While the political tide could be turning on a dynamic of change that is taking place in Algeria, Professor Sadek Sellam sat with The Arab Daily News in late June, saying it is too early to live in the world of complex politics, and not show concern
An interview with Professor Sadek Sellam; Historian of contemporary Islam, scholar, writer, and speaker; Lecturer at Islamic Institute of Paris; TV Show host on Islamic issues, French National Public TV F2 from 1983-1990
Prof. Sellam has published: Islam and Muslims in France, Tougui, 1987; Talk about camps, thinking about genocides; Being a Muslim today, New City, 1989; France and its Muslims – A Century of Muslim Politics (1895-2005), Fayard, 2006; France and Algerian anti-islamist policy, 2001.
Prof. Sellam has edited several books: Lothrop Stoddard: The New World of Islam; Eugène Jung: Islam Defends Itself; Malek Bennabi: Writings on the War of Liberation; Abu Hamed al-Ghazali: Treaty of Ethics.
Q/ADN: Algeria is at a historical turning point, how did you read the movement of the peaceful Mosaic uprising?
A/Prof. Sadek Sellam
February 22nd is a date to mark with a white stone in Algerian history. It ended all kinds of myths, particularly the definitive rupture of Algerians with politics. This myth seems to be faced with realities: the brain drain, the increase among harragas (illegal immigrants crossing to Europe), and the considerable increase of abstention in local and national elections. February 22nd showed in fact a rejection of politicians deplored for their cynicism and their corruption, and not a rupture with politics. It’s about the people’s come back in politics, they are the main character in the story of rehabilitating politics, and highlighting the virtues of good citizenship.
Q/ADN: One hears of the purge Operation launched by the Military on one hand and Algiers AG on the other against the “Gang of 8” or Toufikists, how will this Operation unfold?
A/Prof. Sadek Sellam
“The Gang” (al-e’Esaba) is made up of the adversaries of the political alternative who had prevailed in the Jan 11th, 1992 putsch. Then in a form of fraud in elections starting in 1997, when Dr. Abdelhamid Mehri (former FLN Chairman) made his famous statement: “the Military decided not to lose elections ever again…” So this time, the Military Chief of Staff, Gaïd Salah decided to break with these undemocratic practices, and to follow up on the people’s demands, and to harness the “Gang” has become inevitable. It was the attempt coup of the “Gang” that triggered its end. However, this “Gang” had grown fast and had gotten rich illicitly and rapidly, as a result, its neutralization has to go hand to hand with the participation of justice, requiring: “Min ayna laka hadha…”? (Where did you get this wealth from?).
Those who are shouting today, denouncing “la Justice aux ordres” forget that Mr. Rabrab (powerful Algerian businessman) in his troubled days with justice, in the so-called “Rabrab affaire”, had been elevated by the Minister of Industry of that time (who is not white like snow, either) three years ago, when the billionaire of the DRS met “secretly” in Paris with Ms. Louisa Hanoune, ex-Trotskyist who became the partner of a Red billionaire. But that it had no judiciary follow through. At this moment the justice was not aux “orders”. It’s curious that the adversaries of the “Republic of the judges” did not say anything then.
Q/ADN: In one of your public talks, you mentioned DRS State, referring to the KGB State under the Soviet Union. Did the April 2nd soft coup put an end to the DRS State?
A/Prof. Sadek Sellam
As soon as he came to power in 1999, ex-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika wanted to end the DRS State which ruled over Algerian daily life and politics since September, 1990, when Colonel Toufik was appointed as Head of the fearful Intelligence Service (DRS), following the arrival of General Khaled Nezzar as Defense Minister. Mohammed Mediène alias Toufik named a Lieutenant-Colonel as his assistant who had been dismissed by General Mohammed Betchine because of some ambiguities in his “office of co-operation” with a foreign service; he was Smaïn Lamari. General Larbi Belkheïr who rehabilitated him, imposing him on Toufik. As a result, “The Generals’ Quarteron” was formed (because Toufik and Smaïn were quickly promoted and received their Generals’ stars), which would urge on all the Military the putsch of January 11th, 1992.
That event would perhaps not have succeeded without the preliminary blessing accord of former French President François Mitterrand who did not want to see the Islamists of ex-FIS Party in power one hour’s flight from the southern city of Marseille.
Ex-President Bouteflika, nonetheless, made peace with General Nezzar in return, President Bouteflika appoints Mr. Ali Benflis as his Chief of Staff in al-Mouradia Palace, later became his Prime Minister. President Bouteflika excelled in getting rid of General Larbi Belkheïr in 2004, Algeria’s regime “kingmaker” who did not want the ex-President to run for a second-term. From 2004 to 2015, it was a “cohabitation” power struggle style going-on between the DRS and the President, supplanted by his enigmatic youngest brother Saïd starting in 2013, the year of the ex-President’s serious illness. Endorsing the French military intervention in Mali, had allowed the French Intelligence Service to operate, then with Americans, to have formal evidence of the radio control of the Jihadist Emirs by the DRS Intelligence Service, notably, after the Tiguentourine attack on the gas field platform in Aïn Amenass in the southern Province of Illizi. The President’s Office could have had cut off Toufik’s external supports from (France, and the U.S. in particular), but the ex-President did not bother to push Toufik into early retirement in September 2015 after having dismissed his closest Generals, General Ben Daoud and General Medjdoub.
The fall of Toufik’s Generals did not put an end to his networks, Toufik hoped for a come back when the occasion arises, In the meetings that took place in the coastal resort city of Moretti in Algiers Province, the “Gang of 4” (General Nezzar, Mr. Rabrab, General Toufik and General Touati), as was leaked by private media eager to free themselves from the “spin doctor” methods of the DRS State, remained under the orders of General Athman Tartag and Mr. Saïd Bouteflika, this manoeuvre upset General Nezzar.
Q/ADN: Hirakists persist for regime change, whereas the Military are pushing for the Constitutional order, but the roadmap proposed by the Military seems to cause more divergence than of convergence. What is going wrong?
A/Prof. Sadek Sellam
Looking at the Hirak objectively, one should begin categorizing its steps, first, was the refusal of the fifth-term, and practically the only demand from the Hirak. The Military sided with the people, initially, refusing to repress the street as then-Premier Ahmed Ouyahia wished, he wanted to crush the peaceful protesters with the use of force. Then obtaining the resignation of ex-President Bouteflika, and subsequently, arresting “the Gang”.
At that moment, the protest Movement began to radicalize, one saw the emergence of radical Berber activists, writing and chanting anti-Gaïd Salah slogans in Friday’s marches.
Some interrogations about the coherence of these agents who infiltrated the Hirak, while continued chanting fraternal slogans within people and the Military, at the same time, claiming the departure of the Military Chief of Staff, General Ahmed Gaïd Salah, included those who wanted to postpone the Presidential election scheduled on July 4th.
One wonders about the reasons of this radicalization sentiment, taking into account the worse implementation political solution, [they] chose to cripple the country instead; this is the networks of Toufik, using the radical Berberist movement card to destabilize the Generals. General Gaïd Salah on the other hand, he opposed the idea of political transition for the simple reason, it’s Toufik’s. When Toufik suggested former President General Liamine Zeroual to lead this transition later in March, he recommended three assistants, including one of the Hirak’s figures who is known for being financially supported by Isaad Rabrab during his years in college, and a dissident diplomat who began recently to attack harshly General Gaïd Salah, these crypto-Toufikists vehemently craving to break with the “system”!
But with the Machiavellianism of the DRS State, it’s all possible. With a transition to unlimited term à la Castro in Cuba, Toufik wanted to give himself more time to gather his troops and restore the DRS State — where the refusal of any transition had been rejected, and the political compromise suggested by Dr. Taleb al-Ibrahimi for a short term transition did not get a positive echo among the Generals nor with the Hirak.
Q/ADN: The demands of the Hirakists for radical change remain a simple storm in a tea cup — names, like Mr. Rehabi (former Minister and Ambassador), an ally to Mr. Benflis has been mentioned to lead the next Caretaker government of Interim President Bensalah. This would push the analysts to predict the next President will come out of the Military hat. How this will impact the Hirakists‘ determination?
A/Prof. Sadek Sellam
If Mr. Rahabi succeeds in convincing those who are outside of the restricted circle of what Dr. Taleb calls “the opposition to the power”, actually, a free national conference of choices could marginalize the political parties and the civil society activists, like the extremist Berberists want to paralyze the country, using empty slogans such as “Leave All” or “Against the System”. This needs more precise pledges on behalf of the Military who are aware of the capacity of the masses mobilization maintained on the ground, sensing a primary anti-military sentiment. It will be able to convince further the radical demonstrators, and even those of good faith! If Mr. Rahabi’s attempt fails though, it would prove right those who are saying that civilians are incapable and are unable to organize themselves without the Military.
Q/ADN: Does the DRS State continue to threaten the Generals and the Hirak?
A/Prof. Sadek Sellam
The networks of the ex-DRS seem to be the origin of the radicalization of the Hirak. The “Gang”, nonetheless, having failed to turn the tide, its ramifications seem longing for revenge, turning the street against General Gaïd Salah. The anti-Gaïd Salah camp, however viciously focused on the multiple visits of General Gaïd Salah to the UAE in late 2018 and in January, 2019, suspecting him today of becoming Algeria’s General Sissi. Also by the French milieus who have been supporting the extremist Berberists, reproaching to the Military Chief of Staff for not having signed military contracts for armaments that French Foreign Affairs Minister Mr. Le Drian proposed to the Military when he was Defense Minister in Hollande’s cabinet. On this stance, the remains of the DRS State could be a danger which would delay the “return” to real democracy.
To ward off this danger, the Military should give maximum guarantees that it could play favorably a full part in the political process comparable to the Portuguese Military who freed Portugal from the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar.
Q/ADN: Paris seems concerned, after the ongoing purge Operation launched by the Military in Algiers, against the “French connexion”?
A/Prof. Sadek Sellam
There is no doubt that the imprisonment of billionaires like Rabrab, Haddad and their respective protectors, General Toufik and Saïd, opposed the plans of those in France who were betting on the return of the DRS State, either putting former Premier Ouyahia in al-Mouradia Palace at the cost of another manipulation and fraud of the Constitution, creating the post of Vice-President in the Algerian political system, waiting for the passing of the ailing President or by “the election” of General Ali Ghediri.
To get an idea of the criteria used by the French politicians and deciders regarding Algeria, it is enough to mention in a “closed” meeting of the France-Algeria Association. At this meeting, the former president of the association, Jean Pierre Chevènement, a “friend” of Algeria who showed concern and spoke only about the fate of the billionaire Rabrab. The same milieus are worried about billionaires like Mr. Haddad when they met at France-Algeria Association in Paris, Chevènement and the other French-Algerian officials were lobbying during Hollande’s term, were counting lobbying also on Mr. Bouchouareb, then Minister of Industry.
They wanted to promote him to become next Algeria Prime Minister, while Mr. Ouyahia would be [their] next president.
In a general way, the arrest of the “Gang” (al-e’Esaba) and its oligarchs displeases France a great deal. France persists in believing that Algerians are not ready for democracy, and are satisfied with a racketeer vision of the relations between the two countries. Not to forget the use of the feminist “alibi” worth 3,000 signatures in Paris, demanding the release of Ms. Louisa Hanoune, or the signature of François Bayrou who is neither a Trotskyist sympathizer nor feminist militant is raising questions about the position of the French officials in this regard.
When the principle of reality gains strength, the most perspicacious among French diplomats who warn the French authorities in Paris, how the French state of denial in comparison to the realism of the Americans and the Russians — my perspectives on the illusions of France-Algeria relations will lead to an appreciation that is more adapted with mutual interest and will take account of the strong demands of democracy manifested tirelessly since February 22nd by millions of Algerians.
The Algerian elite though, with its remarkable values and assets, yet the DRS State prevented the emergence of any real statesmen, and provoked an egocentric sentiment resulting full support established in the 90’s in France by the CISIA (International Committee of Assistance to the Algerian Intellectuals) that Reda Malek, then Prime Minister found the way of encouraging this policy, he emptied the Algerian universities of their best cadres and elements. Now, there is a huge delay to catch up, developing a collective way of thought, privileging the existence of suicidal education and learning policy that was eclipsed by the conflictual political equation of the “religious” and the Military: version DRS.
It’s time to turn the page on the Islamists-DRS clash in order to make a fresh start, and enter the post-Islamist stage proclaimed by Olivier Carré, one of the best French sociologists of contemporary Islam, the media preferred rather politicized sedentary, which any thought becomes Algerian viral and virtually malaise.