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« After President Bouteflika » : Rapidly Approaching.

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The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs is a leading independent research institute specializing in public diplomacy and foreign policy.

Jacques NERIAH

In Algeria, “after president Bouteflica” is rapidly approaching. 10/12/2014






Opposition sources claim that the president Abd el-Aziz Bouteflika has lost his mental faculties and that he is no longer aware of his surroundings. The Algerian president is the chief of Africa’s second largest army and also heads the largest producer of natural gas in Africa and its second largest oil producer.

Algerians are accustomed to not hearing or seeing their leader. The press is run under a Soviet model by the DRS (Direction des Renseignements et de Sécurité) with instructions not to report on the president’s condition or whereabouts. Nobody dares ignore these instructions.

Power in Algeria is concentrated in the president’s office, in an uneasy partnership with top party, military, and intelligence officials. Bouteflika was elected President in 1999 at the end of a ten-year civil war that saw the army crack down on Islamists killing around 200,000 people. He was elected promising to crush the militants and keep Algeria safe from turmoil, but at the expense of open democracy.

Bouteflika, a shrewd political player even before independence, ruled Algeria for 15 years with an iron fist – neutralizing every possible center of power that could challenge him. As a result, he has no obvious successor. Today… he seems to preside over a government in which he has been manipulated from behind the scenes by his clan, headed by his younger brother, Said.

Claims of internal conflict between the DRS and the presidency over the succession, support the assertion of deep-rooted divisions within the ruling elite. Recent months have seen unprecedented growing tensions between police and the state. The unparalleled display of dissent from the Algerian police could suggest additional upheaval. Moreover the protests sweeping the country are also an indicator of political and social instability. Strikes in various public sectors, from education to transportation and postal services, signal a discontent working class exacerbated by the stagnation stemming from the prolonged absence of Bouteflika.

The race for Algeria’s top position is wide open. Nobody really knows who will succeed Bouteflika. These questions come at a serious time, as Algeria is in the forefront of the fight against extremist Islamist groups in the deserts to the south as well as in neighboring Tunisia. Algeria is also a key player in attempts to get the warring parties in both Libya and Mali to lay down their weapons and talk.

For the West, Bouteflika’s departure, when it happens could be a big loss especially since the Arab Spring eliminated longtime allies such as Egypt’s Mubarak, Tunisia’s Ben-Ali and Yemen’s Saleh. At the end of the day, the West could find itself without reliable interlocutors in North Africa.