Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (Farouk Batiche / AFP)
ALGIERS — Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika hit out Tuesday against what he said were moves to undermine his office and the army, suggesting both were falling prey to political infighting.
“The fictitious conflict ... within the ranks of the People’s National Army is linked to a destabilization plan developed by those troubled by Algeria’s regional weight and influence,” he said in comments published by state media.
The comments come amid a mounting war of words, relayed by the country’s independent media, over the military’s role in Algerian politics, in which top brass have been portrayed as opposing a fourth term for the incumbent in April’s presidential election.
The ailing leader, in power for 15 years, has until March 4 to declare his candidacy and yet to say if his health will permit him to run, following a mini-stroke that confined him to hospital in Paris for three months last year.
Bouteflika did not elaborate on the destabilizing activities to which he referred.
But he said they “benefit from the irresponsible behavior of some and the lack of maturity of others, influenced by different aspects of the media war currently being waged against Algeria, the presidency, the People’s National Army and the military intelligence agency (DRS).”
Earlier this month, in what suggested an intensifying power struggle between Bouteflika’s supporters and the army, the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) secretary general Amar Saidani demanded that veteran DRS director Mohamed “Tewfik” Mediene quit over alleged security failings.
Saidani, who has repeatedly backed a fourth term for the 76-year-old incumbent, even though he has not been seen or heard in public since his stroke, said Mediene’s persistent interference in politics came at the detriment of the strategic North African country’s security.
Despite Bouteflika’s much-vaunted efforts to roll back their prerogatives — a hallmark of his presidency — the army and its secretive DRS intelligence agency retain much of the political power they have wielded ever since independence in 1962.
But the president appeared to refute those suggesting that Saidani’s comments were carefully orchestrated, or that he was in conflict with the veteran military intelligence chief or over his possible fourth term bid, by defending the internal security agency.
“The DRS, as an integral part of the People’s National Army, must continue to carry out its duties and responsibilities,” he said, in a speech to commemorate national martyr’s day.
“No one has the right, whatever his duties, to place himself above the provisions of the constitution and the law,” the president added.
“This is not the time for insults and invectives.”
His comments come less than a week after a retired senior Algerian general accused Bouteflika’s inner circle of “playing with Algeria’s destiny” in order to “save its skin, because corruption has reached dangerous levels.”
Hocine Benhadid, in an interview with two of Algeria’s leading independent newspapers, said the country’s stability could no longer be guaranteed by someone who was “sick” and the “hostage of his entourage.”