A purge of long serving military officials in Algeria has cast a shadow on an opaque regime where an ailing president braces for a fifth term amid a silently brewing power struggle between rival clans within the regime.
In August, four of Algeria’s six regional military commanders were let go, along with five of the six regional commanders of the gendarmerie.
In September, several more officials from the gendarmerie and the army were removed from their posts and referred to military courts for investigation into charges of financial corruption.
“As of now, only three of the estimated one to two dozen top generals from the pre-Bouteflika era remain in the army, including its chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, the man publicly responsible for instigating the personnel changes,” Stratfor, a defense and military consultancy said in an analysis on Algeria.
The purges have long been a strategy for the regime to maintain loyalty of the army, the genuine kingmaker in Algeria.
Bouteflika, who suffered a stroke in 2013, is kept in power in a way that analysts explain as a move to gain time as long as the rival clans within the regime fail to find a successor.
One possible explanation for the purges can be found in the concern of Bouteflika’s inner circle of a potential military coup if he runs for a fifth term.
The purges are also an outcome of Bouteflika’s power grab to the detriment of the military. The over 80-year old president has gradually strengthened his foothold by dismissing powerful generals including former intelligence chief Mohamed Mediene, known as Toufique.
Stratfor argued that the purges indicate that the chief of staff Gaid Salah is “reordering the military leadership in preparation for exerting more power independent of Bouteflika, especially as the president, who is beset by health problems, grows sicker and weaker.”
The army chief could be removing some of the more ambitious generals who have challenged him personally, or who are aligned with Said Bouteflika, the president’s younger brother, who occupies a key behind-the-scenes role in his brother’s administration, the consultancy said.