Despotism / Rise of the ‘baltaguia’ and the Russification of the Algerian regime

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Vladimir Putin with el-Sisi

‘Baltaguia’ is a term originating from Egypt, made popular under Mubarak’s reign, and refers to paid regime thugs disguised as youth; sent out to take part in demonstrations and spread havoc. Often it is in exchange of large sums of money, in some other cases in exchange of hard drugs.

These paid provocateurs act in groups, through arbitrary or targeted violent attacks as witnessed during Friday’s protests when a number of civilians were assaulted by an unidentified group of men, wielding knives.

Although a term coined from Egyptian slang, baltaguia are essentially the Arab adaptation of Russia’s FSB tactics book on squashing popular uprisings. In Russia, this dirty work is tasked to young undercover police and military personnel, as well as the more established ‘Cossacks’ who essentially act as Putin’s private extra-constitutional forces.

In Egypt, it is widely accepted that their number approximates 500,000. In Algeria, the number is much lower, however their role in causing havoc can never be underestimated. A baltaguia is most of the time ‘held by the balls‘ through bonuses ranging from £500 to £800 for a day’s work, or/and a fast-tracked access to social housing.

Friday’s demonstrations were mostly peaceful and joyful, but a few baltaguia attacked women, opposition figures and demonstrators.

Photos of these men circulated on social networks. The perpetrators were identified as having previous links to the regime. Tasked with the mission of sowing discord and undermining the demonstrations’ peaceful character, in what many Algerians consider a deliberate desire to squash the Algerians’ peaceful revolution.

Chasing and beating up young girls

Baltagui-esque characters showed up at around 17.30 in the city centre, towards the end of the protest, when two girls were intercepted and chased down by a large group of men, in a highly premeditated and synchronised attack. The police did not intervene.

The two girls were horrified and were chased through a movie theatre, they had no choice but to lock themselves in the theatre’s bathrooms, anxiously awaiting the help that never came. The young girls were severely beaten during the cowardly assault.

Attacks on opposition figures

Mokrane Ait Larbi, a human rights lawyer, commented the incident he was involved in during Friday’s popular march against the regime in Algiers.

As I walked from Place Audin to the Grande Poste, like every Friday since the beginning of our people’s revolution, I was heckled by a group of ten youngsters, led by an adult. Immediately, protesters surrounded me and stood up to the assailants. To avoid a violent confrontation, I chose to leave the march temporarily” stated the human rights lawyer.

According to Mokrane Ait Larbi “the leader of the group” told them that he did not even know who he was, confessing to having been charged with the mission by an unidentified patriot who convinced him that the lawyer was an enemy of the army.

Mokrane Ait Larbi also added that “this provocation was prepared following a video posted on my Facebook page on the 4th of April in which I denounced corruption at the higher echelons of the government“.

In Bejaia, an individual heckled Said Sadi. The attack may well be mischievous since a cameraman was carefully placed at the right place and the right time, the images of the incident have been widely disseminated on social networks seconds after the attack, giving the illusion of a rejection of the RCD’s founder by the population.

A hybrid counter-revolution

On Saturday, three journalists were arrested, held for many hours and then released. The police refused to offer any explanation for the arrests.

On the same day, at another location, outside the national workers union’s headquarters to be exact, demonstrators had gathered to demand the resignation and the prosecution of Sidi Said, the country’s main workers union chief, a controversial figure who was involved in a number of corruption scandals over the years; he is a fierce supporter of the Bouteflika regime and the army.

Sidi Said, the workers union chief, is seen with Ali Haddad, an Algerian oligarch who is currently being held at El-Harrach’s penitentiary centre, after attempting to flee with two passports through the Tunisian border.

Last week, an unprecedented event occurred under the watch of the police: supporters of Sidi Said, entrenched behind the iron gate, attacked demonstrators using all kinds of blunt objects. One of the protesters was wounded with a knife. The police officers present at the scene are thought to have not lifted a finger to stop the attack.

Demonstrators outside the country’s main workers union headquarters in Algiers, had been protesting and calling for the fall of Sidi Said, they are seen being loaded into police vans.

The regime is equally active on social media, thousands of fake profiles have been created and are operated to report popular pages and groups, to the extent that many were suspended by Facebook, following hundreds of thousands of fake inappropriate content reports submitted to the social network.

Other fake profiles opt for harassing and insulting anyone who dares criticise the army and its current chief. These profiles spread fake news on opposition figures such as accusing some of them of “working for the jews“.

Equally worrying, is the arrest of a human rights lawyer, Salah Dabouz, who was kidnapped in the middle of his lunch break and taken to Ghardaia, 500 kilometres south of Algiers to be tried for what will probably turn out to be bogus charges. At the time of the writing of the article Salah Dabouz still remains in custody.

Salah Dabouz

Russia’s textbook

All the tactics cited above have been extensively used by Putin’s regime to crush dissent in Russia, and evidence suggests the same tactics are being used in Algeria.

Tayeb Louh with Medvedev
Tayeb Louh, former Justice minister of Algeria, is known as the ‘injustice minister’ to most Algerians due to his implication in corruption and repression. Ahmed Ouyahia and Dimitri Medvedev are seen in the background overseeing the signing of a bi-lateral treaty.

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