General’s candidacy unsettles Bouteflika’s plans

Retired General Ali Ghediri, 64, is known as “the intellectual of the military establishment” and holds several degrees.

TUNIS - By announcing his candidacy for Algeria’s presidency as an independent, retired General Ali Ghediri picked up the pace of the preparations for the elections slated for April 18. As soon as he announced his intention to run, other figures with similar ambitions quickly declared their desire to enter the race, believing that the parties in power will find it difficult to secure a fifth term for the President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Thus, former Algerian Prime Minister Ali Benflis announced January 20 his intention to run for president.

Ghediri, retired from the army in 2015, had a letter published addressed to Algerians announcing his decision to run for president, explaining his motivation for doing so and giving the general outline of his platform. In his letter, the retired general said the main reason motivating his decision was “the situation of the state characterised by lawlessness, an ageing leadership, social injustice, nepotism and rampant corruption.”

“If insecurity threatens Algerians every day, consumption of hard drugs doubles this insecurity. Furthermore, autocracy prevents the building of democracy, and clan mentality and pilfering have transformed the political system into a full-fledged oligarchy,” the general wrote. “Surrendering to this situation that threatens national harmony is not a fatality. This is why I decided to accept the challenge by announcing my candidacy for the presidential elections of April 2019.”

Ghediri, 64, is known as “the intellectual of the military establishment” and holds several degrees. He came to the forefront of public attention during the past few weeks after the uproar caused by his writings in the French-language daily Al-Watan, in which he beseeched “President Bouteflika’s brothers to stop kidnapping power.”  He urged the army chief of staff, General Ahmed Gaid Saleh, to assume his role in protecting the country from slipping towards a catastrophe and in upholding the Constitution.

The retired general’s article caused strong reactions from the leadership of the military establishment. They i accused the general of “serving narrow purposes, speaking on behalf of circles hostile to the country and of seeking to embroil the military institution in political and party disputes, in addition of his breaking the law which commits retired army officers to secrecy.”

The public debate reveals conflicting visions and perceptions among the various wings of the army. Saleh, without openly declaring it and by trying to make the military institution appear neutral, tended to support Bouteflika’s candidacy for a fifth term, Ali Ghediri’s ideas express the political orientation of some specific wing within the military that rejects extending Bouteflika’s terms.

In his statement, Ghediri said: “What should really frighten us are the plagues created by this system and which are pushing our children to emigrate and preventing our people from living in peace and prosperity and from enjoying the full benefits of the country’s bounties, which the state can provide to all and in a fair manner.”

During the past few days, Ghediri has met with officials from the Mouwatana opposition movement and presented them with some of his ideas and proposed political programme. Even though nothing was leaked about the opposition’s reactions, a source did not rule out that powers in movement would be the first supporters of the would-be candidate for the presidency. It is only a matter of time before their position would be announced.

Observers of Algerian political affairs point out that rivalries between the wings of the military on political issues are not new. In 2004 for example, a former chief of staff, the late General Mohamed Ammari, was opposed to Boutelika’s candidacy for president. In 2014, the head of the now-defunct Algerian secret service, General Mohamed Mediene, also opposed Bouteflika’s candidacy. But these rivalries and oppositions used to be hidden. Today, however, the differences between Ghediri and the military establishment are out in the open and have become a staple of many debates and analyses.

Thus, Ghediri can be considered the candidate of the wing in the military opposing extending Bouteflika’s terms in power. Even though Ghediri retired from the armed forces in 2015, he must still enjoy some support base within the military institution and the so-called deep state (the dissolved secret service), in addition to the class of retired or excluded military people, which is estimated to be 300,000 strong.

Political activist Mokrane Ait Larbi was the first to express his support for Ghediri’s candidacy. In a statement issue January 20, he said: “I have decided, after talking several times with Ali Ghediri about the general outline of his project, to support his candidacy for the presidency, and to actively participate in his campaign.”

Ait Larbi described Ghediri’s candidacy as “a good initiative that can reshuffle the power cards by resorting to popular will as the sole source of legitimacy, and that can bring about the desired change, in light of the prevailing atmosphere of anxiety, tension, and apprehension of the unknown future awaiting the country in the short term.”

    Saber Blidi is an Algerian writer.

    This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.