Algeria is in an effective state of undeclared martial law. The country’s most powerful body is the Haut Conseil de Sécurité (HCS). It is only supposed to intervene when the country is threatened by: an insecurity crisis; a threat of foreign aggression; or major disturbances threatening public order and national security. This is evidenced by the very limited number of previous times that it has been called on to meet. Before President Abdelmadjid Tebboune came to power in December 2019 its last meeting was on 31 January 2011. Since he came to power, however, there have been 15 meetings of the HCS which tends to confirm that Algeria is currently being run by a group of shadowy figures from within the military and intelligence services.
The fact that the current situation — especially the HCS’ role and the undeclared state of martial law — is reminiscent of the early 1990s is not coincidental. In a nutshell, the real forces behind the regime are little changed from those behind the 1992 coup and the subsequent civil war. The four main decision makers are:
- Khaled Nezzar – former Minister of National Defence, key orchestrator of the 1992 coup, and the main force within the HCS at that time.
- Mohamed ‘Toufik’ Mediène – head of the powerful Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS) during the 1990s and until his 2015 fall from grace at the hands of the then Army Chief of Staff General Ahmed Gaïd Salah. He is now the shadowy and perhaps most influential force behind the scenes.
- M’henna Djebbar – the 1994-2015 head of the Direction Centrale de la Sécurité de l’Armée (DCSA) when Mediène ran the DRS and one of his most feared butchers of the 1990s. Currently he does not hold a formal position with the regime — although he has been expected for some time to be appointed as the overall coordinator of the intelligence services — but he is at the heart of the military and intelligence staff. According to our sources, he is consulted on an almost daily basis by both Tebboune and Saïd Chengriha who together nominally run the country.
- Army Chief of Staff, General Saïd Chengriha who was a prominent general in the 1990s when he was responsible for some of the most gruesome massacres of civilians conducted by the security forces.
In addition to these four — who in current Algerian parlance ‘have blood on their hands’ — there are several rogue colonels and middle-ranking generals, especially in the Direction de la Documentation et de la Sécurité Extérieure (DDSE) and DCSA (Algeria Politics & Security – 03.08.21), whose allegiance is basically to their former chiefs: Mohamed Mediène and/or M’henna Djebbar.
The four men, now all in the late 70’s and 80s, with the exception of Chengriha, have managed to effectively rehabilitate themselves into positions of power and influence following the 23 December 2019 death of former Army Chief of Staff General Ahmed Gaïd Salah. According to our sources they are driven by the fear that, should the regime be ousted in one way of another by the Hirak or some other such forces, they are likely, in Algerian vernacular, to be ‘strung up.’ Although the country has officially abolished the death sentence for ordinary crimes it would almost certainly be reinstated for the crimes committed by these particular individuals, and others from the 1990s with ‘blood on their hands.’ Even if they were to escape Algeria they would be hunted down internationally and brought to justice. As the former Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati said only a year ago, albeit in a different context, ‘Algeria has not signed or ratified any international agreement that prohibits the use of the death penalty. If necessary, the death penalty will be resumed.’
The strategy of these men is one of personal survival, with their immediate aim being to destroy the Hirak and its associated supporters, irrespective of the immense and ruinous long-term damage that they are inflicting on the state.
We and many of our sources also believe that M’henna Djebbar was the key figure who was effectively in charge of organising the recent Kabylie forest forces, in order to punish Kabylia because of it being the heartland of the Hirak.