What lies behind Algeria arrests of Bouteflika clan?

Paris (AFP) –


What lies behind the arrests of the powerful brother of Algeria's deposed president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and two former intelligence chiefs?

The three have long been considered among the most powerful men in Algeria, but they are now facing charges including "conspiring" against the state.

- Who are they? -

Said Bouteflika, 61, was widely seen as the real power behind the presidency since his brother suffered a debilitating stroke in 2013.

General Mohamed Mediene, known as Toufik, headed the all-powerful DRS intelligence agency from its foundation in 1990 up to his fall from grace in 2015.

General Athmane Tartag, his deputy, succeeded Toufik and when the DRS was dismantled in 2016 he served as Algeria's security coordinator under the supervision of the presidency.

After Bouteflika's fall on April 2, following weeks of mass street protests against his two-decade rule, Tartag was rapidly dismissed while the president's brother had no official post and Toufik had been retired.

- What are the accusations? -

The men were detained Sunday on accusations of "undermining the authority of the army" and "conspiring against the authority of the state".

They had held meetings aimed at saving the presidential clan and sidelined army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah -- a key powerbroker since breaking with Bouteflika -- according to an Algerian expert on his country's security apparatus.

It could equally have been "a simple and everyday power struggle between clans", according to the expert who asked not to be named for security reasons.

- Who ordered the arrests? -

Many Algerians believe the arrests were ordered by Gaid Salah, who had strained relations with Said Bouteflika and helped the president remove Toufik from his post.

Paris-based Algerian researcher Adlene Mohammedi was critical, writing on Facebook that the arrests were nothing more than a "simple and rude manoeuvre" on the part of the army chief.

"We offer to protesters... men in cage already ousted from power in order to allow those who are still there to keep themselves quietly," Mohammedi wrote in an English post.

- Gaid Salah in control? -

According to the Algerian expert, the arrests were "a demonstration of force on the part of Gaid Salah to show that he is in control of the situation... and capable of changing things".

With interim president Abdelkader Bensalah lacking political legitimacy, Gaid Salah appears to be in sole command.

But he is not the only representative of the Algerian army, which functions largely under a collegial system.

The arrests of Said Bouteflika and the two ex-spy bosses were the latest to target the ousted president's inner circle, in effect decapitating Algeria's ruling elite.

Numerous powerful and wealthy businessmen, including the country's richest man Issad Rebrab, have also been detained over suspected corruption.

More than a month after the departure of Bouteflika, protesters remain on the streets to demand an overhaul of the entire ruling system -- including the removal of Gaid Salah.