Algeria’s Military Regime Should Retire | Algeria 2


Ladies and Gentlemen, the Algerian military
has got to go. It has served its purpose. The power and success of Algeria’s year long
peaceful protest movement has been stunning, and it shows that the Algerian people are
more than ready to take the country into the next era. The military’s role in Algerian history reached
the point of diminishing returns long ago, and by clinging to power it is now actively
putting its own accomplishments in jeopardy. In my first video on the country 9 months
ago, I pointed out that Algeria had to fight much harder for its independence than any
other North African country. In my reading since it’s become clear that
the Algerian military did a lot more than just win that fight. It also defined Algeria as a nation. Unlike its neighbors Tunisia and Morocco,
Algeria does not have a long history as a unified country. Instead its status as the borderland between
a succession of empires left it fragmented. Between the early years of the Abbasid Caliphate
and the French invasion, Algeria was never unified for long. It was almost always divided up between empires
to the east and west. Some of these empires were based in Morocco
and Tunisia, both of whom have the nation making ancient capital cities and centers
of Islamic learning that Algeria lacks. Algeria was the most distant province of the
Ottoman Empire, but Turkish control never made it that far from the coasts. Algeria’s second biggest city, Oran, was controlled
by the Spanish for most of the time between 1500 and 1800. Like Ukraine or the Balkans, Algeria spent
centuries as a battleground between different empires. This is what made it so susceptible to French
imperial influence. There was never a unified political unit to
resist the Europeans the way there was in Tunisia or Morocco. Don’t get me wrong, there were great resistance
heroes like Abd elkader, a guy who was famous enough in the 1840s to have a town in Iowa
named after him. But he saw himself as more of a religious
leader than a national political one. Over 132 years of control, the French used
their industrial military technology to consolidate the vast territory of Modern Algeria into
one political unit, subject to the capital of Algiers, probably for the first time in
human history. But the country the French built wasn’t an
Algerian one. Though Europeans were probably never more
than a tenth of the population, they were often the majority in the coastal cities. The language of government, business, and
urban life itself was French. This was the challenge Algerians faced at
the beginning of their war of independence. When the Algerian military started out in
1954, according to legend with just 50 shotguns, they didn’t just have to win their independence,
in a very real sense they were building a united National culture and history from the
ground up. Even the Algerian revolutionary army spoke
french. For years after independence, the Algerian
government still used the language of imperialists. The Algerian bureaucrats and public simply
lacked the relevant Arabic skills. So Algeria’s military didn’t just kick out
the French in one of the bloodiest independence wars of the 20th century. After victory in 1962, and especially after
a coup in 1965, the Algerian military also charted a course of fierce independence. That thirst for independence became Algerian
identity. Everybody wanted to profit from their revolutionary
success, from Nasser of Egypt, to the competing communist regimes of Russia and China, to
the United States. Algeria played all of these wannabe patrons
off of each other, successfully maintaining the country’s freedom of action. As the decades wore on, thanks to Saudi Arabia
and the CIA, world revolution took on a more radical Islamist vibe, and Algeria’s military
shook that outside influence off too in a savage civil war in the 1990s. I am not sure it was worth it. The more I learn about the Algerian civil
war the more horrified I get. In the late 1980s, jockeying for position
between factions in the military, combined with a fall in the oil price, and mass protest,
led to an attempt at real multi-party politics for the first time. When an Islamist party looked set to win those
elections, the military regime unified, forced the democratically inclined president to resign,
and canceled the multi-party experiment. They argued they had to do it to preserve
Algeria’s secular character, and maybe they were right about that, but the cost was horrific. Throughout the dark decade of the 1990s, the
Algerian people were stuck between two buzzsaws. The Islamist party that had its victory stolen
dissolved into warring factions, that believed in differing levels of violence to get their
way. While the military regime stayed unified publicly,
under the surface it was a mess of assassinations and violent factional conflict that used various
Islamist groups as pawns against each other. Some believe that some of the war’s most horrific
massacres supposedly carried out by religious radicals were in fact carried out by the regime
itself to discredit political Islam. This horrific nightmare of a decade killed
at least 150,000 people. You can make an argument that this violent
blocking of the Saudi-inspired Islamist tendency of the 1990s contributed to Algerian independence. The civil war meant that when a protest movement
finally arrived in Algeria, a decade later than The Arab Spring elsewhere, it was scrupulously
peaceful and free of outside influence. This has made that movement more successful
than most. But it’s harder to argue this was worth the
horror of the 1990s. This is what I mean by the diminishing returns
of the Algerian regime. The civil war is now also a key part of Algeria’s
heritage of fierce Independence. But yikes. Another negative regime development of the
1990s was the new prominence of France aligned generals. Some go so far as to believe that in the waning
days of the independence war, back in the 1960s, the French trained a bunch of Algerian
officers who faked a defection to the Algerian cause. The theory claims that these young officers
then slowly took over the Algerian government in a sinister 30 year plot. I think that theory is a little ridiculous,
but it’s based on a surprising, but quite sensible move that the Algerian regime made
in the 1960s 70s and 80s. There were some Algerian defectors from the
French army that came over in the later years of the independence war. And many of them did make their way to the
top of the Algerian military because of their professionalism and experience. But this wasn’t some French conspiracy, it
was a wise strategic choice by Algerian leaders. People forget what a dangerous place the world
was before the end of the cold war. Once the independence issue was settled, France
was a good weak power to latch on to. Unlike the super powers, France desperately
needed Algerian oil, and a close relationship with the old imperial power was more likely
to be a partnership than the neo colonialism the US and the Soviets were offering. The relationship with France gave Algeria
the breathing room it needed to develop on its own path. Algeria’s people and government speak more
Arabic than French now. French influence has been preserved at the
top, but on most metrics Algeria is a vastly more independent place than it was 50 years
ago. So I can’t bring myself to condemn the entire
legacy of Algeria’s military regime. To do that would be to condemn Algeria itself. But it’s long past time for the military to
get out of politics. The level of French corruption present today
is just one of many reasons why. The best reason for the military to get out
of politics is The protest movement itself. The responsibility, peacefulness, and simple
common sense demands of the Hirak movement make their case for real democracy indisputable. The protesters are often criticized for a
lack of leadership, but the regime keeps throwing anybody who steps up into jail, so that’s
not a fair criticism. Just because the regime isn’t murdering people
as freely as it used to, doesn’t mean Algeria is a free country yet. Another reason the Algerian military regime
needs to go is time itself. I had been aware that Abdelaziz Bouteflika,
the president overthrown by the protesters last April, was one of the last of the revolutionary
generation, but I had assumed he was some young foot soldier back then. Not so. He was a major player, serving as foreign
minister from the mid 1960s. This guy took meetings with people like Krushchev
and Degaulle, and he was still in power in 2019, over half a century later. That’s insane. After Bouteflika’s fall last April, the military
consolidated power under Ahmed Gaid Salah, who became the new nemesis of the protest
movement, organizing the election of a new puppet president. Then he died. Of a heart attack. Because he was 79. The parallels between this regime and the
final decades of the Soviet Union should be jumping out at you. Another reason for them to go is oil and gas. We have been living in a post scarcity world
for petroleum products for about five years now. Folks are now waking up to the fact that this
isn’t going to be changing any time soon. Algeria’s status as a petro-state allowed
it to paper over a lot of cracks for a very long time. As the protest movement demonstrates the military
can’t afford to bribe the people anymore. And it’s going to get worse. Algeria built up a large cushion of foreign
reserves over the course of the good years. That cushion is quickly evaporating. Algeria has a lot of hard choices to make
in the coming years, and the military won’t be able to make them. The cushy bubble of corruption they used to
make the country work is now popping. Bailing out now is just the sensible thing
to do. There’s another country in North Africa whose
nation was built by its army. That’s Egypt. From the 19th century until Nasser’s humiliation
of the British in the 1950s, the Egyptian military led the way to independence and modernity. But then it held on to power long enough to
kill its own success. It dug in to its control of the economy, became
an industrious torturer and murderer of its own people, and transformed Egypt from the
leader of the Arab world and an international power broker into a widely pitied tool of
the United States with a stagnant economy. Egypt provides a cautionary tale to Algeria’s
military. They should get out of politics now while
the getting’s good. Their country will thank them for it. Thanks for watching, please subscribe, and
come back next time when we will talk about the quickest way to reduce French influence
in Algeria, opening up the border with Morocco. Thanks.

Maurice Vega

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