To better understand the Algerian Army, there are two important dates to remember, August 20th, 1955 and notably, August 20th,1956.
The French philosopher Voltaire once said about the Prussian army: “where some States possess an army, the Prussian army possesses a State.” Arab armies rule the State. If not openly so, they are the State through subaltern agencies and fearful structures penetrating the republic’s institutions from the municipality to the highest civilian authority.
This secretive web makes the existence of any form of civilian political action impossible, whether from an opposed political party or a ruling one, that usually emerges wearing the military hat of the Generals, Algerians humorously qualify the country’s regime as the country of the military hat (Bled al-Cassekita).
Like Arab armies the Algerian army operates within a centralized authoritarian system comprised of officers who are loyal and obedient, who act like good Ağa. They are trained to respond in defense of their country when the latter is threatened by a foreign power or supranational armed groups — for instance they are active in Mali and Libya.
This pervasive power structure leads ultimately to the role of the Defense Minister. Usually the President keeps the Defense Minister’s portfolio for himself as in Algeria where, historically, the President does not trust his Defense Minister as played out in 1965, 1992, and his Vice-Defense Minister Chief of Staff in 2019.
Generals are still believed to be popular, nevertheless, and the military institution is seen as the only functioning institution and a rampart necessary for the survival of the regime. This is true whether in Syria where Bachar al-Assad’s army didn’t hesitate to gas its innocent population or in Egypt where the military is intimidating the people in order to maintain its interest and protect its existence.
To better understand the Algerian Army, there are two important dates to remember, August 20th, 1955 and notably, August 20th,1956; this date marks the Algerian political system’s turning point in its complex relation between the military and the civilian leaders.
After gaining independence in 1962, Algeria had frustrated one of the world’s major military powers. Those national war heros fighting for Algeria’s independence invented modern guerrilla warfare. In fact, the word “asymmetrical”, so fashionable in military and security jargon today, acquired its meaning in Algiers’ Casbah streets in 1957, famously known in the Battle of Algiers directed by Italian Gillo Pontecorvo and starring a liberation war hero Yacef Sa’adi.
The Crisis of Summer, 1962, or the so-called “Wilayas’ Affaire,” put the future of the young, fresh and fragile Algerian Republic in danger, after a bloody war that lasted eight long years. This crisis was marked by clashes between the clans and the young war-Chief leaders letting their egos take on their national war heros’ status. This summer was tragic, and was the remake of the August 20th, 1956 Soumam Convention FLN and ALN leaders’ disagreement.
Colonel Boumediènne, however, imposed the entry of his battalions into the capital on September 9, 1962 and Mr. Ben Bella declared: “The National People’s Army is in Algiers, the FLN Political Bureau has triumphed thanks to the people.” At the beginning of the end in 1962, the army was restructured into military regions (RM). This had the effect of definitively devoting the dissolution of the National Liberation Army as well as the historical Wilayas (Provinces) that gave the birth to the National People’s Army.
The FLN and the NLA, indissolubly linked, have each drawn their raison d’être from the will of liberation of the Algerian nation, against the colonial presence and influence and relying on the energies of the entire population. Applying the strategic principles of the Revolutionary War, the National Liberation Army (NLA) spearheaded a struggle for which the Algerian people emerged victorious.
Nonetheless, transitions to democracy are rare and even when they do succeed, they are not as durable as is believed. It is possible that Algeria will defy the odds. It is important to remember that in 1988, Algeria experienced nationwide protests that produced a new theoretically liberal Constitution.
This led some analysts to conclude that Algeria was the most democratic country in the Arab countries. Just a few years after the 1989 Constitution was approved, Algeria fell into civil war or a “war against civilians.” Afterwards the Generals canceled election results because the military did not like the popular outcome that handed a comfortable majority to the ex-FIS party.
It is not unexpected to be surprised by Algeria’s ongoing “Smile” or “Mosaic” uprising. Once again MENA region, an undemocratic ex-President and the entire regime’s clans had attempted to put one over on their people. Though analysts agree that the country’s behind-the-scenes trench war led the military leaders finally decide to end the ex-president’s fourth-term and send him to retirement.
But the war is not over yet, according to the latest statement from General Major/Deputy Defense Minister and Chief of Staff Gaïd Salah, Algeria’s “strong man” and the country’s de facto President, “all possible prospects remain open to overcome the difficulties and find a solution as soon as possible.” So General Gaïd Salah told his peers in his field visit in the fourth military region in Ouargla. He continued by sending an explicit warning to what he called in a previous statement al-E’esaba (the gang) led by retired General Mohammed Lamine Madiènne alias Toufik, formerly knowing Algeria’s “God” (Rab D’zeir), former head of the fearful internal and external Intelligence Agency or ex-DRS converted to DSS.
Having no democratic institutional mechanism in place to oppose this decision, Algerians decided to take their fight to the street and have headed out en masse in peaceful march across the country each Friday. As a vocal civilian “battalion”, General Gaïd Salah is counting on it to finally corner and eliminate the ex-President’s brother’s gang and their godfather, retired General Toufik, still considered an imminent threat to the Military in Ali Khodja.
During the ongoing protests, the Algerian people have again demanded their dignity and a representative government, and have been chanting: “Army, people, brothers, brothers” (Army and the people are one hand). The fact that they have not gotten what they wanted says nothing about them and everything about the institutional and social barriers they confront.
One thing is clear, however, if the military want to capitalize on this “fusion” with the people it has to show a sincere commitment to stop being seen as the Republic’s coterie who are only defending their own existence and the strategic interests of regional and international superpowers.