and advocacy of secularism. In September 1994 of the following year, the raï singer Cheb Hasni was killed outside his home for singing about drinking alcohol and premarital sex.
It became clear as 1994 wore on that the populace as a whole was becoming alienated by the GIA’s excesses. After all, even if you are not keen on being ruled by a brutal police-state, you are still not going to turn to a bunch of people who slit people’s throats and cut their tongues out for political solutions. Seeing this, the more ‘moderate’ elements of the Islamist movement who still hoped for a place at the political table (the GIA had no interest in negotiations; their avowed aim was to eliminate all ‘enemies’ of Islam) formed the AIS (Islamic Salvation Army) in July 1994 in response to the perceived rabid-dog image of the GIA. This group would take up arms against both the government and the GIA and was under the control of (what remained of) the FIS to some extent. Although they provided a serious challenge to the GIA in the east and west, the latter held strong control over the region south of Algiers, an area that would become known as the ‘triangle of death’ for reasons that will become clear.
The violence of both sides became increasingly nihilistic and it is simply too depressing to recount every single horror story in detail. Assassinating pop stars was one thing. The GIA next expanded the list of targets to all foreigners and non-Muslims in the country, then to members of rival Islamist groups, then to anyone who refused to conform to strict Islamic practice. With each new leader of the GIA, the net of enemies of Islam widened until it encompassed almost everyone in Algerian society except the GIA. Abdelhak Layada, a car mechanic from Algiers, oversaw the escalation of violence and the complete separation of the GIA from other Islamist groups, declaring any participation in the political process to be treason and that only victory by force of arms was legitimate. He was captured in Morocco in July 1993 and imprisoned, which probably saved his life; unlike most of the GIA’s leaders he is still alive, having been released in 2006.
Layada’s successor, Mourad Si Ahmed (aka Djafar al-Afghani, because he had fought in Afghanistan) was killed the following year and replaced by Cherif Gousmi, who declared the GIA as ruling over a Caliphate with himself as ruler. He was killed in September 1994 and replaced by Djamel Zitouni, who escalated the conflict to targets outside the country (primarily France) which of course played into the government’s hands by re-enforcing a narrative of them fighting a barbaric enemy of ‘civilisation’ in general. Zitouni, a poultry farmer with little education, also stepped up the war against other Islamist groups such as the FIS and its armed affiliates. Indeed, it is around here that the actions of the GIA become truly strange and difficult to understand from a strategic or tactical point of view, nor are the official explanations satisfactory.
Much of what the GIA began to do now—its killing of Islamist rivals, its attacks abroad, the increasingly gruesome murders of innocent civilians—all of it seemed ideally designed to discredit the Islamist movement as a whole. It was common knowledge that the security services had been very successful in infiltrating the GIA, which was relatively easy as they recruited their soldiers from the disenfranchised, anonymous young men of the slums. It was this infiltration that made it easy for the authorities to kill a succession of its leaders. But rumours began to circulate that this involvement went further than mere intelligence gathering, that the security forces were actually directing the GIA’s activity in ever-more extreme directions in order to turn the people against them in revulsion and present the government (warts and all) as the only bastion against the unspeakable barbarity of the GIA and their fellow travelers. There were even suggestions that Zitouni and, when he was killed in July 1996, his successor Antar Zouabri, were somehow controlled by the ‘deep state’. Rarely has the fog of war been so impenetrable as in Algeria in the 1990s.
Before we go into this, a word must be said about ‘conspiracy theories’. Anyone who reads this blog will know that I try to avoid indulging in them. The term has invariably-negative connotations, implying the theory in question, by definition, lacks credibility. But sometimes, theories have to be formulated in the absence of conclusive evidence one way or another, which is often the case, and a distinction has to be made between good and bad conspiracy theories. In the case of Boudiaf’s assassination, for example, the ‘official’ version is sometimes simply so implausible that other explanations must be sought. This does not make them conspiracy theories in the inevitably-negative sense of the word, if a great deal of evidence points towards their veracity, even if it falls short of proving ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. Just as we should be wary of indulging in exciting theories about the moon landing being filmed on earth, or holographic planes simulating an attack on the Twin Towers, we should equally be wary of dismissing out of hand evidence-based explanations for events which are otherwise poorly explained. The term ‘conspiracy theory’ is–as often as it is rightly used–used to shut down legitimate discussion.
The activities of the GIA in Algeria in the 1990s are a case-study in this. There are less-conspiratorial explanations, that the GIA was simply a victim of its own twisted logic and came to define the enemies of Islam so broadly as to encompass practically everyone in Algerian society (even members of less-ardent Islamist groups) except themselves. There are also psychological explanations to the otherwise inexplicable brutality and sadism of the killing. Evans and Phillips argue convincingly that it had a cathartic element: the dispossessed and hitherto helpless showing the government that they would not be repressed any longer and that they could do what they liked now, exacting personal revenge on police officers and authority figures who for years had abused them. All of this may, at a stretch, be true. There are strong indications, however, and they become stronger as the years pass, that there was something more going on here.
In the killing of the author Djaout noted above, for example, those alleged to have killed the writer were conveniently killed by the police before a proper trial could be conducted. Then, when a truth commission was formed by concerned public figures, its two leading members, a journalist and a psychiatrist, both prominent campaigners for human rights and critics of the government, were both murdered with no apparent motive in broad daylight. This led some to suspect that, if not actively complicit in such killings, the security services were allowing them to happen in order to rid the regime of prominent critics. But it gets worse, far worse, under Zouabri’s leadership. An obscure figure, Zouabri rose up through the ranks under Zitouni, but few seem to remember him before his involvement with the GIA. He issued fatwas basically condemning to a gruesome death everyone who didn’t join the GIA and presided over the nadir of the conflict, a series of massacres in late 1997 and early 1998 in the ‘triangle of death’, the most notorious (although there were too many to list) of which were at Rais (200-800 casualties), Beni-Messous (87+) and Bentalha (200-400).
These massacres were committed, in most cases, against civilians who had been supportive of the Islamist cause. They were without the slightest shadow of tactical purpose and carried out with the most sadistic brutality, killing for its own sake. At Bentalha, several hundreds had their throats slit, at Rais, numerous babies were decapitated, pregnant women were sliced open.
The above picture, of Oum Saad whose eight children were all killed at Bentalha, is one of the most famous images of what really cannot be dignified by the name of war. But it says everything about the fog of uncertainty now enveloping events in Algeria that the picture and its context were almost-immediately contested. The government argued it was a distortion and that the woman was mourning her brother’s death, and Oum Saad apparently tried to sue the Agence France-Presse on the grounds that it misrepresented her story. It then emerged, however, that she had come under pressure to do so. What was true? Hard to say. What has become increasingly clear as the years have passed is that serious questions remain unanswered.
At Bentalha, for example, there were thousands of soldiers stationed in the area, some only hundreds of meters from the village. The GIA were able to attack with no interference from these, seal it off any carry out their murders for several hours uninterrupted. Witnesses recalled soldiers looking on and refusing to intervene. Some claim that the attackers themselves wore false beards and spoke of being in cahoots with the military. The most famous testimony was that of a survivor, Nesroullah Yous, who escaped to France and published a book Qui a tué à Bentalha? (Who Killed at Bentalha?) which provided a great deal of circumstantial evidence of government collusion with the killers. This theory was backed up by much of the foreign media present in the country, when it was allowed to operate (under close surveillance), and Amnesty International.
The journalist John Sweeney interviewed members of the security services who, on condition of anonymity, revealed the government’s role in the massacres. If all of this was a ploy to discredit the Islamists and win support from the international community, it has to be said that it worked. Horrified by the GIA’s actions, some Islamists split off and founded new groups, the most powerful of which was the ‘Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat’ (GSPC : Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat) under the leadership of Hassan Hattab, which will later eclipse the GIA as the main insurgent faction and morph into al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. But this is getting complicated enough as it is, so we won’t mention them again for now.
But there was more than one strategy on the government’s side. As noted above, a faction within the leadership led by Liamine Zéroual favoured some kind of dialogue with the more moderate Islamists. They vied with a group known as the Les éradicateurs, led by Lamari and Nezzar, who sought the complete defeat and eradication (hence the name) of the latter: no negotiations, no compromise, simply wipe them out. Zéroual, an army officer who had been in early retirement when the events of 1988 sullied the reputation of many army figures, was the closest le pouvoir had to a popular figure, and in 1994-5 he seemed to have the upper hand against his éradicateur rivals. He was therefore put forward as their candidate when they sought to have some kind of legitimacy bestowed on their regime by holding elections in November 1995.
Such legitimacy became more urgent because a series of negotiations to find a way out of the conflict were held in 1994-5 through the mediation of the Sant’Egidio community in Rome. These had drawn the participation of several significant factions in Algerian politics, including Ben Bella and Aït Ahmed and the FIS, but rejected by the government, who viewed it as outside interference, and of course by the GIA. The parties involved agreed on a common platform for progress, by which human rights would be respected and the FIS would accept political pluralism, but the Algerian regime’s hostility, as well as a lack of enthusiasm on the part of western government’s to support the initiative, meant that it was a dead letter, and the killing went on.
The elections of November 1995 were nevertheless seen as a step in the right direction, even if there was no serious opposition to Zéroual and little doubt about the result from the start. The GIA threatened to kill anyone who voted, promising ‘one vote, one bullet’. Under the circumstances, the official turnout of 74.9% (or more realistic unofficial estimates of around 50% for that matter) is quite impressive. Although there was a general feeling of goodwill and cautious optimism about the whole process, once again this proved to be something of a false dawn. The government’s attitude towards the Rome agreement said more about their capacity for compromise than all the fine rhetoric of a return to normality signaled by the election and, as we have already seen, the worst of the war was yet to come in 1997-8.
It was only after this horrific bloodletting that the war gradually began to wind down. Even if the government was ‘winning’ the war, such was the hardship it had involved for most ordinary people, this ‘victory’ was for many a profoundly pyrrhic one. Zéroual was visibly drained by his failures and the gradual clawing of his hardline rivals back into the ascendency and he announced his resignation in 1998, two years before his term was due to end.
A new president had to be found, and at this stage, pretty much everyone hated anyone who had been anywhere near power. This provided an opportunity for Abdelaziz Bouteflika to return centre stage. When we last saw him, he was failing to be appointed Boumédienne’s successor when the latter died in 1978. Under Bendjedid, he became a marginalised figure and fled the country to avoid corruption charges, only returning in 1989. As was so often the case in Algeria, absence was the best guarantee of popularity; he had also added his signature to a petition condemning the army’s violence in 1988, which didn’t hurt his image among the people. Gradually, as presidential elections approached in 1999, backdoor negotiations and machinations led to the once-sidelined Bouteflicka being adopted by the generals (despite some initial reservations) as their preferred candidate. Given that these were the same people that had started a civil war when the people didn’t vote the way they wanted, it was made abundantly clear to the Algerian electorate that this was more a matter of rubber stamping their appointment than a real election. Bouteflicka was given preferential treatment in the state-run media, and with early signs of fraud being organised, the other candidates withdrew in protest only 24 hours before the vote.
The coronation (sorry, election) went ahead with a turnout of around 20%, which is ironic when you think that this is lower than when people were threatened with death for voting a few years earlier. It was an inauspicious beginning for what was supposed to be a new era, but Bouteflicka was an experienced and canny operator. In the years ahead, he walked a tightrope between currying favour with the public by partly owning up for the state’s wrongdoings in the war, while never going far enough to really annoy his supporters in the military. The war did not end overnight of course. Just in case anyone was beginning to think Algeria’s troubles were behind them, the former FIS Leader Hachani was killed in broad daylight in 1999. Once again, claims that the GIA killed him were believed by some, and regarded with scepticism by others, who saw it as a convenient death for the security services, given Hachani’s status as a moderate Islamist with whom they might be forced to do business with.
This is a crucial feature to remember about the Algerian civil war: that the deep state was always far more comfortable fighting the most extreme fringes of radical Islam than sitting down and talking to its more moderate elements. By the time Zouabri was killed in 2002, the threat from the GIA had been suppressed to the extent that it could be described as a fringe group. As noted above, however, the GSPC grew in capabilities to the point that it would rebrand itself as part of the ‘al-Qaeda’ network after 9-11. Speaking of 9-11, the radicalisation of American foreign policy that took place after the attack on the Twin Towers was a key part of Algeria’s rehabilitation on the international stage. Once regarded as an embarrassing ally to be kept at arm’s length, in late 2001, the Algerian hardliners were suddenly able to portray themselves as having been right all along about militant Islam, and suddenly became a valued ally in the ‘war on terror’ and the simplified worldview it represented. After the mess of the last decade, it says everything that the US Deputy Secretary of State for North African Affairs, William Burns, saw Algeria as a success story, remarking in late 2002: ‘Washington has much to learn from Algeria on ways to fight terrorism’. Rising oil prices between 2002 and 2015 no doubt also assisted the state’s efforts to return to normality.
But the war was never wrapped up neatly, and it might still be asked what ‘normality’ really means in Algeria.
I suggested above that that the éradicateurs won over their dialoguiste rivals in that more of them kept their jobs into the Bouteflika era, but another way of looking at it is that the latter faction got their way in that many of the Islamists were not eradicated, and were instead reintegrated back into Algerian society. The reason for this is that Bouteflicka’s strategy for ending the war, with the AIS at least, involved passing a ‘Civil Concord Law’ which granted amnesty for atrocities committed during the war to all Islamist fighters who signed up to it. Seeing no way out of the morass of war at the time, most people approved the law in a referendum, although it has been suggested that critics of the settlement were cowed into accepting it without debate because the public debate was framed in terms of being ‘for’ or ‘against peace’. Either way, in the years since, the Civil Concord law has been more and more criticised by those who feel the need for peace was used to excuse all sorts of barbarities for which no-one was held accountable. But an appetite for dissent has understandably been lacking in a country exhausted by years of brutal conflict, and protests are rare and generally low key. Even when the rest of the Arab world was asserting itself during its ‘spring’ of 2011-12, things never really kicked off in Algeria, the police and military containing what protests did take place. There are, in this picture, almost as many riot police as protesters:
Ultimately, the legacy of the war is ambiguous and deeply unsatisfying, especially for people who lost loved ones and have had to endure seeing those responsible walk away scot-free. It’s a complicated issue, and one which I feel completely inadequate to express an opinion on, so I won’t.
The long-term plan for this blog is that we will eventually reach the more-or-less present in all these individual national stories, and no doubt we will return to Algeria to look at the present situation then. Spoiler alert though: Bouteflicka is (as of 2018) still president after almost twenty years, despite the fact that a president is supposed to be limited to two terms. He had the constitution changed in 2008 to allow him to run for a third, and the limit was extended again in 2014 to hand him a fourth. There is talk of him running again next year. All of this is as dodgy as it sounds, with Bouteflicka routinely winning elections with around 80% of the vote, despite evident widespread unpopularity and the fact that he is, at this stage, clearly in failing health and scarcely able to speak on the rare occasions he is wheeled out for public appearances.
Charles Robert Ageron, Modern Algeria: A History from 1830 to the Present (London, 1991; first published in French 1964)
Martin Evans and John Phillips, Algeria : Anger of the Dispossessed (Yale University Press, 2007)
James McDougall, A history of Algeria (Cambridge University Press, 2017)
Featured image above: eyes of Antar Zouabri, GIA leader from 1996 to 2002.