May 13, 2019
Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the French revolutionary workers’ group of that name.
On Saturday, May 4, the head of the Algerian Army, Gaid Salah, arrested three powerful people, representing the group that the population has been denouncing: Said Bouteflika, younger brother of the overthrown former president, and two old bosses of the repressive apparatus, Mohamed Mediene and Athmane Tartag.
Said Bouteflika was considered the strong man of the regime and is particularly hated across the country. He was the target of many slogans in the big demonstrations, calling for his arrest. General Mediene, called Toufik, has been the head of the secret services for 25 years. Gaid Salah has been accusing him for weeks of conspiring against the army. General Tartag, called Bachir, was at the head of the security services before he resigned his post the day before President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down, on April 2. All three are incarcerated and charged with attacking the authority of the army and plotting against the authority of the state. The day after the eleventh Friday of massive popular mobilization, on the eve of Ramadan, the head of the army carried out a coup against the Bouteflika clan.
For weeks, Gaid Salah has denounced the schemes of a “gang” at the top of the state apparatus, accusing them of wanting to disorganize the protests, compromise the “constitutional transition,” and cover up the illegal activities of a number of oligarchs. The head of the army has also called for the arrest of many businessmen known to be close to the Bouteflika clan, including a billionaire at the head of the giant agricultural company Cevital. Suspected of being close to General Toufik, he has also been in prison since April 22. The old prime minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, and the old chief of police, Abdelghani Hamel, are under investigation by the prosecutor for corruption.
Putting on this show of justice is a way for Gaid Salah to make people forget that he was a pillar of the system, a loyal supporter of Bouteflika up to the last moment, before pushing for his resignation under the pressure of the street. So if this general is now posing as a part of the movement, it is only to save his own head.
At the same time, Gaid Salah wants to avoid anything that would upset the “road map” decided on when Bouteflika stepped down, including the holding of a presidential election as soon as possible. Acting as a responsible politician of a state in the service of the possessing class, the new strong man of the regime wants to channel the popular revolt and prevent it from radicalizing.
This is not to say that the demonstrators, who remained very numerous in Algiers and other cities on May 3, were duped by this operation “clean hands.” That day, many slogans and signs were clearly directed against the head of the army: “Down With Gaid Salah!” “Gaid Salah, Dirty Chameleon, Don’t Underestimate the People!” The mobilized population continues to reject the terms of the election scheduled for the coming July 4. The population refuses to negotiate with the symbols of the system, and continues to demand the exit of the “2 B” (Chief of State Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui). Everywhere across the country, demonstrators denounce the attempts to divide the movement, even as some politicians play on anti-Kabyle racism (the Kabyle are a minority population that speaks their own language), and others on Kabyle regionalism. With high morale and determination, the demonstrators chant in the streets: “We will not stop, We will come out during Ramadan.” The discussions turn around the ways people can organize themselves. Demonstrate during the day or two hours before the breaking of the fast and organize conferences and debates in the evening? Demonstrate every evening after the breaking of the fast, or hold sit-ins? In any case, many people are determined to keep the movement going in the month to come. The population remains mobilized, and has decided not to make a truce and to maintain the pressure, to say “Down with the system!”