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WikiLeaks Cable – Algeria


Wikileaks Cable 07ALGIERS1806 shows that the US government took a very pessimistic view of the Algerian government at the back end of 2007. Unlike neighbouring Tunisia, Algeria has had a very bloody recent history including a brutal war of independence against the French in the 1950/60s and an equally brutal civil war in the 1990s after an Islamist party won the election only to find that the election was declared null and void. Is Algeria about to topple into the abyss again?


SUMMARY: Recent discussions with former government 
officials, long-term opposition leaders and journalists paint 
a picture of an Algerian regime that is fragile in ways it 
has not been before, plagued by a lack of vision, 
unprecedented levels of corruption and rumblings of division 
within the military rank and file.  Our Algerian contacts are 
often a grumpy lot, but we now hear more than the ordinary 
amount of concern about the GOA's inability or unwillingness 
to address political, economic and security problems.  The 
December 11 suicide bombings in Algiers, carried out by two 
men amnestied under the Charter for Peace and National 
Reconciliation, have ignited heated debate about the ability 
of President Bouteflika's reconciliation program to protect 
the country.  The debate pits proponents of an urgent and 
aggressive approach to the terrorist threat against those 
aligned with Bouteflika who still believe that amnesty has a 
role to play.  The picture of an isolated president, a 
stagnant reform process and an uncertain approach towards 
terror comes at a time when efforts within the government to 
engineer a third term for Bouteflika are gathering steam.  We 
do not sense an explosion coming right away.  Instead, we see 
a government drifting and groping for a way forward.  END 
SUMMARY. 
 
SHIP OF STATE ADRIFT 
-------------------- 
 
2. (C) On December 3, opposition Rally for Culture and 
Democracy (RCD) leader Said Sadi presented a somber overview 
of the Algerian regime, saying it insisted on continued 
control but lacked vision and capacity.  Sadi warned that in 
the context of current stagnation in economic and political 
reform, Algeria's institutions were corroding from within, 
losing many of their best cadres of workers and civil 
servants.  The former leader of the Islamist al-Islah party, 
Abdallah Djaballah, who was ousted from the party's 
leadership with active help from the Interior Ministry, 
pointed out to us on December 17 that the harraga phenomenon 
(ref A), in which youth flee on makeshift crafts to Europe, 
was no longer limited only to poor, unemployed youth. 
Djaballah viewed Algerian youth as having a choice "between 
death at sea and a slow, gradual death at home" given the 
profound lack of opportunities in the country's stagnant 
economy.  Sadi told us he was shocked to find so many 
educated, middle-class Algerians in Quebec and parts of the 
U.S. on a recent visit.  "Those people are the future of 
Algeria," Sadi said. 
 
3. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX, told us 
December 17 that when it came to national reconciliation, the 
December 11 bombings had polarized the debate within the 
Algerian security services, with an increasing number of 
voices favoring a tougher approach.  XXXXXXXXXXXX said that the 
regime had no single, clear approach to fighting terror, a 
fact proven by its indecisiveness on how to handle 
high-profile amnesty cases such as that of Hassan Hattab (ref 
B).  According to Sadi and XXXXXXXXXXXX ordinary Algerians, who 
have already lost confidence in the economic and political 
reform agenda, are now losing faith in the ability of the 
regime to protect them.  Laila Aslaoui, a former minister, 
women's rights activist and writer, told Ambassador at dinner 
December 18 that much of Algerian society was demobilizing 
against the terror threat.  It was scandalous that the 
Interior Ministry knew the Supreme Court was a target and did 
nothing to improve the building's security or warn the 
public, she claimed.  She was caustic about the Interior 
Minister's comment that it was impossible to provide complete 
protection against bomb attacks, wondering why the GOA does 
not more vigorously pursue terrorist suspects.  The GOA had 
asked Ms. Aslaoui on December 17 to help organize a march 
condemning terrorism.  In the 1990s, she said she would not 
have hesitated.  Now, she remarked bitterly, she would do 
nothing that helps the Algerian government justify its 
approach to security.  XXXXXXXXXXXX 
 
XXXXXXXXXXXX 
 
 
XXXXXXXXXXXX, told Ambassador XXXXXXXXXXXX 
that there is a growing gap between what ordinary Algerians 
see as their key needs and what they perceive the government 
is offering in terms of wages and quality of life.  As a 
result, he said, fewer Algerians are willing to help the 
government.  The word on the street, he said, is that if you 
have to do business in a government office, go but then leave 
promptly and stay out of the way. 
 
4.  (C)  On the other hand, Djaballah told us that widespread 
disenchantment about the government's willingness to share 
power with Islamists ultimately prompted Algerian Islamists 
to heed calls by his and other Islamist parties to boycott 
the November 29 local elections.  They understand, he said, 
that the new electoral law (ref C) was designed to 
marginalize them and perpetuate the ruling coalition's grip 
on power.  Closing out political space will merely spur more 
extremism, he warned.  The Ambassador told Djaballah that the 
U.S. favors political liberalization in Algeria but we also 
understand that this may have to be done gradually.  The U.S. 
does not want to see a return to the violence of the 1990s 
and is working with the GOA against those who actively seek 
it.  He welcomed Djaballah's effort to play in the legal 
political system.  The important point, the Ambassador 
underlined, is that while political evolution might be slow 
it needs to be in a steady direction of liberalization. 
Djaballah accepted the point and appreciated our having 
raised election process problems with the GOA. 
 
A RULING "GANG FROM TIKRIT" 
--------------------------- 
 
5. (C) Commenting on the stability of the country, XXXXXXXXXXXX 
stressed that Algerians "have been through far worse than 
this," and that internal divisions should not be mistaken for 
instability.  The regime, XXXXXXXXXXXX pointed out, values 
stability above all else, and is consequently both fragile 
and stable at the same time.  XXXXXXXXXXXX agreed with an analogy 
made by Sadi both to us and publicly in the press, comparing 
the Bouteflika government to "a gang from Tikrit" in which a 
disproportionate number of cabinet ministers and generals 
came from the same region in the western province of Tlemcen 
as President Bouteflika.  (Indeed, many in the inner circle 
come from the small town of Nedrumah.)  The loyalty of this 
"gang," according to XXXXXXXXXXXX and Sadi, is key to maintaining 
stability, just as it did in Saddamn Hussein's Iraq. 
 
SADI: "STAND UP FOR OUR YOUTH" 
------------------------------ 
 
6. (C) Sadi warned of the long-term dangers of the U.S. 
remaining silent on what he perceived as the deterioration of 
Algerian democracy, as evidenced by the local elections.  In 
Sadi's view, outside support is critical to the survival of 
democracy and the productive engagement of Algerian youth -- 
70 percent of the population -- in political and economic 
life.  If the U.S. is seen to be complicit in meaningless 
elections and the process of amending the constitution to 
allow Bouteflika to run for a third term, he warned, it risks 
losing the youth demographic for the future. 
 
7. (C) The Ambassador reminded Sadi of our fruitless efforts 
to maintain a National Democratic Institute program in 
Algeria that the Interior Ministry consciously shut down; few 
political parties had pushed hard to save it.  Ambassador 
told Sadi we had raised on multiple occasions problems with 
the election process and its credibility.  He noted to Sadi 
that we had heard other parties ask for more public U.S. 
support, and urged the RCD and other Algerian parties to make 
their voices heard.  The U.S. would be credible in raising 
obstacles to liberalization only if the Algerian political 
parties themselves spoke out loudly.  Given the absence of an 
international election monitoring commissions in the 2008 
legislative and local elections, the Ambassador advised Sadi 
to consider sooner rather than later generating public 
requests for international observers for the 2009 
presidential elections. 
 
STABILITY IN THE HANDS OF A DIVIDED MILITARY... 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
8. (S) Sadi, who maintains contacts with elements of the 
 
ALGIERS 00001806  003 OF 004 
 
 
Algerian military and security services, told us that the 
army was no longer as unified as it had been even a few years 
ago.  Two splits were emerging, he said.  The first is among 
younger officers who know Algeria is not well and blame the 
old guard for neglect and mismanagement.  These officers, 
Sadi said, want change and feel an increasing sense of 
urgency that the country is adrift.  The second split 
identified by Sadi lies within the senior ranks of the 
military, between officers who favor a tougher approach to 
security and counter-terrorism (the "eradicateurs") and those 
still aligned with Bouteflika's national reconciliation 
policy.  XXXXXXXXXXXX, whose brother 
is an army officer, said on December 17 that there are 
colonels in the Algerian military who think the current drift 
cannot continue.  The question, XXXXXXXXXXXX whispered, is whether 
they can organize themselves. 
 
9. (S) Sadi told us of at least one conversation he has had 
recently with General Toufik Mediene, the head of Algeria's 
DRS (military intelligence apparatus) who is widely viewed as 
the key figure in ensuring regime control and survival.  He 
said Mediene acknowledged that all was not well with the 
health of Bouteflika and Algeria writ large.  However, 
according to Sadi, Mediene said that he needed some kind of 
reassurance that any political alternative "would be viable" 
and, by implication, would not destabilize the country.  Sadi 
said that many senior officers were beginning to wonder if 
they could get the army out of politics altogether, without 
fear of public retribution for past abuses during the civil 
war. 
 
...WHILE CORRUPTION AND OIL PRICES REACH NEW HEIGHTS 
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
 
10. (S) Sadi, Djaballah, XXXXXXXXXXXX and numerous other 
contacts have told us that corruption has reached 
unprecedented levels in the current regime.  As we reported 
in ref D, the ruling FLN party, intent on laying the 
groundwork for a Bouteflika third term, has sought to install 
local officials through electoral wrangling based on loyalty 
even at the expense of competence.  With oil prices at record 
highs, former Finance and Prime Minister Benbitour told 
Ambassador in November, there was less incentive for the 
regime to carry out much-needed reforms.  High oil prices are 
bringing incredible wealth into the country, Benbitour told 
us, but ordinary people are not seeing any impact on their 
daily lives.  (Indeed, Benbitour publicly coined a term we 
see often in the media now:  Algeria is rich, but the people 
are poor.  Islamist leader Djaballah used it with us often on 
December 17.)  Corruption, XXXXXXXXXXXX, has reached epic 
proportions, even within the military.  He cited Lieutenant 
General Ahmad Gaid Salah, commander of Algerian military 
forces, as perhaps the most corrupt official in the military 
apparatus, something other contacts have told us as well. 
When Sadi mentioned the corruption problem to General 
Mediene, Sadi said, Mediene acknowledged the problem. 
Motioning silently to the portrait of Bouteflika that hung 
over their heads, he indicated to Sadi that the extent of the 
problem went all the way to the top.  (Comment:  many embassy 
contacts think President Bouteflika himself is not 
particularly corrupt, but they readily finger the President's 
brothers, Said and Abdallah, as being particularly rapacious. 
 The Algerian military, meanwhile, has launched an 
anti-corruption program that is ambitious by Algerian 
standards but has left the senior leadership relatively 
untouched.  End Comment.) 
 
COMMENT: AN AILING REGIME, AN AILING PRESIDENT 
--------------------------------------------- - 
 
11. (S)  Our Algerian contacts are often a grumpy lot, but we 
now hear more than the ordinary amount of concern about the 
GOA's inability or unwillingness to address political, 
economic and security problems.  The bombings and the debate 
about how to handle Islamist extremism also are starting to 
remind of the ferocious arguments within Algerian society 
during the worst of 1990s violence.  These contacts agree 
that while the 1990s showed most Algerians can withstand lots 
of pain, the December 11 bombings laid bare the regime's lack 
of vision and inability to manage the pressures.  We are 
starting to hear echoes of a debate within some circles of 
the military establishment of an increasingly polarized 
 
ALGIERS 00001806  004 OF 004 
 
 
debate over national reconciliation has become a discussion 
about the viability of Bouteflika's government itself. 
According to our contacts, stability remains the top priority 
even among officials on opposite sides of the debate, 
although they see stability as flowing not from Bouteflika's 
leadership but from a military apparatus that appears to 
realize that the buck stops with them.  The new element is 
the push from Prime Minister Belkhadem and the FLN apparatus, 
probably with impetus from Bouteflika's brothers if not 
President Bouteflika himself, to arrange a constitutional 
amendment and a third term.  Sadi, a medical doctor, said 
that both Bouteflika and Algeria itself were in critical 
condition and fading.  According to Sadi (who may or may not 
know), Bouteflika suffers from terminal stomach cancer, and 
the regime lies on the operating table, slipping towards a 
point of no return as "untrained surgeons" stand by. 
Meanwhile, the government's seeming inability to jump-start 
the stagnant economy has Algerians, especially youth, feeling 
gloomy and grim about the fate of their country as it drifts 
into the new year. 
FORD

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