Current assessments of the situation in Algeria by the Hirak (large scale demonstration) activists may be a little over-optimistic. The summer could see a concerted effort by the regime — nominally headed by acting head of state Abdelkader Bensalah but effectively managed from behind the scenes by Army Chief of Staff General Ahmed Gaïd Salah — to try and destroy the Hirak.
The regime’s current strategy is to try and dislocate and divide the people. It is doing this through a number of well-tested means. The main weapon is the use of the concept of ‘Zouave’, a French word meaning a ‘French military unit composed of native Muslim Algerians’ and is akin to the term ’Harki’ which refers to Algerians who sided with France in the War of Independence. Both terms are used as highly derogatory insults. It is currently being widely used by the regime in an attempt to drive wedges between the Algerian people. The term is being used against Kabyles, and those who oppose the army or other aspects of state rule, and is part of the regime’s ‘divide and rule’ strategy.
The state is also accessing people’s Facebook pages and adding false information to spread lies about people’s identities, activities, beliefs and associations. There is even growing evidence of the regime using social media to make trouble within families by providing false evidence of extramarital relationships. The campaign appears to be working with a small but increasing number of people having clearly been discredited and ‘divided out’ in this way.
The people know that this is how the regime has always worked. Nevertheless this is one reason why the Hirak is deliberately not putting forward political leaders or representatives. Those who put their heads above the parapet will have them shot off. There has also been increasing evidence of members of the Hirak, especially students, being subject to arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and abuse.
If the Hirak does not succumb to these tactics there is likely to be an increasing use of violence in an attempt to scare people off the street with more baltagiyas — paid political thugs — being infiltrated into the street demonstrations.
At the extreme end of this tactic is that the regime will follow the tactic of Sudan’s military. In the last few days we have become aware of more people beginning to support the army and its dictatorial tactics.
If Gaïd Salah uses violence to stop the demonstrations, Algeria will become an even more visible military dictatorship. Comparisons on social media, and even in some mainstream media, between Gaïd Salah’s Algeria and President Abdelfattah el-Sisi’s Egypt is becoming more commonplace.
This excerpt is taken from Algeria Politics & Security, our weekly intelligence report on the region. Click here if you would like to receive a free sample.