The very short life of the DSS
We reported last week (Algeria Politics & Security – 29.01.16) that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had signed a presidential decree on 20 January dissolving the DRS and replacing it with the DSS (Direction des Services de Sécurité or, in English, the Security Services Department). The president was also reported to have appointed Athman Tartag as head of the DSS, co-ordinator of all the security services (that is the DSS, gendarmerie and police), and presidential security advisor with the title of Minister of State.
The key to this latest presidential decree, as we stressed, is that it was secret. That not only means that it is not published in the Official Journal, but also that no-one knows its precise wording. It might be changed over time, without anyone outside of the regime’s inner circles knowing precisely what was changed. This does, of course, raise questions about the legal status of such decrees. But the rule of law in Algeria now increasingly being pushed to the sidelines.
Ten days after the announcement of the presidential decree, the positions of both the DSS and Tartag were thrown into uncertainty. The cause of the uncertainty was a statement from Ahmed Ouyahia, director of the president’s office. Speaking during a press conference at the RND party’s headquarters in Ben Aknoun (Algiers) on 30 January, Ouyahia gave a different account of the arrangement.
Ouyahia’s statement gave the very strong impression that there was no such body as the DSS and that Tartag was not a Minister of State. His comments made headlines in several Algerian news publications. Ouyahia said that the previous week’s announcement had been a mistake, the result of what he called “a leak”. He explained that the president had intended to make the announcement a week later, but unfortunately there had been a leak that contained some truths but also some false information.
Ouyahia said that it was true that the DRS had indeed been dissolved. But, when questioned, he said there was no new structure called the DSS. Rather, the three core departments of the old DR – internal security (DGSI – Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure), external security (DGDSE – Direction Générale de la Documentation et de la Sécurité Extérieure) and technical intelligence (DGRT – Direction Générale du Renseignement Technique) – remained intact, but not under an overall director. Instead, explained Ouyahia, there was now “an advisor to the president in charge of co-ordinating these [three] security services, which were now attached to the presidency.”
“The advisor in question,” said Ouyahia, “is brother Athman Tartag, known as ‘Bachir’.” Ouyahia also denied that Tartag had been given the position of Minister of State, as had been reported by “the leak”. Rather, as Ouyahia explained, “Tartag now held the same status as a minister, in terms of protocol ranking, although he is actually not a minister.”
Opposition to the presidency, the DSS, and Tartag
Algeria is in a state of confusion, with two seemingly contradictory versions of what has replaced the DRS.The presidency has said one thing, through what is now being called a “leak”, while Ahmed Ouyahia, the director of the president’s office, is saying another.
What is going on? The answer is very simple. The regime, or in this case the presidency, uses its infamous “unpublished presidential decrees” as “soundings” (or, as Algerians call them, “sondages”) to test the waters of public opinion and to see what sort of opposition there may be from within the regime itself.
We think that the presidency’s plan to bring all of the security services under its own direct control, and to promote Tartag into some sort of security-intelligence supremo with even more power than the former DRS director Mohamed Mediène, quickly ran into heavy opposition from within the regime.
We do not know where the opposition has come from. However, as we think that the initial presidential decree came from Saïd Bouteflika and Tartag, who are hardly the two most liked and trusted members of the presidency, it is likely to have run into opposition from many quarters.
On the military side, we can speculate that heavy opposition almost certainly came from the army high command, especially General Ahmed Gaïd Salah, as it was seriously weakened by the transfer of control over the various DRS branches and the gendarmerie from the Ministry of Defence to the presidency.
We would also imagine that General Abdelghani Hamel, the powerful chief of the national police (DGSN), would have taken strong offence at being made accountable to Tartag. Under the terms of the decree as we understand them, the police would have moved into Tartag’s sphere from that of the presidency-aligned Interior Ministry (whereas the gendarmerie came from the Defence Ministry). Nor would General Menad Nouba, the recently promoted new head of the gendarmerie, have been over-joyed at the new command structure. General Benali Benali, recently promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General, is also likely to have had some say in these latest events. However, his position as a close confidante of the Bouteflika family, especially Saïd Bouteflika, might lead him to lend support to Tartag.
On the political side, the original presidential decree appears to have raised concerns among all of the opposition parties. More importantly, senior figures in the two main government parties, the FLN and RND, as manifested by Ouyahia’s intervention, are clearly alarmed at the prospect of such a massive concentration of power in the hands of the presidency and Tartag.
This chaotic management of the state’s security and intelligence services is troubling. It has caused incoherence and uncertainty, and we feel that it shows that there is perhaps greater opposition to the presidency from within the regime than hitherto imagined. It also reveals the potential depth of infighting within the regime. Unless this is resolved quickly, it leaves the country increasingly vulnerable to significant political instability.
Although it has done so on many occasions, the army has recently seemed disinclined to intervene in Algeria’s politics. But, if the political order is now incapable of even restructuring the management of the country’s security and intelligence services, the army, through the chief of staff, or more likely through a move from within its more other senior ranks, may have little choice but to act.
Moving towards a new “constitution for the regime”
Amine Cheriet, Chairman of the Council of the Nation’s (Upper House’s) Committee on Legal and Administrative Affairs and Human Rights, announced on 1 February that the date of the special meeting of the two Houses of Parliament for the presentation and vote on the draft revision of the constitution would be set as 3 February. A presidential decree to this effect was apparently signed on 30 January.
Then, on 2 February, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal announced that the vote, by both Houses of Parliament on the draft revised constitution, would actually take place on 7 February.
But, with presidential decrees no longer worth their weight in paper, it is not clear whether there would be any debate or discussion on the constitution between 3 February and 7 February, or whether it would move to a rushed vote on 7 February. The supposed presidential decree is reported to have said that the joint session of parliament would be devoted to the draft revised constitution, and would “remain open until all items on the session’s agenda are addressed.”
Most members of the opposition parties are giving the impression that the Constitutional Council has merely rubber-stamped the draft revised constitution without giving it any serious review, while the government is believed to have allocated parliamentary time in such a way as to effectively block any serious discussion of the constitution’s several controversial amendments.
If that is correct, then the new constitution will soon be rubber-stamped into reality despite its questionable legitimacy. Not only will it have paid absolutely no regard to the voice of the people, as is the general principle underlying most national constitutions, but it has been voted into existence by two houses of parliament constituted on the basis of elections that cannot be called ‘free and fair’. Several commentators within the Algeria media have been referring to the constitution as the “constitution of the regime”, not the “constitution of the state”.