Algeria: the sacred union of the army against the thesis of the “conspiracy”?

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11:50. After three quarters of an hour of deliberation, the senior officers presiding over the military appeal court declare the charges against the two former secret service bosses Mohamed Mediène “Toufik”, Athmane Tartag “Bachir”, to be quashed. the brother and advisor of ousted president Saïd Bouteflika, and leftist leader Louisa Hanoune. We are Saturday, January 2 and the military court of Blida (south of Algiers) has just turned the page of a politico-judicial saga that has marked the country since May 2019, date of the arrest of those we presented as “conspirators”, accused of “conspiracy to undermine the authority of the commander of a military formation” and “conspiracy to change the regime”.

Gaïd Salah’s crusade

On May 5, 2019, in the midst of the popular hirak against the transitional system and a few weeks after the resignation of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Athmane Tartag, Mohamed Mediène and Saïd Bouteflika were remanded in custody by the military court, followed shortly after by Louisa Hanoune , general secretary of the Workers’ Party. Their arrival at the imposing headquarters of the military tribunal is filmed by a discreet camera and the images provoke disbelief in an opinion which oscillated between astonishment and suspicion. “If we do not know exactly what they are accused of, we know on the other hand that their activity, especially since the outbreak of the popular movement which ended the reign of President Bouteflika, has been condemned, in its multiple messages, by the Chief of Staff, because she was plotting both against the popular movement and against the National People’s Army, ”the government newspaper wrote at the time. The Mujahideen, echoing the threatening statements of the strong man of the moment, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaïd Salah who, on many occasions, had denounced the actions of an “issaba” (gang) at the head of which would be his lifelong rival, the former boss of special services Mohamed Mediène, known as “Toufik”.

At the heart of the matter, a “meeting”

What did Gaïd Salah reproach them with, who, after the fall of Bouteflika, imposed himself as the center of real power? A “meeting”, according to the former defendants, on March 27, 2019, the day after Gaïd Salah’s call to dismiss Bouteflika as claimed by millions of demonstrators. Panicked, the president’s brother and advisor, Saïd Bouteflika, organized a meeting with the former head of the DRS (secret services) Mohamed Mediène, and Louisa Hanoune at the villa el-Afia, an official residence of the presidency of the republic on the heights of Algiers.

Objective of the meeting? ” [Saïd Bouteflika] wanted to take the advice of other people in order to act. In such situations, we talk to a lot of people to find a solution, ”retired Lieutenant General Mohamed Mediène, weakened by illness, told military judges on Saturday.

Who is “plotting”?

But, at the time, it was not the reading of the chief of staff of the army, Ahmed Gaïd Salah, who multiplied the threats against those who participated in this famous meeting, speaking of “suspicious meetings” to “conspire around the demands of the people and in order to hamper the solutions of the National People’s Army and the proposals for ending the crisis”. On April 16, 2019, Gaïd Salah goes further by directly designating Mohamed Mediène: “These parties, at their head the former head of the Department of Intelligence and Security, tried, in vain, to deny their presence in these meetings. , and to mislead public opinion, despite the existence of irrefutable evidence on these abject facts […]. To this end, I issue this person a final warning, and in the event that he persists in his actions, firm legal measures will be taken against him. “This statement was commented on this Saturday by one of the ex-accused, the former coordinator of the security services Athmane Tartag:” Everyone must know that the [véritable] plot began in a barracks from the headquarters of the command of the 4e Military district, when the chief of staff of the ANP launched his speech… ”.

Explanation of the pressure put by Gaïd Salah

But why was the boss of the army so angry with the former boss of the secret service, who was Algeria’s intelligence chief for 25 years until his retirement in 2015?

For Gaïd Salah, everything that comes out of his constitutional transition plan (maintaining the plan for a presidential election and avoiding any voice towards other forms of transition) was a “conspiracy”, especially since he felt that his own head was at stake. And this “plot” stirred broad in terms of “conspirators”: from some opposition leaders surfing the tsunami of the hirak through the famous “networks of the ex-DRS”, a kind of deep state remained loyal to the former chief of services, Toufik. The latter and the Chief of Staff Gaïd Salah silently clashed during the last years of Bouteflika’s reign: the army could not have two powerful poles at its head.

Were the chief of staff’s fears justified? On March 30, three days after the famous meeting, Saïd Bouteflika called ex-Minister of Defense Khaled Nezzar asking if it was not time to dismiss Gaïd Salah, because the latter risked deposing his brother.

A “new political time”?

According to Louisa Hanoune’s testimony, in September 2020 on a private radio station, Bouteflika had informed Gaïd Salah of his intention to resign on March 23, 2019, but “he said: We all leave “. However, the boss of the army seemed to ignore this announcement and will demand the dismissal of the president, as if he wanted to escape the equation of the announced fall. Tried by the military court in September 2019, Mohamed Mediène, Athmane Tartag, Saïd Bouteflika and Louisa Hanoune are sentenced to 15 years in prison. “The court judgment [militaire] and the judgment of the court, in September, did not apply the law but much more the desiderata of a single man ”, commented the lawyer of Saïd Bouteflika, Mr.e Khaled Bourayou, alluding to the former boss of the army. But in February 2020, after nine months of imprisonment, Louisa Hanoune was released after an appeal trial which sentenced her to three years in prison, nine of which was closed. Many wondered at the time if this release would have been possible during the lifetime of the former army boss, Ahmed Gaïd Salah, who died at the end of December 2019. No one can say so, at least publicly, but we will note a few months after the alleviation of the prison regime of Mohamed Mediène, 81, suffering from a shoulder injury after a fall in prison. According to his lawyers, he has been treated in a specialized military hospital west of Algiers for the past three months.

Suddenly, some observers tend to analyze these acquittals in the light of “new political times”, to quote one of them, including within the army.

The first clue dates back to July 5, 2020, when ex-General Hocine Benhadid was invited by the new army boss, Saïd Changriha, to the Independence Day ceremonies. Hocine Benhadid spent several months in prison for “undermining the morale of the army”, before being acquitted in November 2020 and his care in France was taken care of by the army: a kind of rehabilitation for this strong officer in mouth which paid dearly for its violent criticisms against… Gaïd Salah.

The second clue comes barely two weeks ago with the return to Algiers – aboard a presidential plane – of the former Defense Minister Khaled Nezzar, who had been in exile in Spain since July 2019, fleeing the military court which had sentenced him to 20 years in prison for “conspiracy”. Bleached in record time, the former godfather of the high ranking officers and strongman of the seraglio was also a severe critic of the former chief of staff.

Some information also evokes the fate of Ali Ghediri, this ex-general imprisoned since June 2019 (awaiting a judgment) who wanted to run for the aborted presidential election of April 2019, presented as a rival of Gaïd Salah, saw its case referred to the indictment chamber, the Supreme Court also quashed the charge of destabilizing the army.

Restore appeasement in the ranks

What would these “rehabilitation” operations mean?

“This is not a disavowal of the somewhat radical policy of the late Gaïd Salah, but a readjustment to the new political era,” says an official source. “The time of the hirak, the management of crowds, the war against manipulation, the troops of the oligarchs who wanted to deflect the pacifism of the demonstrations, the appetites of different pharmacies… all this pushed AGS [Ahmed Gaïd Salah] to more firmness. He did not have time to do in the lace “, defends this source.

“Shaken by crises of allegiance [qui roulait pour Gaïd Salah, qui roulait pour Toufik, qui roulait pour les Bouteflika ? etc.] during the last years of Bouteflika and during the hirak, the army needs appeasement in its ranks ”, affirms a former high-ranking official. “It is also probable that the narrowing of the ranks would be necessary for the army which plans to face new upheavals in the political and institutional life of the country”, predicts an Algerian analyst. “Saïd Changriha is a wise and unifying man, he is not involved in the management Politics recent crises, he wants to whistle the end of tensions and tensions in the military, ”continues the ex-officer.

The times have changed

When, this Saturday, the military judge asks ex-General Tartag why this time he agreed to speak to the court when he had refused to leave his cell the two previous trials, the latter replied: ” Why did i come [devant le tribunal] ? Because the conditions are no longer the same. They are better. »Better? But ultimately not totally for him and his co-accused Saïd Bouteflika. Because if they are acquitted in this case of “conspiracy”, they remain, unlike Mohamed Mediène, in prison.

A few hours after the verdict was announced on Saturday, the Defense Ministry was forced to issue a press release summarizing the outcome of the trial, while specifying: “Regarding Tartag Athmane, he will be kept in military prison in Blida, being the subject of legal proceedings before the military courts; As for Saïd Bouteflika, he will be transferred to a civilian prison, given that he is being prosecuted in other cases before the economic and financial penal division under the Court of Algiers. ”

Saïd Bouteflika and Athmane Tartag remain in prison

This prompt clarification of the Ministry of Defense “responds to the concerns of the public shocked above all by the acquittal of Saïd Bouteflika, who alone symbolizes all the excesses of the deposed system”, notes an official source. At the end of December, Saïd Bouteflika was under arrest warrant by the Court of Algiers for “influence peddling”, “abuse of office”, “interference in the work of justice”. He is being prosecuted, in all, in three cases related to his links with the oligarchs now in prison.

As for the former Security Services Coordinator Athmane Tartag, he was also placed under a committal warrant by the military court at the end of December for “non-compliance with procedure” in other cases concerning investigations which would have been blocked, including that of the famous “Madame Maya” and the case of the purchase of electoral lists. “Tartag will pay the price for having been a soldier who turned against his family for the benefit of Bouteflika, Saïd in particular, when the ex-DRS was dissolved to transfer the ” services ”, weapons and baggage , to the presidency of the republic [en 2016]. As for Saïd and his oligarch friends, they will also remain in prison ”, comments a former official who had followed the case. Did he turn against “his own” or against Ahmed Gaïd Salah? “At the time, it was the same thing,” we are told sharply.

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