Algeria is in a dangerous political deadlock as the regime intensifies its measures to destroy an increasingly determined and unified popular Hirak protest movement. The student demonstrations on Tuesday 6 April and the weekly Hirak demonstration on Friday 9 April once again saw large numbers of demonstrators on the streets of all of the country’s major cities and towns.
In its determination to destroy this popular resistance movement, the regime’s Haut Conseil de Sécurité (HCS) subsequently warned that strong measures will be taken against what it claims are ‘separatist circles;’ and ‘movements close to terrorism.’ During the course of the week, a record number of at least 36 Hirakists were imprisoned.
As Algeria moves into a state of political deadlock, there are signs of fragmentation within the regime into two main factions: one centred around President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and his Army Chief of Staff, General Saïd Chengriha; and the clan headed by the former DRS head Mohamed ‘Toufik’ Mediène and the 1990-1993 defence minister Khaled Nezzar on the other side. Both are determined to crush the Hirak but the latter is considered more dangerous.
Chengriha currently controls the army but there is an increasing sense of possible fragmentation in its upper echelons over the direction in which Algeria is going. The ‘Toufik-Nezzar’ clan is growing progressively stronger as it gains control over most parts of the intelligence-security apparatus. The reason the Hirak is now increasingly targeting the clan and linking the current situation with the 1990s is because there is a growing sense that, if given the go-ahead, it would metaphorically bring the tanks out onto the street. One of the main Hirak slogans is ‘We know what happened in the 1990s.’
There is a widespread feeling within the Hirak that the Toufik-Nezzar clan is closely watching events in Myanmar and the global reaction to them. As Myanmar’s military regime kills increasing numbers of civilian protestors, the clan can see that the UN and US reaction is little more than condemnation, while Russia and China, both close allies of the Algerian regime, are giving their support to the military. The Toufik-Nezzar clan can probably safely assume that the reactions of these four key parties would be little different if it were to order the tanks on to the streets and, as they did in October 1988, they then opened fire with live ammunition on the demonstrators and begin a decade of violence.