As an NGO reporting on corruption and human rights in the North Africa region, we are always delighted to see positive steps taken in the region to fight corruption. This time, the army appears to have listened to the popular demands of the millions of demonstrators hitting the streets of Algeria, resulting in a large anti-corruption purge; a purge unlike anything seen before in the Arab world.
When positive steps that serve our nations in North Africa are taken, it is important to welcome and encourage such endeavours, in this context it is also important to give credit where credit is due, firstly, the extraordinary mobilisation of the people yielded a tremendous pressure on the Bouteflika clan; and then secondly the army, who has demonstrated a strong will to fight corruption, brought to justice the men and women who played a major role in leading the country to a sinister state of affairs. Men who have been involved in the embezzlement of billions of dollars.
Ahmed Gaid Salah, the country’s army’s chief is believed to personally be overseeing the judiciary and providing it with the reassurances it needs to be able to be independent and proceed with the opening of dozens of investigations related to corruption and the embezzlement of public assets. Essentially, one could say the army is liberating the judiciary from the grasp of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s clan.
No such thing as “too big to fail“
El-Harrach prison, the capital’s main penitentiary, has become the wealthiest area by square meter in the whole country, possibly the whole world, no other prison is known to host convicts whose combined wealth exceeds 8 billion dollars.
This prison, located in the capital Algiers and normally reserved to petty criminals, has witnessed the arrival of a number of VIPs, including the Kouninef Brothers (believed to be worth over 500 million dollars), Issaad Rebrab (worth 3.9 billion dollars according to Bloomberg), Ali Haddad (worth 1.8 billion dollars), Mourad Oulmi (worth around 900 million dollars), with more thought to be on their way.
In addition to the oligarchs, the purge has extended to the political sphere, the enablers of corruption, so to say, have also found themselves having to answer for the role they played; former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal are amongst the latest casualties of this anti-corruption purge and have found themselves in El-Harrach’s penitentiary centre. They are prosecuted in the context of corruption and abuse of a position of power.
A mixture of hope and anxiety at the same time is how most Algerians describe this transitional period. There’s a fear that Algeria could fall victim to what other neighbouring countries have experienced in the past as we will see in the next part.
A sensitive context
Algeria, is currently going through a crucial period in its history. A pivotal period that will determine its future not only politically, economically and socially, but also in terms of international relations.
The country in this sensitive context is shaping its future, but also that of the entire region, at both continental and regional levels. The corruption purge started shortly after the fall of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was a bold move from the army and took Algerians by surprise, no one in the country could imagine in their wildest dreams that someone of the caliber of Said Bouteflika (former president’s brother), Bachir Tartag or even Toufik Mediene, the man once considered the decision-maker for decades, could one day have to take responsibility for their actions.
On top of internal challenges – which to much extent are complicating things – the country is also facing a number of security and economic challenges, with Mali in the south falling into the hands of radical islamists, Libya in the east falling into the hands of Haftar’s militias, the country has never been this vulnerable except during the 90s’ civil war.
Economically, Algeria is facing a number of challenges. An economy destroyed by the Bouteflika regime is threatening even the ability for the nation to feed its population in the near future. In such a sensitive context, it is important for all parties – the people and the army as the main protagonists – to demonstrate patience and conduct a productive dialogue.
What is of the upmost urgency is what Algeria is currently doing economically, the future announces itself difficult for the nation that for long relied on high oil and gas prices, it is now the perfect occasion to start from scratch. One thing is certain, the anti-corruption operations undertaken since the fall of Abdelaziz Bouteflika will forever mark economic practices in the country, and thus the business climate. The era of corrupt economic barons and bureaucratic pressures seems to be coming to an end. In tomorrow’s Algeria, the anti-corruption purge will likely act as a deterrent.
The islamic threat
After the civil war that occurred in the 90s, the islamists almost went instinct, however with any political void come the predators who seek to take advantage of the situation, and this, with complete disregard to the risks that might endanger the country.
In this instance, the remains of the FIS have been increasingly active on social media, through various YouTube channels and a TV network named “Al Magharibia”. A TV station that happens to have been founded by the son of former radical islamist Abassi Madani. When Abassi Madani passed away, the channel covered his death for three days, pretty much non-stop, portraying him as a national hero when he is known to actually encouraged a terrorist group (GIA).
The time of instantly recognisable islamists with their long beards has too passed, these days they embed well with the population and are trying to re-enter the world of politics by portraying themselves as no longer radical. Although they are often betrayed by their statements and the recourse to Quranic verses as the basis of any debate.
It has never been important for Algerians to stand by their army, the army remains the last standing institution in the country, guardian of its territorial integrity in a difficult geopolitical context; risking the army’s stability would risk the stability of the whole country, possibly the whole region.
In this regard, the steps taken by Ahmed Gaid-Salah brought the people and the army together, a positive endeavour that must be recognised by all stakeholders.