The dismissal and subsequent arrest of General Bouazza Ouassini — the powerful head of the Direction Général de la Sécurité Intérieure (DGSI) — was not unexpected, as Algeria Focus has explained in considerable depth over the past three months. Nevertheless, it has major implications.
Firstly, it demonstrates the dangerous instability within the security services and their endemic tendency to clan warfare. We expect further dismissals and arrests to follow.
These dismissals, like that of Ouassini who is currently being interrogated, will, however, receive minimal domestic media publicity. Full public disclosure of the plotting, manoeuvrings and corruption within the top echelons of the military and intelligence establishment would be ruinous for the regime.
With Ouassini’s departure, we are seeing the emergence of a new power structure centred around a possibly transient alliance, between: President Abdelmadjid Tebboune; Chief of Army Staff General Saïd Chengriha; and General Mohamed ‘Toufik’ Mediène’s old Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS) network.
Some members of the country’s more moderate political class, as well as some commentators, believe that this emerging power structure may be potentially liberalising and reformist. Algeria Focus sees it instead as likely to be more repressive and hardline in its determination to destroy the Hirak mass demonstrations.
The government is treading a very fine line in its management of the COVID-19 pandemic. If evidence emerges that it has falsified statistics for political purposes — or is using the cover of the pandemic for further repression, for which there is substantial evidence — the Hirak could be back on the street in even greater numbers.
Similarly, if the regime is seen to be wholly incompetent in its management of the crisis, even larger numbers of Algerians could also turn to the Hirak.
The continued collapse of world oil prices will cause a major hit to the economy of approximately US$10 billion. This — combined with a predicted 5.2% decline in GDP this year, a near 50% increase in unemployment and increased food prices — could trigger politically untenable social unrest.
The required massive reduction in Sonatrach’s operating and investment budgets — necessitated by the collapse in the oil price and falling hydrocarbon exports — is likely to inflict long-term damage on the company.
However, the fact that Chevron and ExxonMobil have signed MoUs with Sonatrach following the late 2019 signing of the new Hydrocarbons Law offers a small but limited glimmer of hope.