Algeria: Analyzing the 2015 Power Struggle at the Heart of the 2019 Unrest

REPORT AT A GLANCE

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Algeria has come under the spotlight in 2019 with the onset of the 22nd February protest movement, following the announcement of former president Bouteflika to run for a fifth mandate[1] despite his critical health condition and his long-time absence from the public scene. Bouteflika’s intention to run for office sparked a chain of reactions that culminated in the largest, most enduring anti-system protest movement the country has known in recent years. What came to be known as the 22nd February movement recently celebrated its first year with Algerians still marching every Friday, calling for changes in the system.[2]
 
However, Algeria’s political turmoil did not start in 2019. Although the 2011 protests were mediatized being in the framework of the Arab Spring[1], a less internationally analyzed power overturning happened a few years later. However, Algeria’s political turmoil did not start in 2019. Although the 2011 protests were mediatized being in the framework of the Arab Spring[2], a less internationally analyzed power overturning happened a few years later. What observers[3] qualified as a political quake was marked by the dismissal or the forced retirement – depending on interpretations – of the army’s Lieutenant-General Mohamed Lamine Mediene, alias Toufik, from his position as the head of the Intelligence and Security Department (DRS) in 2015.[4]
 
Mediene headed this crucial department for twenty-five years, earning himself the nickname of “Algeria’s God”.[5] While some wanted to market this restructuration as the onset of a civil tradition within a State that has been firmly controlled by the  military since its independence in 1962, it should rather be analyzed in the framework of Bouteflika’s decision to run for a fourth mandate in the 2014 presidential elections[6].  
 
This paper’s initial aim was to evaluate the change in discourse of the Algerian regime regarding the media with the onset of the Hirak in 2019. For this purpose, we chose to analyze the vocabulary used by the Algerian Head of State on the national press day, an annual speech tradition that started in 2013[7]. This specific date was chosen for its historical significance as the 22nd of October 1955 marked the day of the first edition of the newspaper “El-Mouqawama El-Djazairia[8]”, the media outlet of the National Liberation Front (FLN) and of the national liberation army (ALN).[9] Surprisingly, an analysis of the categories of vocabulary used in the speeches across the years did not reveal a significant change in 2019, the first post-Bouteflika era discourse. New trends rather emerged in 2016, shifting our focus to the internal power struggle that started a couple of years prior.

 

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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • • Algeria’s current social unrest did not start in 2019. It is deeply rooted in old power struggles within the regime as well as a popular dissatisfaction with governance in the country.

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  • • These dynamics did stop neither with the dismissal of former president Bouteflika nor with the death of the army’s former Chief of Staff Gaid Salah.

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  • • Le Pouvoir has been adapting its narrative according to its priorities and interests, emphasizing notably on statehood, security or history.

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[1] Chena, S. (2011). L'Algérie dans le « Printemps arabe » entre espoirs, initiatives et blocages. Confluences Méditerranée, N° 77(2), p.105.

[2] Chena, S. (2011). L'Algérie dans le « Printemps arabe » entre espoirs, initiatives et blocages. Confluences Méditerranée, N° 77(2), p.105.

[3] Dris, C. (2016). Algérie politique 2015 : Mise à la retraite du général Médiene et restructuration du DRS. L'Année du Maghreb, (15), pp.185-202.

[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-34268565

[5] https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2015/09/14/en-algerie-depart-force-pour-le-general-toufik-puissant-chef-du-renseignement_4755488_3212.html

[6] https://www.lefigaro.fr/flash-actu/2013/11/16/97001-20131116FILWWW00372-algerie-bouteflika-candidat-a-la-presidence.php

[7] The 2013 speech transcription is not available online.

[8] The Algerian Resistance

[9] https://www.reflexiondz.net/JOURNEE-NATIONALE-DE-LA-PRESSE-Un-precieux-acquis-a-consolider_a31618.html