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Algeria: From One Revolution to the Other? The Metamorphosis of the State-Regime Complex



A dominant narrative describes the postcolonial Algerian trajectory as a “revolution” which has alternately experienced a “Party-state”, the “Islamist peril”, a “civil war” then an “autocracy”—the “crisis” of the latter precipitating a “popular uprising” that caused the fall of the “raïs” and imposed a “transition”. Breaking with the doxa, this study establishes that the domination, resulting from the counter-revolution of the 1950s, is based on a praetorian state-regime complex. The critical sequence that starts with the military coup of 1992 is less a “civil war” than a fierce neoliberal restructuring giving rise to the “reinvention of tradition” of the garrison state as “organized crime”. Drawing a “strategic learning” from the success of the praetorian counterrevolution orchestrated by the Egyptian secret police in 2013, the powerful Algerian deep state has been arranging the anti-Bouteflika V street performances. Beyond an apparent radicalism, the 'hirak' contributes to freezing the authoritarian status quo: anti-political, it operates a structural avoidance of the conflicts at work in the shade of praetorian neoliberalism. Celebrating brotherhood with the army, the late counter-revolution has increased the “caging” of the Algerian people.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
Algeria: From One Revolution to the Other?
The Metamorphosis of the State-Regime Complex
Mohammed Hachemaoui
Centre Maurice Halbwachs (Paris)
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai-août 2020
ISSN 2429-1714
Editeur : Fonds d’analyse des sociétés politiques, FASOPO, Paris |
Citer l’article : Mohammed Hachemaoui, « Algeria: From One Revolution to the Other? The
Metamorphosis of the State-Regime Complex »
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
Algeria: From One Revolution to the Other? The Metamorphosis
of the State-Regime Complex
A dominant narrative describes the postcolonial Algerian trajectory as a “revolution” which has alternately
experienced a “Party-state”, the “Islamist peril”, a “civil war” then an “autocracy”—the “crisis” of the
latter precipitating a “popular uprising” that caused the fall of the raïs and imposed a “transition”.
Breaking with the doxa, this study establishes that the domination, resulting from the counter-revolution
of the 1950s, is based on a praetorian state-regime complex. The critical sequence that starts with the
military coup of 1992 is less a “civil war” than a fierce neoliberal restructuring giving rise to the
“reinvention of tradition” of the garrison state as “organized crime”. Drawing a “strategic learning” from
the success of the praetorian counterrevolution orchestrated by the Egyptian secret police in 2013, the
powerful Algerian deep state has been arranging the anti-Bouteflika V street demonstrations. Beyond an
apparent radicalism, the hirak contributes to freezing the authoritarian status quo: anti-political, it operates
a structural avoidance of the conflicts at work in the shade of praetorian neoliberalism. Celebrating
brotherhood with the army, the late counter-revolution has increased the “caging” of the Algerian people.
Algérie : d’une révolution à l’autre ? Les métamorphoses du
complexe État-régime.
Un récit dominant décrit la trajectoire postcoloniale algérienne comme une « révolution » qui a connu tour
à tour le « Parti-État », le « péril islamiste », une « guerre civile » puis une « autocratie », la « crise » de
cette dernière précipitant un « soulèvement populaire » provoquant la chute du « raïs » et imposant une
« transition ». En rupture avec la doxa, cette étude établit que la domination politique, issue de la contre-
révolution prétorienne des années 1950, s’appuie sur un complexe État-régime prétorien. La séquence
historique qui s’ouvre avec le coup d'État militaire de janvier 1992 est moins une « guerre civile » qu’une
violente néolibéralisation prétorienne, nécessitant la réinvention de la tradition de l’État-garnison comme
« crime organisé ». Tirant un « enseignement stratégique » du succès de la gigantesque mobilisation
orchestrée par la police politique égyptienne contre le président élu Mohamed Morsi en 2013, la puissante
police secrète algérienne orchestre, canalise et encadre les manifestations de rue anti-Bouteflika V. Sous
une apparente radicalité, ledit hirak contribue à figer le statu quo autoritaire : antipolitique, il opère un
évitement structurel des conflits qui travaillent la domination néoprétorienne et néolibérale. Célébrant la
fraternité avec l’armée, cette contre-révolution pacifique achève de renforcer la « mise en cage » du peuple.
Algeria; crony capitalism; infrastructural power; military regime; neoliberalization;
shock therapy; state violence; war of maneuver.
Algérie ; capitalisme de copinage ; guerre de mouvement ; néolibéralisation ; pouvoir
infrastructurel ; régime militaire ; thérapie de choc ; violence d’État.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
Eclipsed by the topic of “transition toward market democracy” that dominated mainstream political science
throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, the study of authoritarianism has been experiencing a renewed interest
in the field in recent years.
The rediscovery of this problem, seen as obsolete, is due, on the one hand, to the
obvious failure of “transitology”
and, on the other hand, to the institutionalization, in the wake of the
neoliberalization of the welfare states, of de-democratization”, “post-democracy”, “oligarchy” and
“authoritarian freedom”.
Despite this welcomed renewal, the enigma of institutional change within
authoritarian durability remains however largely unexplored.
To avoid the fallacy that Charles Wright Mills called the “historical provincialism”, or the “assumption that
the present is a sort of autonomous creation”
, the author of The Sociological Imagination recommends
studying “trend[s] of considerable length” in order to grasp the “structure of an epoch”:
“We study trends in
an attempt to go behind events and to make orderly sense of them”.
This vigilance, which follows in the
footsteps of both Marx and Weber, is all the more justified because “many social processes require a
significant period of time to work themselves out”. Also, the investigation of such “slow-moving causal
only in the present will “not only risk studying incomplete sequences but greatly restrict the
number of cases”.
The present study aims to understand the dialectic of the event and structure and it also considers, following
in the footsteps of William Sewell Jr., that “the key to an adequate theory of event is a robust theory of
In keeping with historical sociology and as per Andrew Abbott, this study suggests that
temporarily, the “‘causal force of enchainment” is “inevitably sequential” and that “order makes a
difference”. It adds that synchronically, “reality doesn’t happen in main effects but in interaction”.
In a
radical break with “presentism”the dominant “regime of historicity” that proceeds by “tyranny of the
moment” and “rewriting, day by day, of the past”—
this research is intended to take the “historical turn”
in the study of politics seriously. Structured around the theoretical advances in historical institutionalism, this
article sees institutions as inherently “distributional instruments laden with power implications”.
once established, institutions do not remain static as gradual and incremental shifts may introduce
fundamental institutional transformations.
By perceiving change and stability as “inextricably linked”, this
perspective provides crucial insight into how institutions evolve over time.
Even if institutions matter however, not all of them matter evenly. Hence the heuristic importance of
disaggregating heterogenous authoritarianism. I therefore define a political formula as the political and
institutional arrangement of the regime and the state, (political) economy and polity.
Oddly, scholarship
tends to treat states and regimes separate, rarely bringing them together without mixing them up.
To fill
this gap, it is important to build a theoretical bridge that couples them, especially given that each aggregate
For a review of the literature, see inter alia Levitsky and Way, 2010; Art, 2012.
For a critique of the transitology model, see Stark, 1996; Stark, Bruszt, 1998; Dobry, 2000; Burawoy, 2001.
Inter alia, Collier, 1979; Cristi, 1998; Crouch, 2004; Bayart, 2008; Hall, 2008; Somers, 2008; Camau, Massardier, 2009; Dabène et al., 2010;
Levitsky and Way, 2010; Winters, 2011; Brown, 2015; Dardot, Laval, 2016; Brown et al., 2018; Chamayou, 2018; Harcourt, 2018.
Hibou, 1999; Camau, Geisser, 2003; Tsai, 2006; Heydemann, 2007; Slater, 2010; Hachemaoui, 2015.
Mills, 1959, p. 151
Ibid, pp. 151, 152.
Ibid, p.153.
Pierson, 2004, pp. 82-102.
Sewell, 2005, p. 83.
Ibid, p. 219.
Abbot, 2001, p. 193.
Koselleck, 1997; Traverso, 2011; Hartog, 2012.
Mills, 1959; Somers, 1996; Abbot, 2001; Sewell, 2005.
Mahoney and Thelen, 2010, p. 8.
Ibid; Streeck and Thelen, 2004.
For lack of space, I will deal here especially with the state-regime issue without neglecting the second one. For the relationship between
political economy and polity, see inter alia Marx, 1985; Polanyi, 1983; Hirshman, 1963 and 1986; Gamble, 1988; Weiss, 1988; Waldner, 1999;
Hibou, 2006; Amable and Palombarini, 2017.
Downing, 1992; Ertman, 1997; Slater, 2010.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
juxtaposes diverse logics of power and temporality. While the state can be characterized as the “locus of
political power”, a regime may be depicted as “that part of political system which determines how and under
what conditions and limitations the power of the state is exercised”.
Accordingly, we can apprehend “state
power” as the conceptual key to tackle the state-regime complex.
Michael Mann famously disentangled the “power of the state” along two axes: “despotic” and
“infrastructural” power. Despotic or hierarchical power, considered as a type of “distributive power”, relates
to “the range of actions which the elite [of the state] is empowered to undertake without routine,
institutionalized negotiation with civil society groups”.
Infrastructural power, considered as a type of
“collective power”, “enables states to diffuse their power through or penetrate their societies”.
It refers to
the capacity of the state to actually penetrate civil society, and to implement logistically political decisions
throughout the realm”.
Power may be “extensive” or “intensive”, “authoritative” or “diffused”.
In authoritarian systems,
infrastructural power may have “the capacity to prevent some political outcomes
from occurring by exercising not only ex ante but also ex post control over the society”.
The more a formula
combines power that is both collective and distributive, extensive and intensive, authoritative and diffuse,
the more its exercise is effective.
The system of government established in Algeria since its inception during the War of Independence (1954-
1962) seems one of the most resistant to study. Since the bloody riots of October 1988, the Algerian political
regime has undergone multiple metamorphoses: from a “single” to “multi-party system”, from a “socialist”
to a “market” economy, from an “institutionalized revolution” to “civil war”. During these transformations,
the regime appeared sometimes military and sometimes civilian, while the state looked strong at times and
weak at others. Apparently “bureaucratic-authoritarian” in periods and “populist”
in others, the Algerian
political formula remains a conundrum.
The picture has become more complicated after the popular revolts that precipitated the fall of autocrats Zine
el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt in January and February 2011.
revolutionary events were followed by the quiet re-election of the elderly and invalid Abdelaziz Bouteflika
in Algeria in April 2014, for a new presidential termthe fourth since his co-optation by the military
oligarchy in 1999and the so-called “dissolution” of the DRS (Département du Renseignement et de la
Sécurité), the powerful secret police. Street demonstrations have occurred in Algeria since February 2019
and have been presented by conventional expertise as a “major historic disruption” and a “popular uprising”
pushed “from below”, rather than a proper “revolution”. These events are presented as having caused the fall
of Bouteflika’s assumed “regime” and brought the country into “transition”.
These conjunctures invite a radical rethinking of the political formula. Does the political course sanction a
regime change or the transformation of the state? What types of institutional changes are propelled by what
kinds of processes and under what conditions?
French political scientist Michel Dobry produced a powerful sociological theory of political crises
on a few postulates including the differentiation of social fields. As he himself admits, the field of validity of
his theory does not cover the configurations in which the “destruction of the adversary” and “plots” proceed
from structuring rules of the game.
However, as I will show throughout this historical sociology, the “rise
Lawson, 1993, p. 187.
Mann, 1984, p. 188.
Mann, 2012, p. 13.
Mann, 1984, p. 189.
Mann, 2012, p. 6.
Linz, 2000, p. 159.
Przeworski, 1988, p. 60.
Mann, 2012, p. 6.
For a tight theoretical discussion of these different authoritarian configurations, see Collier, 1979.
Inter alia, Achcar, 2013; Beinin, 2016.
Dobry, 2009.
Dobry, 2009, pp. XXXIII-XXXIV, p. 25.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
to extremes”, the “destruction of the adversary” and “plots” are structuring structures of the polity—in which,
moreover, the social fields are weakly differentiated. Also, I will mobilize the conceptual instruments with
which Antonio Gramsci conceived “organic crises”, “war of position” and “war of maneuver”
to apprehend
the trajectory of the political formula in Algeria.
With Samuel Huntington, a hegemonic theory has asserted that the “no-party-state” is fragile while “strong
one-party systems are always the product of revolutionary movement from below”
. In fact, social scientists
have less studied counter-revolution than revolution.
The present study is part of a research program
intended to help fill this gap.
Following the methodology forged by Imre Lakatos, this study includes a “negative heuristic” and a “positive
Rethinking the Algerian political formula since its inception, the “hardcore” of this research
program argues that the authoritarian domination in Algeria rests on the structural logics of the praetorian
counter-revolution; the latter being not exclusive to reactionaries alone, nor is democratization the monopoly
of so-called democrats.
The “positive heuristic” or the “protective belt” of this research program seeks to
uproot the doxa in order to highlight its multiple omissions, shortcomings and blind spots.
A dominant narrative structures the understanding of Algerian politics. Invasive, it spreads across several
fields, ranging from historiography to entertainment through novels, social science and mass media. Despite
its numerous variations, the doxa describes the political trajectory of contemporary Algeria as a “revolution”
(1954-1962) that allowed the construction, over more than a quarter of a century, of a “party-nation”
“party-state” whose crisis has given rise alternately to a “democratization without democrats”, a “civil war”
and a “sultanistic” regime, the wearing of the latter precipitating a “popular uprising” that caused the fall of
the “raïs.
Beyond the “Genesis Amnesia”: Where do Institutions Come From?
Seriously defective, the conventional scholarship toward Algerian politics has multiple theoretical and
methodological shortcomings, what Gaston Bachelard called “a collection of errors”.
The primary one lies
in the misinterpretation of the foundational juncture of the war of independence. The orthodox discourse
speaks of “revolution” when, in fact, it was a “praetorian counterrevolution”. This “doxic submission”
neglects Walter Benjamin’s thesis: “all rulers are the heirs of prior conquerors. Hence, empathizing with the
victor invariably benefits the current rulers”.
Closely linked to this “original sin”, the second shortcoming
relates to the neglect of the centrality of coercion
in the formation of the Algerian authoritarian domination.
Gramsci, 1971. Dobry does not engage with the conceptual instruments forged by Gramsci in his work on crises.
Huntington, 1969, p. 418.
For notable exceptions, see Hirschman, 1991; Tilly, 1998; Mayer, 2000. Joseph de Maistre (1988) gave us a definition as concise as
penetrating of this notion : « (Ce) qu’on appelle contre-révolution ne sera point une révolution contraire, mais le contraire de la révolution ».
The revolution can be understood as the radical transformation of the structure.
Lakatos, 1978; Burawoy, 1989.
Hachemaoui, 2018.
This notion was advanced by the famous FLN “organic intellectual” Mohammed Bedjaoui (Bedjaoui, 1961). The former FLN “organic
intellectual” Mohammed Harbi has taken over this notion too (Harbi, 1980). Gramsci defines the concept of “organic intellectual” in his
notebook 12 as follows: “The intellectuals are the dominant group’s ‘deputies’ exercising the subaltern functions of social hegemony and
political government. These comprise: 1. The ‘spontaneous’ consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction
imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is ‘historically’ caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence)
which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production. 2. The apparatus of state coercive power
which ‘legally’ enforces discipline on those groups who do not ‘consent’ either actively or passively. This apparatus is, however, constituted
for the whole of society in anticipation of moments of crisis of command and direction when spontaneous consent has failed”. Gramsci, 1971,
pp. 3-23.
Among the representative works of the standard narrative, Quandt, 1969 and 1998; Harbi, 1980 and 1993; Bennoune, 1990; Addi, 1994;
Malley, 1996; Benderra 2003; Martinez, 2003 and 2012; Stora, 2001; Roberts, 2003; Harbi, Stora, 2004; Werenfels, 2007; Lowi, 2009;
Bouchène et al., 2012; Ghanem 2012; Ait Aoudia, 2015; Mundy, 2015; McDougall, 2017.
“Fond d’erreurs”, in French. Bachelard, 1966 [1949], p. 48.
Bourdieu, 2003 [1997].
Benjamin, 2013, 62. See also Koselleck, 2011, pp. 312-313. I used this framework in Hachemaoui, 2018.
This neglect is not unique to the conventional scholarship toward Algerian politics. For exceptions, see Davenport, 2007; Policzer, 2009;
Tilly, 2003; Sassoon, 2011; Greitens, 2016.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
In focusing primarily on the window-dressing and rubber stamp “storefront” for the regime (i.e, the “party-
state”, “multi-partism”, “civil society”, etc.) standard scholarship disregards the defining structure of the
political formula: “the military as an independent political force” whose “intervention is usually politically
Such praetorian logic allows the formation of what Harold Lasswell coined a “garrison state”, a
type of domination in which the “specialists (i)n violence are the most powerful group in society”.
seminal study by Samuel Finer in his classic work has not aged: “the military often work on governments
from behind the scenes; and even when they do establish a military dictatorship they usually fabricate some
quasi-civilian façade of government behind which they retire as fast as possible.
For having forgotten it,
the orthodox scholarship toward Algerian politics shows a third weakness consisting in the misapprehension
of the political violence of the 1990s as a “civil war”. The mystification fashioned by this dominant discourse
disguising the redeployment of the garrison state 2.0 as “organized crime” that allows the implementation of
the neoliberal shock therapy. Fourth, the orthodox scholarship assumes a “power-free political science”.
Hence, the record longevity of the “civilian president” orchestrated since 1999 is contemplated as the “army’s
retreat from the political stage”
and a revival of the “rentier state” while the “demilitarization” is, as I will
document, nothing but a storytelling hiding the garrison state 3.0 and the deepening of the neoliberalization
of the polity. Last but not least, the standard expertise fails to theorize the aggregation of ideas, interests and
institutionsthe so-called usual suspects of the institutional change.
The present study mobilizes the following material: an ethnographic corpus of participatory observation as student and political
journalist in Algeria during the 1990s; an ethnographic fieldwork in multiple regions of the country from 1999 to 2013, on
authoritarian elections and political corruption;
interviews with key military and civilian figures from Algerian politics; an
archival corpus and (unpublished) memoirs of leading former officials; documentary material constituted by the Journal officiel
of the government from 1962 to 2019; the Algerian and a selection of the international press from the 1930s to nowadays
(Arabic, French and English); a participant observation and interviews conducted during the so-called “révolution du sourire”
with students and unemployed youth in Algiers between February and mid-August 2019.
The obvious deterioration of Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s health (following a stroke that had him hospitalized in
France from April to July 2013) prevented the raïs” from addressing his people and participating in
international summit meetingstwo activities he would have willingly engaged in. It also brought to the
surface a crucial and however neglected question: who (really) governs Algeria?
In this context, media and experts have established a hegemonic narrative asserting that Bouteflika’s “re-
election” sanctioned, if not the “dismantling”, at least the “loss of leadership” of the DRS to the advantage
of the presidency, the army chief of staff, or a vaporous set of interest groups. The announcement on 13
September 2015 of the “retirement” of army general Mohamed Mediene from a quarter of a century
commanding the powerful DRS seemed to represent the apex of this process. Though variegated, the assumed
Algerian “independent press”, mobilizing the pathos of history, proclaims unanimously that the “retirement”
of general Mediene signified a “political earthquake”, the “fall of a myth”, and the “end of an era”.
An article published in French newspaper Le Monde a few hours after the announcement of this presumed
“forced departure” gives texture to this narrative: “The operation of ‘pruning back’ the powers of the Algerian
security services [the DRS] that has been at work for the last two years in Algeria has now reached its height
with the retirement of their head, general Mohamed Mediene”.
The report was prima facie confirmed by
the announcement from the president’s office of the “dissolution of the DRS”.
Yet striking, these news are
false. As Marc Bloch wrote,
Finer, 1962, p. 4.
Lasswell, 1941.
Finer, 1962, p. 4.
To quote the leading expert Hugh Roberts:
Blyth, 2002.
Hachemaoui, 2011; 2013.
See among the most authoritative newspapers: El Watan (in French) and El Khabar (in Arabic) of 14 September 2015.
(accessed 7 June 2016).
49 (accessed 4 May 2016).
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
False stories in the press are certainly interesting, on the condition that their characteristics are
properly recognized […] In most cases, false stories in the press are invented, made up
according to a preconceived pattern in order to manipulate public opinion or in response to an
order coming from above. In other cases, they are simply to fill out a larger narrative of events
And the great historian asked: “what would one say of research into the Napoleonic legend that left out the
question of influence peddling […]? Probably that it had neglected to look into the most important issues”.
By taking up the celebrated story, conventional accounts of Algerian politics do not avoid such bias, and fail
to critically examine the source material.
The first shortcoming lies in the triviality of the narrative. How could a man who has been seriously ill since
the autumn of 2005, and who has had difficulty moving and speaking since spring 2013 be able to “dissolve”
or even neutralize the commanding centralized coercive institution of the DRS? The secret police, it should
be remembered, had preempted the political process in Algeria even before the January 1992 coup, and
Bouteflika owed it his own cooptation in April 1999 and his subsequent authoritarian re-elections, as well as
the judicial immunity handed to his relatives. The official story of the “weakening of the DRS” that spread
only after Bouteflika’s stroke on 27 April 2013, eludes this reality.
Additionally, the dominant tale suffers from weakness relative to, if not the “tyranny of the moment”
its counterpart “antihistoricalism”
or what Bourdieu called the “genesis amnesia”
at least the
misinterpretation of the politics structuring the authoritarian formula.
Revolution vs Counterrevolution
The issue of political leadership goes back to the crisis of the nationalist movement (1951-1954).
and charismatic leader of Algerian nationalism, Messali Hadj (1898-1974) was politically socialized in
France during the 1920s and 1930s. Married with Émilie Busquant, a French woman born in a family of
anarcho-syndicalists in the region of Lorraine, Messali Hadj built close relationships within revolutionary
left parties, anti-fascists and anti-stalinian intellectuals such as Daniel Guérin, Robert-Jean Longuet, Yves
Deschezelles, Alfred Rosmer, Marceau Pivert, Pierre Monatte and Jean Rous.
Fascinated during his youth
by Mustapha Kemal (Atatürk), Messali Hadj was later impregnated by the spirit of the Great revolution of
1789. He designed the Constituent assembly as a junction between a democratic program and antifeudal
Geopolitics got the better of Messali and his proletarian movement for the first time in the mid-1930s. The
Laval-Stalin pact of May 1935, devoting the allegiance of the French Communist Party to Moscow, entombed
the issue of independence for the colonized peoples. Thus, although supporting the French Front Populaire
government, the Etoile Nord-Africaine
was banned by the latter. This was also the case for the Parti du
Peuple Algérien (PPA). Founded by Messali Hadj and Abdallah Filali on 11 March 1937, the PPA was
forbidden after it had exhibited the Algerian flag for the first time on this side of the Mediterranean, during
the demonstrations of 14 July 1937 in Algiers.
The fallacious argument that was put forward by the French
Communist Party to ban the PPA and jail Messali and his companions was “trotskism”. An article published
Bloch, 1999 [1921], pp. 24-25. My own translation.
Ibid, p. 28.
Among the significant articles that exemplify these biases, read the one produced by the influential Algeria Watch: https://algeria- On the methodological issue of the critical examination of the source material, see Bloch, 1949.
In French, “tyrannie de l’instant”. See Hartog, 2012.
Somers, 1996.
Bourdieu, 1977; Bourdieu, 2000. This bias is particularly pronounced in Kalyvas, 1999 and Mundy, 2015.
Harbi, 1980; Simon, 2004.
See Guérin, 1973; Stora, 1982; Messali, 1980; Simon, 1998 ; Messali-Benkelfat, 2013.
Simon, 2005.
The Etoile Nord-Africaine was an association created in 1926 by North African immigrant workers and trade unionists within the framework
of the French Communist Party. Among its founders were Abdelkader Hadj Ali and Messali Hadj, respectively executive and permanent
member of the PCF. See Carlier, 1995.
The flag was sewn in 1934 by Emilie Busquant.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
by French newspaper L’Humanité on 29 August 1939 titled “Six trotskists arrested in Algiers for
reconstituting a dissolved league” (“Six Trotskistes arrêtés à Alger pour reconstitution de ligue dissoute”):
Messali and the nationalist party continued the adventurous policy inspired by the trotskyist Ferrat and
speculating on the religious feelings and the aspirations of the Algerian masses for a freer life […] The
arrests of these auxiliaries of fascism provoked no reaction among the Muslim population who
supports the Front Populaire […]
Parti Communiste d’Algérie (PCA) executive Amar Ouzegane played a key role in this repression. He wrote:
Speculating on the national sentiment of our Muslim populations and their consequent dissatisfaction
with the slowness that the governments of the Popular Front have put into realizing our just demands,
the PPA has embarked on the odious mission of provoking our Muslim populations, divert them from
their claiming struggles and lead them to adventure.
Le parlement algérien. Organe de défense et d’émancipation du peuple algérien is the title of the journal
Messali and his comrades of the proletarian PPA wrote during their detention in the prison of Maison-Carrée
(Algiers) in 1939. This publication translates the articulation between the democratic and antifeudal struggle.
The following extract is taken from an article dedicated to the 150th anniversary of the French Revolution:
One hundred and fifty years ago, the French, exasperated, oppressed by a feudal and inhuman regime,
descended from the old suburb of Saint-Antoine to seize and destroy the Bastille that symbolized in
their eyes all the servitudes they suffered from men in short pants and silk stockings […] This is the
beginning of this great revolution which has shaken so many kings and borrowers […] The
revolutionaries of the great eighty-nine days said in their enthusiasm that wherever they pass, the wind
of freedom will pass with them […] The Algerian people, who suffer from the colonial servitudes
imposed on them in the name of democracy, can only bow very low before this revolution […] We
wanted to publish this Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in full, so that readers and
activists can know it in order to know how to profit from it […].
Albert Camus, who was removed from the Parti Communiste Algérien in 1937 for having criticized the
politics of hostility towards Messali’s proletarian PPA that the stalinist organization had adopted in line with
the Stalin-Laval pact, remembered this turning point:
[…] I was responsible for recruiting Arab activists, and getting them into a nationalist organization
[the Etoile-Nord Africaine, and later the PPA]. I did it and these Arab activists became my comrades,
whose dress and loyalty I admired. The turning point of [19]36 has come. These activists were
prosecuted and imprisoned, their organization dissolved, in the name of a policy approved and
encouraged by the PC. Some, who had escaped research, came to ask me if I would let this infamy
happen without saying anything. This afternoon remained engraved in me; I still remember that I was
shaking while being spoken to; I was ashamed; then I did the right thing.
The “election of a Constituent assembly by universal suffrage of all the habitants of Algeria without
distinction of race or religion” has constituted the cornerstone of Messali’ secular political approach since
his foundational speech in Brussels at the seminal anti-imperialist league congress of February 1927.
Influenced by the Third Communist International, the leader of the Algerian nationalist movement, hitherto
permanent member of the French Communist Party, articulated his project around the building of a mass
party to mobilize the people, weave a class alliance with the French proletarian movement, for the
La Lutte sociale, 2 October 1937. My own translation.
Le Parlement algérien, first year, 18 May 1939.
Camus-Grenier, 1981, p. 180. My own translation. Albert Camus in the original French version: “[…] On m’avait chargé de recruter des
militants arabes, et de les faire rentrer dans une organisation nationaliste. Je l’ai fait et ces militants arabes sont de venus mes camarades, dont
j’admirais la tenue et la loyauté. Le tournant de 36 est venu. Ces militants ont été poursuivis et emprisonnés, leur organisation dissoute, au nom
d’une politique approuvée et encouragée par le PC. Quelques-uns, qui avaient échappé aux recherches, sont venus me demander si je laissais
faire cette infamie sans rien dire. Cet après-midi est resté gravé en moi ; je me souviens encore que je tremblais alors qu’on me parlait; j’avais
honte; j’ai fait ensuite ce qu’il fallait”.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
internationalization of the “Algerian problem”,
and the tactical use of violence against police and military
targets. In a message addressed to the general assembly of the Zimmerwald Circle in January 1954, Messali
Hadj (Honorary president of the Zimmerwald Circle of the French city of Niort) wrote:
There are roughly half a million North Africans in France. And only in the Paris region, there are
nearly 150,000 Algerians. Driven from their country following a shameful expropriation and
exploitation, they now live a little on the fringes of the French people […] Consequently, the French
working class needs, in its fight against capitalism, forces of the North African peoples fighting against
imperialism and vice versa […] For that all the circles where the problems affecting the interests of
the working class and internationalism are discussed must also link the problems of North Africans to
their own.
Structuring the praxis of Messali Hadj since the Etoile Nord-Africaine, the strategic articulation between the
workers issue and that of the independance invalidates the hegemonic narrative asserting that “in Algeria, the
colonial domination did not create a bourgeoisie and a proletariat capable of leading the struggle for
The orthodox narrative that describes Messali Hadj under the guise of an alleged “islamo-
as does the leading historian Mohammed Harbi in his influential workcuriously neglects two
major historical facts. First, the emergence of capitalism in Algeria dates back to the Second Empire.
Second, activists of the Etoile Nord-Africaine and of the Parti du Peuple Algérien socialized within the CGTU
(Confédération générale du travail unitaire), as much as Messali Hadj built a class alliance with the leaders
of the leftist and revolutionary movements since 1926.
Opposed to his Weltanschauung, FLN leaders whom Nasser’s garrison state supported launched an armed
struggle on 1 November 1954. Whereas Messali Hadj had made a good case for political and social
revolution, the FLN took the steps of the independence through counterrevolution. Breaking with the
structuring plea of a “Constituent Assembly elected by all the inhabitants of Algeria without distinction of
race or religion”, in its Proclamation read from Cairo, the FLN advocated the “restoration of the Algerian
state” of the Ottoman era (1515-1830) “within the framework of Islamic principles” and the “achievement of
North African unity in its natural Arab-Muslim framework”.
In a public declaration sent to the Agence
France Presse (AFP) from his house arrest in 8 November 1954, Messali Hadj denounced the colonial
“regime of exception” and its “repressive frenzy which takes up the methods of May 1945”, and reaffirmed
the strategy of his movement:
Yesterday as today, we will continue to work so that the friendship which links Algerian workers to
the French people develops in the struggle for our two peoples, free from colonial and capitalist
servitude, to move forward towards freedom, progress, justice and solidarity among peoples.
Supporting the workers’ strikes of the Atlantic Loire in the summer of 1955, a leaflet of the Messalist
movement transcribed:
In a magnificent surge of workers’ solidarity, the workers fought and are still bravely fighting against
the employers, the government and their CRS at the very moment that imperialism is trying to crush
by force the national aspirations of the Algerian people and the legitimate demands of French workers
Rous, 1955; Simon, 2004, pp. 278-279. The orthodox historiography observes an eloquent silence on this important diplomatic issue. Harbi
(1980, p. 160) however claimed that the “MNA’s tactical pro-westernism” (“le pro-occidentalisme tactique du MNA”) would have alienate(d)
him from the esteem of Third World leaders such as Nehru”.
Révolution prolétarienne, February 1954 (My own translation); Simon, 2005.
Harbi, 1980, p. 2.
Harbi, 1984, pp. 121-123.
Inter alia Nouschi, 1961; Rey Goldzeiguer, 1977; Ernest-Picard, 1930.
By taking up the anathema of “populism” launched by the stalinists against Messali Hadj and his proletarian comrades, the dominant narrative
forged by the former FLN organic intellectual, the leftist Harbi, was moreover suitable for the PCF.
Harbi, 1981, pp. 101-103.
The archive is reproduced in Simon, 2005.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
[…] This means that the united action of the Algerian and French peoples can at this moment be
decisive and strike a fatal blow to the imperialist exploiter of all workers […].
The cooptation of Abane Ramdanewho benefited from a remission of sentence in January 1955at the
head of the FLN in March 1955 marks the revenge of the counterrevolutionary current of the MTLD
(Mouvement pour le triomphe des libertés démocratiques, created in 1947 in lieu of the dissolved PPA) on
the revolutionary one embodied by Messali Hadj. Indeed, the FLN auto-proclaimed chief clearly intended to
revive the reformist project of the “Congrès national algérien”: rid of Messali Hadj, placed by the colonial
authority under house arrest in Niort in May 1952, the petty bourgeois and right wing MTLDconducted by
Kiouane and Ben Kheddaset about building a counterrevolutionary rally ranging from the stalinist Parti
Communiste Algérien (PCA) to the religious Ulemas through the liberal reformists of the UDMA (Union
démocratique du manifeste algérien, funded by Ferhat Abbas).
However, it was the continuation of this counter-revolutionary policy by the reformists, allied since May
1953 with the liberal mayor of Algiers and former head of French counterintelligence in America during
the Second World War Jacques Chevallier, that caused the deep crisis of the PPA-MTLD.
The new mayor
of Algiers co-opted the established lawyer and MTLD’s reformist Abderrahmane Kiouane as vice-mayor.
Noteworthy, Kiouane was “related to the main families of the Muslim bourgeoisie”.
Prosperous bourgeois
and practicing Catholic Jacques Chevallier declared: “Maître Kiouane on behalf of all his colleagues
approved my point of view and undertook to work for the City Council ... without ever getting involved in
politics. This pact was to be faithfully observed by all Muslim members of the City Council until their
disappearance in turmoil”.
The revolutionary wing of the PPA-MTLD, who considered Chevallier as a
managed to regain control of the organization, hold a congress in Hornu (Belgium) in
July 1954 and elect a Conseil National de la Révolution.
Former high school comrade of Ben Khedda and
Kiouane, Abane Ramdane received the decisive support of Jacques Chevallier’s allies.
Abbane was quickly
supported by the reformists liberals of Ferhat Abbas’s UDMA, stalinist Amar Ouzegane, the Muslim
bourgeoisie and a fraction of the Algerian European Christians like the priest Jean Scotto, head of the Mission
de France in Algeria and Alexandre Chaulet, executive leader of the Christian trade union CFTC
(Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens), both close friends of Jacques Chevallier.
For the latter,
who became Minister of war in Pierre Mendès France’s government, there was possibly “a card to play with
Kiouane and his friends”.
Also, Abbane intended, from the start, to mark a radical break with the legacy of
the PPA: in a leaflet published in Consciences Maghrébines, a Christian journal,
Abane Ramdane
considered “the FLN as a rally, not as a party”.
In a letter addressed in October 1955 to the FLN’s external
delegation based in Cairo, the Algerian Thermidor set the political orientation:
You must have received a letter from x regarding the creation of a political rally [of reformists]: the
UDMA [of Ferhat Abbas], the centralists [of MTLD], Ulemas and independents. We have given our
agreement on the condition that the assembly is the projection, legally, of the Front.
Simon, 2004, pp. 87-88.
Bennoune and El Kenz, 1990; Harbi, 1980; Simon, 2004.
Chevallier, 1958, p. 135.
Ibid, p. 134.
La nation algérienne, 1 October 1954.
Vaujour, 1985.
Jacques Chevallier was appointed Secretary of State for War from 19 June 1954 to 20 January 1955 then Minister of War from 20 January
to 23 February 1955. At the same time Jacques Soustelle, former boss of the French secret services from 1943 to 1945, was appointed by the
Cabinet of Pierre Mendès France as Gouverneur général d’Algérie from 1 February 1955 to 30 January 1956.
Scotto, 1991, pp. 156-158 ; Chaullet, 2012, p. 186.
Quoted by Vaujour, 1985, p. 328.
The journal was managed by André Mandouze, a “progressist Christian” very close to Jean Scotto and whose editorial staff included, since
its creation in March 1954, reformists close to Ben Khedda such as Mohamed Salah Louanchi. See Mandouze, 1998, p. 222. In his mémoires,
the regional head of Mission de France, Jean Scotto, gave an indication concerning the links between the reformists of the MTLD and the
Mission de France: “On 21 November 1954, the day of the ‘Présentation de la Vierge Marie au Temple’. The Church (Hussein-Dey chruch in
Algiers) is full. At the back, a group of Muslims... In the group were Benyoussef Ben Khedda (…) and Salah Louanchi (…)”Scotto, 1991, p.
92. See also Louanchi, 1999 and Chaullet, 2012.
Belhocine, 2000, p. 88.
Belhocine, 2000, p. 94.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
It is here that the so-called incremental independence (“indépendence par étapes”) put forward by the
leadership of the FLN in September 1955in an approach reminiscent of that adopted by the Tunisian neo-
Destour party of Bourguiba
takes on its full significance.
The then reformist Abane Ramdane, who
meets the Mendesist Robert Barrat (Secretary General of the Centre catholique des intellectuels français) and
the stalinist (and former gaullist) Francis Jeanson in Algiers,
can thus state: “The Chinese led both national
resistance and social revolution […] For us the second problem was not on the agenda. We took up arms for
a definite purpose: national liberation”.
In January 1956, André Mandouze met Pierre Mendès-France in
Paris and “passed him the pre-negotiation proposals developed by the two highest leaders of the FLN present
in Algiers: Abane Ramdane and Benyoussed Benkhedda”.
At the same time the two top officials of the
FLN installed the reformist Mohamed Salah Louanchi at the head of the Federation of France of the FLN.
Praetorianism: The Formation of a Regime
The FLN leaders who accused Messali Hadj of treason installed an informal collegial leadership instead of
an institutionalized mass party. “Despotic power” was increasingly exercised by the praetorian
elite whose
institutional origins date back to the FLN triumvirate—the famous “3B” of Boussouf, Belkacem and Ben
With regard to institutional foundations, the triumvir Lakhder Ben Tobbal recommended the de
facto institution over the de jure one (Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic: GPRA), declaring:
“we had to appoint a president but keep the real power in our hands”.
The original institutional weakness
of the GPRA and FLN explains the pre-independence disintegration of these two apparatuses in favor of the
praetorian force. Since then, the college of praetorians
has made and defeated presidents, from Ferhat Abbas
in 1958 to Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2014.
Preparing for the launch of the revolution since the congress of the MTLD held in Hornu (in Belgium, on 14-
17 July 1954)
and despite being taken aback by the FLN, Messali decided to send to Krim Belkacem
(maquisard and co-founder of the FLN) 2 millions French Francs collected from the Algerian workers in
France, from the first days of November 1954.
However, in the meantime the FLN leadership had
established dirty tricks politics as a mode of settling conflicts. One of the main leaders of the FLN, Ahmed
Ben Bella declared:
We were not unaware, in fact, that in the event of a “hard blow”, the French government would
not fail to dissolve the MTLD and to imprison its officials. What the government did, to our
great relief.
Conspiracy was at the root of this process, as evidenced by the way the famous FLN leader Yacef Saadi
agreed to collaborate with the colonial police in delivering the Messalist bastion of the Casbah of Algiers in
May 1955.
Messali Hadj
and the executives of the MNA (Mouvement National Algérien, the party he had
founded immediately after the colonial dissolution of the MTLD on 5 November 1954) were the inaugural
victims of the colonial torture and the FLN’s dirty tricks politics. The latter was defined by Abane Ramdane
as the rotting—“le pourrissement.
From his cooptation at the head of the FLN in March 1955, Abane
Ramdane launched his calls for the murder of the Messalists in Consciences Maghrébines:
Julien, 1985.
Barrat, 1955.
Ibid; Jacquin, 1977, pp. 116-117; Tessier, 2016.
Jeanson, 2006 [1955], p. 302. My own translation.
Mandouze, 1998, p. 246.
Finer, 1962; Huntington, 1969; Nordlinger, 1977.
Harbi, 1980; Meynier, 2002.
Ben Tobbal, unpublished manuscript.
Hachemaoui, 2009, 2011.
Vaujour, 1985, pp. 228-230, p. 233.
Harbi, 1980; Simon, 2004.
Merle, 1965, pp. 96-97.
On the testimony of Yacef Saadi see Duchemin, 1962, pp. 214-215 and Godar, 1972, pp. 108-109. In the Battle of Algiers, the celebrated
film he produced and in which he played his own role, Yacef Saadi ignored this historical episode. The orthodox narrative did the same.
According to Harbi, the founder of the FLN, Mohammed Boudiaf, gave instructions to assassinate Messali Hadj from the beginning of 1955.
See Harbi, 1980, p. 152.
Belhocine, 2000, pp. 150 and 156.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
Algerian people […] we warn you against those who maintain confusion […] to divert you from the
real path. The National Liberation Army tribunal will be ruthless towards traitors and enemies of the
The rotting strategy intensified after the Bandung conference (18-24 April 1955) initiated by Indian Prime
Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Pandit Nehru, who had known Messali Hadj since the anti-imperialist league
congress of Brussels in 1927, read the discourse send by the proscribed Algerian revolutionary leader during
this famous international summit. In this discourse he reaffirmed the democratic solution to the Algerian
We ask the Conference to denounce the colonial war in Algeria, to engage in a dialogue with the real
representatives of the people for a sovereign Constituent assembly elected by universal suffrage
without distinction of race or religion, in order to give voice to the people in accordance with the
Charter of the United Nations and (the right) of peoples to self-determination.
Threatened on his left by a respected and mobilizing revolutionary leader and on his right by rivals who
contested his legitimacy to command, Abane embarked on a counter-revolutionary journey forward to impose
himself as the sole interlocutor vis-à-vis the French government. In addition to the support of the MTLD’s
reformers, Abane now had the enthusiastic support of the stalinist Ouzegane, the very one who, standing
behind the colonial government, had denouncedtogether with his colleagues from the leadership of the
PCA and the PCF—“Hitler’s agents of the PPA”
during the bloody massacre of Sétif-Guelma-Kherrata in
May 1945. In a letter sent in September 1955 to the FLN external delegation installed in Nasser’s Egypt, the
now assumed counter-revolutionary Abane, admitted:
We feared that the base would still be Messalist because the front does not exist [...] Messali [...] has
become Algeria’s No. 1 enemy [...] We have decided to shoot down Messali.
While, following the stalinian method of the FLN leader “any conscious Messalist [had] to be shot without
the FLN’s “Fédération de France” had to tackle “the destruction of Messalists”.
An official
document written by the “propaganda commission” of the “Fédération de France du FLN”
in February
1957 advocated for groundbreaking rules: the political assassination of MNA’s executives and the
establishment of a “close control over the political activities” of Algerian workers. Let us disclose this
forgotten document sent to the leadership of the FLN and quote its most significant extracts:
[While] the MNA is already anchored in the masses […] the militants of the FLN […] are
insufficiently prepared politically […] and they do not have the same knowledge of France and
emigration as the MNA executives […] In addition, the MNA benefits from the complicity of part of
the French left […] These various factors have enabled the MNA not only to survive but to vitalize
[…] The Front’s rallies [are] more and more limited […] A few months ago, it was extremely easy to
strike the head of the MNA and to remove the real persons responsible for this situation […] As for
the USTA [Union Syndicale des Travailleurs Algeriens] and the merchants union, their existence is
closely linked to that of the MNA […] These unions nevertheless allow the MNA to carry out a great
activity in terms of political contacts with the French […] The existence of many Algerian workers, a
significant part of which is affiliated to French unions […] poses important questions […] They pose
many problems that require close control over the political activities they may have, especially since
they are not unrelated to a certain political confusion […] There is a need here for clarification […]
and rapid “bringing into line”. There are far too many more or less mandated “spokespersons”, people
Simon, 2004, pp. 278-279.
Sivan, 1976, p. 141.
Belhocine, 2000, pp. 91-92. Without bringing the slightest proof in support of his statement, the former FLN “organic intellectual”
Mohammed Harbi affirmed that “Messali will publicly pay tribute” to Abane Ramdane. Harbi, 1980, p. 128.
Belhocine, 2000, p. 150.
Ibid, p. 156.
Mohammed Harbi, who was a member of this commission, gave its component in his Le FLN mirage et réalité, p. 412.
See Révolution africaine, n°46, 14 December 1963, pp. 12-14.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
who “embody the Revolution and who dream of bringing the two camps closer” […] One principle
should prevail: no political activity by uncontrolled Algerians […] Direct action in France will no
doubt be a necessary stage in the liberation war. It is difficult for us to appreciate the choice of the
moment, the extent and the forms that it must take […] If we think that the breaking point is close
enough, that is to say that the politico-military balance of power force will soon turn in our favor, then
it becomes an immediate necessity to accelerate this evolution […]
Mohammed Harbi, who published this archive in December 1964 in Révolution africaine, the propaganda
newspaper of the newly Algerian garrison state of which he was the editor in addition to his tasks of
presidential adviser and member of parliament later omitted to mention these noteworthy archives in his
influential work on the history of contemporary Algeria.
The destruction of pluralism required by FLN
theorists reached its climax in France where the Messalist movement benefitted from an organization,
experienced activits, anchoring in the masses and the complicity of a fringe of the French radical left. While
Messali Hadj escaped a deadly attack, his comrades of the proletarian Union Syndicale des Travailleurs
Algériens (USTA) were murderedas were the anarchosyndicalists by the stalinists during the Spanish civil
warincluding the valued Abdallah Filali and Ahmed Bekhat, by FLN commandos in the autumn of 1957.
During its foundational congress, which gathered nearly 300 delegates
and that Mohammed Harbi
disregarded in his account on “Le MNA contre le FLN”,
the USTA had made the following appeal: “It is
unworthy of our people to give the world the spectacle of brothers tearing each other apart. It is inconceivable
to witness accounts, to these collective massacres without acting to put an end to them”.
Messali sent a
message to the USTA congress:
You must already seek by all means the links of cooperation with the non-Muslim Algerians who are
our compatriots and with whom we will tomorrow build the new Algeria on the basis of equality,
fraternity and social justice. This great work, which requires all our intelligence and our human spirit,
requires a firm will to create a situation where the other ethnic minorities who live in Algeria find i n
us the friendship, the understanding, the security, which they need at the moment where the biggest
transformations are at work. I tell you: although the most atrocious misery embraces our people, we
must present ourselves to our brothers of other ethnic minorities as liberators, not only of a part of the
Algerian people, but of all the Algerian population.
Condemning the assassination of USTA trade unionists, Albert Camus formulated his statement in the
following terms:
Are we going to let the best union activists be assassinated by an organization that seems to want to
conquer, by assassination, the totalitarian leadership of the Algerian movement? We kill them one
after the other and each activist who sows the Algerian future sinks a little deeper into the night. It
must be said at least, and as high as possible, to prevent anti-colonialism from becoming the good
conscience which justifies everything and first of all the killers.
After resorting to urban terrorism,
the FLN executed the infamous massacres of Mechta Kasbaa village
near Melouza on the edge of Kabylia and Hodna regions whose inhabitants refused to abjure their loyalty to
Messaliand Wagram in the west of the country (near Saïda), killing more than 335 civilians in May-June
The violent praetorian counterrevolution, decidedly favored by awful colonial repression,
Harbi, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1993.
Combat, 10 October 1957; Le Monde, 29 October 1957.
Including Algerian women workers. Combat, 1 July 1957; Le Monde, 1 July 1957; Le Monde, 2 July 1957.
Harbi, 1980.
Combat, 1 July 1957.
Le Monde, 2 July 1957.
My own translation. Quoted in original by Ageron, 1990.
Pervillé, 2002.
Combat, 1 June 1957; Demain, 13-19 June 1957; Combat, 14 June 1957; Le Figaro, 1-2 June 1957; Articles et documents, 4 June 1957.
Branche, 2001; Vidal-Naquet, 1972.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
no one, not even its own designers: Abane Ramdane was assassinated in late December 1957 in a plot
orchestrated by the “3B” and executed by the secret police in Morocco.
Caught between the blindness and repression of the colonial forces on one side and the terror of the counter-
revolution on the other, the project of the democratic revolution carried by Messali Hadj, his fellow unionists
and anti-capitalist and anti-stalinian allies was defeated for a second and final time. By bringing their
respective supports to a right-wing nationalism, the antagonist forces which structured the North-African
geopolitical configuration sealed the fate of the revolution as a democratic exit from the colonial situation.
Also, the FLN gradually benefitted from the support of the Egyptian garrison state and the Arab League,
Franco—NATO’s ally—and the Vatican as well as satellites of the stalinian Eastern bloc.
The Garrison State and Praetorian Dilemma
From this uncertain historic sequence, which was at the foundation of the praetorian polity, the victors learnt
a founding lesson: the counterrevolution, with its structuring rules of conspiracy, political assassination,
protection racket, is effective to “destroy” the enemy from within”. Also, the Algerian political trajectory
was scattered with conspiracies (such as those of Lamouri in 1959, Cap Sigli in 1979, October 1988) and
political assassinations of opponents (from the killings of Filali and Bekhat in 1957, Mohammed Khider in
1967, Krim Belkacem in 1970 to that of Ali André Mécili in 1987) and successive coups (1959, 1962, 1965,
Until the 1990s, the “infrastructural power” of the Algerian state included the army and other apparatuses of
coercion, as well as the national hydrocarbons company Sonatrach, the diplomatic apparatus, state-owned
banks and enterprises of state capitalism, the single party, the “administered mass organizations”, the
(Algerian) Ecole nationale d’administration and the intelligentsia. Colonel Boumediene, the artisan of the
August 1962 putsch and of the June 1965 coup, failed to escape the insoluble praetorian dilemma:
restrict the government to the military at the risk of being ousted by praetorian rivals or to incorporate civilian
forces into the ruling elites at the risk of losing state power. Like Nasser
who feared military coups as well
as popular mobilization, Boumediene did not build a party-state
(a communist-style formula that would
require mobilization) but rather a garrison state. In so doing, Colonel Boumediene had to solve another
dilemma: who guards the guardians? However, to avoid the counter-power of a chief of staff, whatever the
cost of sufferinglike Nasser with the famous Marshal AmarBoumedienne had to guard the guardians
through a dreaded apparatus.
The Sécurité Militaire was the heir to the MALG that had been set up by
Abdelhafidh Boussouf in 1957. Fearing above all an alliance between part of the ruling elite and a socially
anchored oppositionsuch as that outlined in the agreement concluded on 16 June 1965 by President Ahmed
Ben Bella and the leader of the Front des Forces Socialistes Hocine Aït Ahmed, the putschist and barely
legitimate Colonel Boumedienne opted for a particular institutional design: the centralization, at his level, of
the coercive institution. This formula enabled Boumediene to directly control the apparatus responsible for
guarding the guardians and penetrating society, where fragmentation and exclusivity of the secret police did
not respond to threats to his nascent dictatorship regime.
Hence, the right-handed veto coup of 19 June
1965 and the removing of the army’s chief of staff following the failed coup of December 1967. The structure
was reestablished seventeen years later, only. In the wake of this coup-proofing”,
Boumediene, as Hassan
II and Nasser had done, used political corruption to “hold” his senior officers.
In this garrison state, the single party held no such congress during the long reign of Boumediene. At the
opposite of the communist formula, in the Algerian regime it was the (political police) officer who oversaw
Ben Tobbal, unpublished manuscript; Harbi, Meynier, 2004.
Clapham and Edge, 1985.
Kandil, 2012; Waterbury, 1981.
Martinez, 2012.
Hachemaoui, 2015.
This institutional arrangement contrasts with the theory proposed by Greitens, 2016.
Quinlivan, 1999; Kamrava, 2000.
Hachemaoui, 2012a; Waterbury, 1976.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
the political commissar. In such configuration, the Sécurité Militaire (SM) not only controlled civilians, but
sought to guard the guardians as well. According to Khaled Nezzar who was Lieutenant-Colonel at the time,
“We hated the men of Kasdi Merbah [chief of the Sécurité Militaire during the 1960s and 1970s]. We
considered them as snitches”.
The post-Boumediene succession in December 1978 reflected this mutual
hostility, constraining the secret police by favoring colonel Chadli Bendjedid, chief of a military region little
attracted by power, to become president.
The ruling coalition formed around the primus inter pares and
his praetorian allies of the military regions rapidly succeeded, however, in dislodging the head of the secret
police. And for the first time since independence, after the “Berber spring” of April 1981 the apparatus of the
secret policethe Military Securitywas entrusted to Medjdoub Lakhal Ayat, an officer not belonging to
the secret services.
Working behind the scenes, the praetorians developed pseudo-politics, a politics of dissimulation that made
real politics as imperceptible as possible. As a type of infrastructural power, pseudo-politics crafts and
orchestrates a “political society” and a “civil society” of substitution in place of genuine political
representation. Pseudo-politics is not intended to depoliticize the population, but to prevent politicization of
the society against the regime. In this respect, it can sponsor elections, assemblies and even street
demonstrations, but pseudo-politics “do not affect policymaking or the composition of the ruling elite”.
The official trade union apparatuscreated by the FLN in the crucial founding moment of the destruction of
the USTAhas always been subordinate to the praetorian force and designed as an instrument of pseudo-
The totalitarian left of the Algerian Communist Party (PCA), which had rallied to the FLN in the
context of the elimination of the trotskyist” Messalist movement, followed the same fate—even before
To establish disciplinary control over the population, those in power used propaganda defined as “a set of
methods employed by an organized group that wants to bring about the active or passive participation in its
actions of a mass of individuals, psychologically unified through psychological manipulations and
incorporated in an organization”.
As “propaganda must be total”, the “propagandist (should) use all of the
technical means at his disposal—the press, radio, TV, movies, posters, meetings, canvassing”.
To achieve
this aim, “propaganda is always institutionalized to the extent that there exists an ‘Apparat’ in the German
sense of the term—a machine”.
The Algerian political police, trained at the KGB and Stasi schools, had
always controlled this “ideological power” through which it broadcast (in psychology, movies, novels and
academia) a “thin”, “pragmatic” and “institutionalized ideology”
seeking to preserve the praetorian
Before the “liberalization”
of 1989, the media was influenced through censorship and propaganda
exercises by an Agitprop ministerial department called the Ministry of Information (and Culture). The
underground route consisted of placing propagandists in key positions in the governmental agency (Algérie
Presse Service), the appointment of correspondents of such official media and other leading newspapers in
the main capitals of the world—most of them will be recycled overnight in the so called “independent press”
after 1989. An entire structure of the DRSheir to the SMis dedicated to the control of information,
bringing together services from the recruitment of journalists to the drawing up of media strategies.
Interview with the author, Algiers, November 2010.
Interviews with general Rachid Benyelles and Abdelhamid Mehri (respectively Algiers, June 2003 and November 2010).
Kasza, 1995, p. 59.
In a letter sent from Cairo by the FLN’s external delegation to Abane Ramdane, we can read: “Our friends have made contact with the (Irvin
Brown’s) ICFTU... and convinced the CIA leaders that nothing serious will be done on the union plane without the Front [de Libération
nationale] […] What it is needed […] is a scenario: set up a committee, make a manifesto of the workers […]”, Belhocine, 2000, pp. 147-148.
Ellul, 2006, p. 31.
Ibid, pp. 11, 13.
Mann, 2009, p. 348.
Przeworski, 1988, p. 61.
Many influential journalists had been military school cadets. Author’s discussion with two of them (Paris, August 2012, June 2014): Adlène
Meddi (Le Point and Middle East Eye) and Akram Belkaïd (Le Monde diplomatique, previously editor-in-chief of the newspaper of a French
neoliberal think-tank close to the hexagonal power elite as well as to the Ben Ali regime: IPMED). “Héritier”, Akram Belkaïd is the son of
well-established apparatchiki: former director of a military high school (ENITA) turned civilian and wealthier high official. In an article
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
the Islamist subversion” to the “decapitation of the DRS”, Algerian politics is awash with such stories.
Therefore, by reading such storytelling uncritically, standard analysis takes pseudo-politics for real politics.
This critical historical re-examination highlights crucial theoretical and historical issues:
The regime-building, wrought in the wake of a praetorian counter-revolution which, to assert its
domination, resorted to terror, preceded and shaped the state-building of the early years of independence
The garrison state of the first decade of independence, imposed after the capture of state-power, was
articulated not on a “rentier pact” but on a “protection pact”;
The already established state-regime complex later determined the way by which the oil boom revenues of
1973 should be governed;
The redistributive pact that succeeded the protection racket helped broaden the regime’s social basis and
alleviate coercion without running the risk, inherent to the “deepening” of the “bureaucratic-authoritarian”
and “developmentalist” states, of worsening the social conflict;
The praetorian formula was torn from the inside by “fundamental contradictions”: collegial vs personal
rule; praetorianism vs institutionalized mobilization; redistribution vs accumulation; political corruption vs
social justice, etc.
Also, the Gramscian “organic crisis” appeared in the early 1970s,
with the first oil boom simply masking
its deep structure.
The major ideological and geopolitical neoliberal shift that took place in the center
as well as in the
periphery (Egypt) added up to the crisis of the formula—especially since the attempt of “infitah”, a “passive
revolution” to pass neoliberalization during the 1980s, had failed.
Antonio Gramsci coined his famous concept of “organic crisis” to capture these configurations that differs
from “ordinary” financial or political crises. For the Marxist theorist, such a crisis should not be understood
as “events” but rather as “processes”. Encompassing the totality of the political order, they mostly lead to the
denunciation of the established politics, policies and values of the system. These “comprehensive crises”
uncovered “fundamental contradictions” in the system of domination that the ruling elites are unable to
resolve. Gramsci superbly describes these historical configurations as “interregna” in which “the old is dying
and the new cannot yet be born” and during which “a great variety of morbid symptoms” can emerge.
While revolutions are rare, reform may be even scarcer. In his Journeys Toward Progress, Albert Hirschman
apprehended the concept of reform as change in which “the power of hitherto privileged groups is curbed
and the economic position and social status of underprivileged groups is correspondingly improved”.
broad strategies are available to the Reformer: the Fabian and its alternative, the Blitzkrieg.
published in January 2020 in Le Quotidien d’Oran, that is to say at the time when the mobilizations and union struggles against the pension
project in France reached a historic threshold, Akram Belkaïd resorted to the reactionary rhetoric of perversity to stigmatize Paris, ses grèves,
son chaos” (Paris, its strikes and chaos): Belkaïd, 2020.
Hachemaoui, 2012a.
I borrow the concept of “protection pact” from Slater, 2010b.
This processual approach is attentive to the conflicts that structure the institutional formation of the state-regime complex: as such it
challenges the standard variable-centered model with, to quote Abbott (p. 183), its “just-so stories justifying this or that relation between the
variables”. Using a variable-centered model, Martinez (2012) compares the weakly institutionalized and military dominated FLN to the
revolutionary Mexican PRI to sustain the official thesis of the party-state political formula.
Aklouf, 1964; Guérin, 1973.
Inter alia, Huntington et al., 1973; Harvey, 2005; Peck, 2010; Krippner, 2011.
139 Gramsci, 1971.
Hirschman, 1963, p. 267.
Huntington, 1968, p. 346.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
Toward a “Polish Model”? The Political Economy of a Transformation
Engaged in a “war of position”,
from the assassination of the central figure of the Algerian opposition Ali
André Mécili
in April 1987 in Paris and the conspiracy one year later of the October riots,
the guardians
orchestrated a controlled political opening to perilous economic liberalization. Advised by his closed ally
Abdelhamid Mehri (1926-2012)former member of the central committee of MTLD, Minister of GPRA
and ambassador in France from 1984 to 1988—, the “liberalizer” President Chadli supported the promotion
of a small group of reformers (Mouloud Hamrouche and Ghazi Hidouci) at the head of the government.
But it was a “fools game”
from the outset. The praetorians conceded some leverage to the regime’s
“liberalizers”, expecting them to implement the socially destabilizing and politically unsafe Structural
Adjustment Program in their place. The reformers thought they represented the last chance for the praetorians
and preferred strengthening state extraction and regulation institutions to the neoliberal agenda of the IMF,
refusing to limit openness to cosmetic measures. Adopted for three years by the Assemblée Populaire
Nationale in September 1989, the program of the “government of reforms” broke with the established rules
of the game in striving for the “powerful takeover by the state of the prerogatives of public power and
economic regulation”, the fight against “the bureaucratic apparatuses and the oligarchies”, a “fair distribution
of income which realizes the social justice”, the “mobilization and the participation of the social forces”.
Indeed, the institutions set up by the government of the reformer Mouloud Hamrouche (9 September 1989 to
4 June 1991) were subversive, among things suppressing the extraordinary courts and security clearances
required for appointments to key state positions, closing the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of
Former resistance fighters to signal the end of propaganda and of historical legitimacy, and putting new
emphasis on genuine political representation.
“The way of the Reformer is hard”.
The Algerian “reform
mixed two approaches that are difficult to reconcile: “make all his goals known at an early
while refusing the Blitzkrieg. The guardians of the garrison state, to reduce the political support for
the reformers, quickly preempted the political process through cultural polarization. While a compromise
was reached at the top of the state on the creation of “associations of political nature” in the aftermath of the
October 1988 riots, the praetorians created two political parties three days before the appointment of the
reformer chief of Government Hamrouche. These parties were created in violation of the February 1989
Constitution: the berberist RCD (Rassemblement de la culture et de la démocratie) and the religious FIS
(Front Islamique du Salut). Despite the polarization
they later engaged in, the radicals attacked reformers
and advocated neoliberal “shock treatment”—thus playing the game of praetorians.
Gramsci defined the “war of position” in his notebook 6 as follows: “in politics the ‘war of position’, once won, is decisive definitively. In
politics, in others words, the war of maneuver subsists as long as it is a question of winning positions which are not decisive, so that all the
resources of the state’s hegemony cannot be mobilized. But when, for one reason or another, these positions have lost their value and only the
decisive positions are at stake, then one moves to siege warfare; this is concentrated, difficult, and requires exceptional qualities of patience
and inventiveness. In politics, the siege is a reciprocal one, despite all appearances, and the mere fact that the ruler has to muster all his resources
demonstrates how seriously he takes his adversary”, Gramsci, 1971, p. 239.
Aït Ahmed, 1989.
Interviews with Ghazi Hidouci (Paris, 2008, 2011, 2012), Abdelhamid Mehri (Algiers, November 2010), Khaled Nezzar (Algiers, November
2010). Several senior leaders, as former President Chadli Bendjedid, General Medjedoub Lakehal Ayat (head of the Sécurité Militaire from
July 1981 to November 1987, then Délégué Général à la Prévention et à la Sécurité from November 1987 to October 1988) and General
Mohamed Betchine (head of the Direction Centrale de la Sécurité de l’Armée from November 1987 to October 1988) have publicly confirmed
the thesis of the conspiracy. For Betchine, the plot was called Potemkine, its preparation dates back, according to Lakhal Ayat, to 1987. For
President Chadli, who has multiplied the signs of liberalization since his cooptation in 1979, the October 1988 plot was aimed to prevent him
from carrying out the political liberalization of the regime. The assassination of the moderate opponent André Mecili in Paris, where
Abdelhamid Mehriformer comrade of the leader of the secular opposition Hocine Aït Ahmedworked as ambassador, intervened a few
days before the officialization, by the presidency, of the Algerian Human Rights League. Cf. Semiane, 1998; Le Matin, 2 October 2000; Liberté,
4 October 2010.
Interviews with Ghazi Hidouci (Paris, November 2008, March 2011) and Abdelhamid Mehri (Algiers, November 2010, May 2011).
“Jeu de dupes”. Interviews with Abdelhamid Mehri (Algiers, November 2010, May, 2011) and Ghazi Hidouci (Paris, November 2008,
March 2011).
See El Moudjahid, 28 September 1989. For a theoretical discussion of this puzzle see Evans, 1992.
See El Moudjahid, 27 September 1989.
Hachemaoui, 2009.
Hirschman, 1963.
Huntington, 1968, p. 346.
On this concept, see McCarthy, Pool, Rosenthal, 2006; Schaffner, 2011.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
The method implemented by the reformers quickly revealed lines of conflict.
Since this critical moment,
the neoliberals have not ceased to promote the agenda, claiming that “there is no alternative” to “Washington
because of the “end of ideology and history”.
An influential newspaper, spokespiece of the
praetorians, set the tone: considering the FLN (of the reformers) as “the father of the FIS”, it summoned the
government to “de-politicize the economy” and “decriminalize the relationship Algerians have with
In this context former Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdelaziz Bouteflika, renowned for his
propensity for “infitah” (the first regional translation of the neoliberal agenda) declared: “Those who doubted
socialism a few years ago were marginalized. Today, it is those who doubt liberalism who are
Later that year, the secular neoliberal Saïd Saadi also echoed the alleged “liberal” wing:
“No more welfare-state, that has proven its failure everywhere, while elsewhere the market-focused
approaches have been more performance”.
And the doctor dictated the prescription in a Thatcherian vein:
“put the Algerian back to work because it is first of all about this”.
In this context, the religious right occupied a place of choice. In his very first interview, 32-year-old
fundamentalist preacher Ali Benhadjpropelled to the front of the stage on the last day of the October plot
outlined the economic doctrine of pious neoliberalism. Instead of redistributive taxation, he advocated
charity: “In the economic field, Islam is for the right of property provided that it is not exercised from haram
activities and that it is beneficial to the individual and society by the payment of zakat.
A fragment of the “hidden transcript”
of the praetorian oligarchy was revealed to the media war machine
headed by a military security commander: L’Hebdo libéré. The speech, cast in a Hayekian vein, gave a
missing piece of the puzzle:
“Refusing to engage in a Polish style logic,... the government condemned itself to manage the
unmanageable... The transition to a market economy in Poland has resulted in massive privatizations,
a million unemployed, 100% inflation and congratulations from the IMF and international creditors
... The debate covers the nature of the remedies to be brought to the Algerian economic disease. After
having made her sick by socialism will we not complete it with the Hidoucian market economy? ...
The risk is great to see Ghazi Hidouci invent for Algeria what nobody in the world has: a ‘market
economy without the market’?”
In the press conference he gave the day after the adoption of his program for a period of three years, Prime Minister Mouloud Hamrouche
affirmed: “a rescheduling of the debt is not envisaged. Such a decision leads to acceptance of IMF conditions”. Cf. El Moudjahid, 28 September
1989. The government newspapers, which remained in the hands of the political police, has been very skeptical from the beginning of the
“reform government” preferring the neoliberal policy agenda of the IMF. Inter alia, Sbaâ, 1989. In this article, the editorial director of the
mouthpiece of the so-called “liberal” wing of the authoritarian regime, responds to the reformers: “Le pays a-t-il besoin de discours ?
Assurément non. Y a-t-il des recettes miracles ? Certainement pas”, Ibid. The same mantra is rehashed in the editorials and political pages of
the government daily El Moudjahid. Cf. Bahmane, 1989. The main journalists and editorialists of the government newspapers El moudjahid
and Algérie Actualité launched a few months later the daily newspapers El Watan and Le Quotidien d’Algérie, and the weekly newspaper Le
Nouvel Hebdo and L’Hebdo Libéré, which will be distinguished by their enmity against the Reformers of the regime (Mehri, Chadli, Hidouci,
Hamrouche), harsh hostility against the Moderates (Madani and Hachani in the islamist movement, Aït Ahmed in the secular one),
legitimization of the militarization, last but not least, their common advocacy in favor of the “shock therapy”, etc.
Babb, 2013; Centeno, Cohen, 2012.
See the interview given by Saïd Saadi to the governmental magazine Algérie Actualité n°1265, 11 to 17 January 1990 and the report of the
conference that he co-animated with the “organic intellectual” Lahouari Addi—then regular collaborator to the RCD party newspaper
(L’avenir)in February 1990 in Oran (Hadj Slimane, 1990).
Belkacem, 1989, p. 5. The author of the editorial is the director of the authoritative weekly Algérie Actualité. The trope of “Le FLN père du
FIS” (FLN father of the FIS) was taken again by two leading experts: Harbi, 1990 and Addi, 1994. The French orientalist Gilles Kepel resumed
in turn this trope in his Jihad. Expansion et déclin de l’islamisme.
See Algérie actualité, 28 September - 4 October 1989, p. 9. The government daily El Moudjahid (21 September 1989) also described the
intervention of the “liberal” Abdelaziz Bouteflika as “remarkable”.
See Algérie Actualité, 21-27 December 1989, p. 9. The congress of the RCD, the second in less than a year, coincided with the day of the
return of the opponent Hocine Aït Ahmed in Algeria after more than twenty years of political exile. Among the distinguished guests of the
Algerian RCD, there were among others the president of the Constitutional Council, Abdelmalek Benhabyles.
Algérie Actualité n°1242, 3-9 August 1989, p. 7.
See Horizons, 23 February 1989, p. 4. The author of the interview (Fouad Boughanem) presented Ali Benhadj as “the imam of the young
people”. Not a word was said in this long interview about torture by the secret police, nor about the more than (officially) one hundred people
killed by the army during the riots of October 1988…
Scott, 1990.
Nedjar (pseudonym), 1991.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
Lahouari Addi, who was member of the editorial staff of the insider weekly Lhebdo libéré, slipped these
neoliberal recommendations in 1990: “The regulated market of the administered economy is now making
history; it is illusory to want to resuscitate it. If the state made commercial premises available to buyers, it
would distribute the speculative rent among several traders, which would have the advantage of reducing
income inequalities”.
The same year, a film that had a huge success
conveyed the neoliberal cliché
according to which the popular classes favored market capitalism and the “entrepreneur of the self”.
film, which featured a family from the lower classes climbing the social ladder thanks to their self-employed
daughter, ended with praise for French private television TF1, advertising and consumption
Attacked on his right by religious and secular neoliberals, as on his left by heirs of the Algerian stalinists who
supported the praetorian solution, reformer Prime Minister Mouloud Hamrouche responded: “We defend a
democratic socialism, not a socialism of apparatus behind which an unbridled state capitalism hides […]
Those who make eye-checks to the IMF or who threaten to ally with other political forces [i.e. the FIS] have
only one idea in mind: a bureaucratic alliance of apparatus with the business bourgeoisie for a seizure of
The leftist Minister of Economy Ghazi Hidouci, who considered that “the reforms are a break, not
a correction or continuation” was equally clear: “We must avoid South American drifts”.
Moderate leader
of the democratic and leftist opposition Hocine Aït Ahmed brought support to reformers. The president of
the Socialist Forces Front (FFS) rejected the IMF agenda as well, by recalling the “disasters suffered by the
developing countries that opted for this solution”.
The reformers revealed that there was more than meets the eye: the praetorians aspired to operate the
neoliberalization of the authoritarian-populist formula with the help of the Islamist movementif the
reformers’ government refused to execute the agenda of structural adjustment. This was the “Plan A” of the
praetorian oligarchy.
Gone unnoticed, this political step helped to uncover the blind spot of the
conventional narrative. The enigma of the “indefinite strike” launched by the FIS just a few weeks before the
legislative elections of 27 June 1991in which he was engagedto demand an early presidential election,
elucidates here. Realizing later how the strike imposed by the radicals of the FIS had served as a pretext for
the army to regain control over the political process, Abassi Madani declared on 19 June 1991 that the state
of siege declared two weeks earlier was in fact a “military coup”.
The moderate president of the Islamist
movement was violently attacked by three senior FIS leaders close to the DRS (among them Ahmed Merani
and Hachemi Sahnouni) in the state television evening news. The “sheikhs”, who were careful to save radical
Ali Benhadj, treated Abassi Madani as a “dangerous man who threatens to drop the country into a fitna (a
civil war)”.
The moderate leader was to be jailed in a military prison a few days later for “undermining the
security of the state”. But if this really were the case, why did the military not dissolve the FISotherwise
supposed to set up an “insurrectional atmosphere”—
in the aftermath of the incarceration of the president
of the so-called “religious totalitarian party” and the exit of government reformers in June 1991? Aligned on
the praetorian positions, El Watanwho described the sheikhs opposed to the moderate leader of the Islamist
movement as “wise”—
was categorical:
It is absolutely out of the question for the power, if we stick to the political strategy it has pursued,
to declare the dissolution of the FIS. The military command also said in a statement that no political
Addi, 1990, p. 153-162. The author does not hesitate to adopt the Thatcherian anathema of “nany state”. Addi, 1994.
Tribeche, 1990.
Foucault, 2008.
See Algérie actualité, 8-14 March 1990. Read also the dubious answer given by the praetorian oligarchy to Prime Minister Hamrouche in
the editorial of the same edition of this state newspaper under the eloquent title: “Virage à haut risque”. Abdelaziz Sbâa, the author of the
article and editorial director of Algerie Actualitéthe loudspeaker of the authoritarian neoliberalswas appointed soon after to a high state
office before becoming ambassador in Doha. Journal Officiel de la république algérienne, n°24, 26 April 2020.
El Moudjahid, 6 February 1990, p. 3.
See El Moudjahid, 15 February 1990.
See also Nezzar, 1999, p. 226.
El Watan, 20 June 1991.
Direct observation of the author. El Watan, 26 June 1991.
Belhouchet, 1991, p. 3; Nezzar, 1999, p. 221.
El Watan, 26 June 1991.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
party would be suspended from its activities. The message is clear, the FIS as a party will not be
affected. The military command has therefore prepared its coup and calculated all the risks according
to a well-developed tactic. While curbing the extremist elements, the power will try to promote by
all means the emergence of the moderate wing within the Majliss Eshûra suffocated by the
authoritarianism of Abassi Madani. Dissidents of the Majliss Eshûra could strengthen the ranks of
the opponents of Abassi Madani and lead the FIS in the path of moderation.
It is in application of “plan A” that the short-lived successor of Madani at the head of the FIS, the close ally
of the DRS, Saïd Guechiwho was the chief of the “totalitarian” party’s organization—participated, together
with Saïd Saadi of the RCD, in a “national dialogue” with the praetorian government. The absence of Mehri’s
FLN, Aït Ahmed’s FFS and the newly elected leader of the FIS Abdelkader Hachani was notable in this
In fact, the days of the reformers were counted from the very moment they unveiled the stakes of the real
politics. It is from this turning point that the conflict began to harden: in addition to calls for the dissolution
of the Assemblée Populaire Nationale,
acts of political violence occurred in the winter of 1990. The first
was a shooting in front of a court, killing three. Prime Minister Hamrouche brought to light the hidden issues
of conflict: “Democratization… disturbs the illegitimate interests of the occult forces that dominate the
country’s foreign trade. It is these forces that are behind the acts of violence aimed to divert the state from
the implementation of the reforms”.
War of Siege or War of Maneuver?
“Liberalization is a situation or, when it involves a series of steps, a process of instituting civil liberties, most
importantly the right of autonomous association, and of allowing or even creating some political
organizations through which conflicts can be processed in an open fashion, but without transforming the
power apparatus and undermining its capacity to control outcomes ex post”.
While “democratization is a
process of subjecting all interests to competition, of institutionalizing uncertainty”, political liberalization is
“a controlled opening of the political space, continually contingent upon the compatibility of the outcomes
of politics with the interests or values of the authoritarian power apparatus”.
The political liberalization
engaged in Algeria between February 1989 and January 1992 revealed the real political forces operating in
society: the FIS, the FLN (led since November 1988 by reformer Abdelhamid Mehri) and the Socialists
Forces Front of the moderate Hocine Aït Ahmed. Abdelkader Hachani, who removed from the FIS leadership
those identified as secret police agents in July 1991,
emerged as a moderate leader, anxious to avoid the
violent confrontation with hardliners and to build an anti-authoritarian alliance.
Since “in a democracy substantive compromises cannot be binding”, agreement concerning “exclusively
substantive issues excludes the possibility of democracy”.
The problem of democratization is, therefore,
to establish an “institutional compromise among the forces which are allied to bring down the authoritarian
regime, not only to bring this regime down”.
The praetorian propaganda took special care to obscure this
crucial step since the emerging political society had reached such an institutional compromise before the
military coup of 11 January 1992. While the reformer secretary general of the FLN (Abdelhamid Mehri)
El Watan, 2 July 1991, p. 3. See also the interview of Hachemi Sahnouni in El Khabar of 1 July 1991.
Algérie Actualité, n°1267, 25-31 January 1990, p. 7. The “organic intellectual” Madjid Bencheikh, who was careful to specify that his
association of human rights did not seek to document the cases of torture, called to dissolve the Assemblée Populaire Nationale in February
1990. Algérie Actualité, n°1271, 22-28 February 1990.
See El Moudjahid, 19-20 January 1990.
Przeworski, 1988, p. 61.
Ibid, p. 61, p. 63.
As Saïd Guechi, Ahmed Merani, Hachemi Sahnouni, etc. The first, head of the organic apparatus of the FIS, became minister in the 1992
praetorian government and Ambassador to Saudi Arabia soon after. The second, head of the social service of the FIS, entered the cabinet of
the Prime minister Ghozali in June 1991, became minister of religious affairs in 1995 and senator appointed by the Presidency. The third was
the leader of the Algerian Salafist current, a close friend to Ali Benhadj, the objective ally of the praetorian force.
Przeworski, 1989, p. 64. See also Rustow, 1970; Bermeo, 1992.
Przeworski, 1989, pp. 63-64. The “procedural consensus”, which concerns the “rules of the game or the procedures”, does not exclude
disagreement on the “ultimate values” or the “public policies”. Also, moderation is understood here as the ability to negotiate a “procedural
compromise”: see Sartori, 1987, pp. 90-91.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
called several weeks before the first round of the parliamentary elections of 26 December 1991 / 16 January
1992 for a “coalition government between the main forces”,
the head of the FIS Abdelkader Hachani led
an electoral campaign rejecting any recourse to violence
as had done before him the moderate leader of
the Islamist Front, Abassi Madani.
Two days before the critical ballot, democratizer President Chadli
confirmed “encourag[ing] the alliance of the parties for the formation of the next government”.
While the first round polls gave a large majority of seats at the Assembly to the Islamic Salvation Front,
Abdelhamid Mehri reiterated his proposal for a democratic compromise: “We are willing to work with the
sons of the same people, who certainly have different political thoughts, but can nonetheless form a national
coalition in the service of the people and the higher interests of their country”.
Although weakened by the
assassination of his close adviser Ali André Mécili, the leader of the secular opposition Hocine Aït Ahmed
also committed to democratization: “We are legalists, what interests us the most is the consolidation of the
democratic process and civil peace. In any event, we wish that there will be a second round”.
the fears of the so-called “Iranianisation of Algeria”, the moderate leader of the Islamists Abdelkader Hachani
was categorical on 29 December 1991: “the Algerian people have been the leader of the oppressed peoples
since 1954. Algeria will not mimic any other country”.
He in turn reaffirmed his attachment to a democratic
compromise immediately after the first-round victory of his party: “cohabitation with the FLN and the FFS
will not pose any problem because we have to open the doors to all the skills of the country regardless of
their political affiliation. Also, there should be no problem with the President of the Republic”.
And the
latter declared: “It was my choice to continue the electoral process… I did not want to abdicate the will of an
aging system”.
Also, moderate Islamist leader Hachani addressed President Chadli on 4 January 1992, through the former
minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Taleb (son of Sheikh al Bashir al Ibrahimi of the Association of Algerian
Oulemas), the following historic political perspective: the FIS would leave the position of Chief of
Government to Hocine Aït Ahmed, occupying only the ministerial portfolios of justice and education, leaving
those of Defense, Interior and Economy.
An influential praetorian propagandist weekly said Abdelkader
Hachani believed he could “thwart the trap” of the overwhelming Islamist electoral victory by proposing a
“coalition government” in which the FIS would only occupy the Ministry of Justice.
Faced with either
violent conflict (potentially beneficial but risky) or a democratic solution (requiring compromise but offering
security), political forces involved in regime transformation could opt for the democratic compromise.
Such an institutional compromise was not, as proclaimed by media expert Lahouari Addi, a “regression”
however “fertile” it may have been in its theological temporalitybut quite the opposite: the condition of
possibility of the process of democratization.
Interview of Abdelhamid Mehri to Le Soir d’Algérie, 9 December 1991.
El Moudjahid, 18 December 1991. On 29 November 29 1991, the Guemar military barracks (El Oued, south-eastern Algeria) was attacked
by a terrorist group. The latter, who killed three soldiers, stole a great number of weapons. The official and unofficial media of the praetorian
government who reported this information specified that the terrorist group was linked to the FIS. The moderate FIS leader, who was hesitant
about whether or not his party would participate in the legislative elections, challenged the defense ministry to provide any evidence of the FIS
involvement in the attack. Fearing, by choosing to boycott the legislative elections of 26 December 1991, to give pretext for the slide towards
violence, Hachani decided to participate in the elections and to abandon the prerequisite of the democratization of the political life he had posed
(El Watan, 10 September 1991, p. 3). It was only after the coup that the praetorian government hammered out the story of the involvement of
the FIS in the Guemar attack. On this episode, see Samraoui, 2003.
Waterbury, 1994, p. 115.
El Moudjahid, 25 December 1991.
El Moudjahid, 30 December 1991.
El Moudjahid, 29 December 1991.
El Moudjahid, 30 December, 1991.
Le Matin, 13 January 2001.
See the interview given by Ahmed Taleb to Al Jazeera in May 2008: (accessed 12
November 2017).
Khelladi, 1992a, 1992b. The author is a well-known officer of the Algerian political police apparatus.
Przeworski, 1988, p. 70.
Addi, 1994.
Inter alia, Rustow, 1970; Przeworski, 1980; Sartori, 1987; Bermeo, 1992.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
The conventional account of the Algerian military response to the victory of the Islamists in the parliamentary
elections of December 1991 is not only deficient and partisan. Apprehending the political sequence occurring
from 1989 to 1992 in a “historical provincialism”, the standard scholarship of the “institutional choice” made
by “republican officers” completely taken aback by an electoral storm introduced another harmful bias, with
its increasingly restricted temporal structure: that of limiting the cases and considering an “incomplete
sequence”. In its search for explanations, it focused on the immediate, looking for “causes and outcomes that
are both temporally contiguous and rapidly unfolding”.
Contrary to the official narrative, the parliamentary
elections of 26 December 1991 were not a tornado—“modifying the perceptions of the risks”. The military
coup orchestrated in January 1992 was part of a praetorian process that proceeded, to use Stinchombe’s
category, from a “historical causation”, the very one that defeated, during the foundational juncture of the
war of independence, Messali’s project of a democratically elected Constituent Assembly.
As nicely captured by Eric Schattschneider, “a conclusive way of checking the rise of conflict is simply to
provide no arena for it or to create no public agency with power to do anything about it […].
praetorian oligarchy, which has foreseen neither the rise of Abdelkader Hachani, nor the resistance of the
FLN’s reformers, even less the moderation of Hocine Aït Ahmed, is trapped by the democratic compromise
negotiated despite the “trap” of the results of the first round of the legislative elections—that were organized
by the authoritarian apparatus. Also, the preatorian forces had no choice but to activate “Plan B”: the
militarization of conflict as a mechanism for coercing the neoliberal transformation of the populist-
authoritarian formula. The army, that preserved its “power of control outcomes ex post” during liberalization
executed its “substantive control over decisions”. Indeed, the 11 January 1992 veto coup had to avoid the
“crossing of the threshold beyond which no one could intervene to reverse outcomes of the formal democratic
Confronted by this “devolution of power over outcomes”, the hardliners released a major
authoritarian learning reminiscent of the “3B” founders: never again did the college of praetorians have to
give room for maneuver to the president.
Samuel Finer, a political scientist who took history seriously, was right: “ […] if the armed forces are not to
intervene, they must believe in an explicit principlethe principle of civil supremacy[…] The reason is that
the very nature of the professionalism on which Huntington sets such store and which he regards as
‘politically sterile’, in fact often thrusts the military into collision with the civil authorities”.
Indeed, “[t]he
armed forces have three massive political advantages over civilian organizations: a marked superiority in
organization, a highly emotionalized symbolic status, and a monopoly of arms. They form a prestigious
corporation or Order, enjoying overwhelming superiority in the means of applying force. The wonder,
therefore, is not why this rebels against its civilian masters, but why it ever obeys them”.
Actually, on his
appointment as Minister of Defense in July 1990 (following the first and last democratic suffrage of the
country) Major-General Khaled Nezzar, whom the partisan account presented as the artisan of the
“professionalization-depolitization of the army”, affirmed without makeup: “‘The army in the barracks?’ […]
We reject categorically again this pejorative formula because it also expresses an imported concept that does
not correspond in any way to our military history”.
This long interview of the Minister of Defense, which
caught the attention of Le Monde,
suffices by its clarity and weight to invalidate the biased report that put
forward the so-called “historical decision of disengaging the military from the political power” after the
Constitution of February 1989.
Pierson, 2004, p. 79.
Schattschneider, 1975, p. 69.
Przeworski, 1988, p. 62.
Finer, 1962, p. 25.
Ibid, p. 5.
The interview is fully reproduced in Nezzar, 1999, p. 182.
Le Monde, 12 September 1990. Despite its importance, the long interview of the minister of defense was neglected by mainstream expertise.
In French, “décision historique de désengager l’armée du pouvoir politique”, Aït Aoudia, 2016, p. 123.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
The “Global Strategy”: Hidden Transcripts of Praetorian Oligarchy
There is another questionable omission. An official document drafted by the military high command in
autumn 1990 specifies the praetorian “global strategy”
and shows the scope of the praetorian counter-
revolution. The standard scholarship of Algerian politics failed to reconstitute the logic of aggregating ideas,
institutions and interests. Also, it fails to capture the mechanisms of institutional and political transformation
that has affected the state-regime complex since 1987. Also, “without a set of ideas to diagnose the nature of
the (crisis) facing agents, institutional change […] can only be understood theoretically as a random ‘shot in
the dark’”.
As Marc Blyth put it, “(w)hile the reduction of uncertainty and the generation of collective
action create the necessary conditions for institutional transformation, the sufficient conditions lie in the
subsequent roles that ideas play as weapons and blueprints with which agents can contest and replace existing
This is surely the case of the Algerian praetorian “global strategy”. Inspired by the “total strategy” doctrine
developed by General Beaufre
in France, it insists on the following structural logics: erasing the boundaries
between civil and military; the “synchronization, combination and interdependence of tasks”; the
“centralization of the command of the strategy”; the “global” dimension of such “strategy” which must cover
a field ranging from Mediterranean “security issuesto the “control of mosques”, through “psychological
action”. Delivered after the publication of “The roots of Muslim Rage” by the leading orientalist Bernard
the praetorian breviary engraves the mantra: the “totalitarian theocratic majority”
will “inevitably
cause a civil war”
opposing “territorial, political and ideological groups”
against each other, “threatening
the destiny of Algeria as a nation and a republic”,
as much as the “internal security of the countries of the
General Khaled Nezzar, minister of defense from July 1990 to December 1993, published this document in his Mémoires (Nezzar, 1999,
pp. 217-230. This US conception of “global security” finds its institutional translation in Algeria through the creation, in 1980, of the Haut
Conseil de Sécurité, then the establishment in 1984, of the Institut National d’Etudes de Stratégie Globale (INESG), closely controlled by the
secret police. Journal Officiel de la république algérienne, 1 April 1980, pp. 363-364. Available online:
Blyth, 2002.
Blyth, 2002, p. 45, p. 39.
Beauffre, 1966. A separate discussion with two senior intelligence officers confirmed to the author their perfect knowledge o f Beauffre’s
Lewis, 1990.
Quote from the praetorian “global strategy” of autumn 1990: Nezzar, 1999, p. 222.
Nezzar, 1996, p. 2.
Quote from the praetorian “global strategy”: Nezzar, 1999, p. 222.
Ibid., 217, 218, 230. The doctrinal document mentions the following in its conclusion: “In any event, the issue at stake in the situation that
Algeria is currently experiencing is of a historical dimension, because it calls into question the country and its destiny as a sovereign nation
called on either to continue its economic and social development, or to plunge into an obscurantist and medieval state”. Id, pp. 229-230. My
own translation. The books of Rédha Malek and Mohammed Harbi, published under the respective titles Tradition et révolution, le véritable
enjeu (Algiers: Bouchène, 1991) and L’Algérie et son destin. Croyants ou citoyens ? (Paris: Arcantère, 1992) fit in this wake. The first book
was republished in France (under the title Tradition et révolution. L’enjeu de la modernité en Algérie et dans l’Islam) two years later by
Sindbada publishing house that has published several Algerian officials and organic intellectualsat a moment when Rédha Malek was
minister of foreign affairs and member of the Haut comité d’Etat. The book of Mohammed Harbi L’Algérie et son destin. Croyants ou citoyens?
was republished in Algiers (by Médias associés) in 1994. In this influential work, the author advances the following culturalist argument (pp.
217-218): “The Islam of this [Islamist intelligentsia is] strongly marked by totalitarian thought […] The Islamist movement is a movement of
the millennial type. Its force of attraction, its dazzling successes can be explained by this hypothesis”. My own translation. Throwing overboard
the proletarian and communist legacy of the ENA, the PPA and Messali Hadj, the former FLN organic intellectual continues his story strongly
marked by the seal of “presentism”: “As in the PPA-MTLD of the years 1946-48, the millennial impetus is reflected in the setting of a deadline
for the collapse of the system and the belief in the possibility of a sudden change following a few sudden clashes, regardless of a patient strategy
of power control”. Without documenting his work, the historian asserted (Id, p. 217): “The activist and paramilitary sphere of influence has
long been pushed into the background. It is inspired by the nationalist tradition, the Afghan and Iranian experiences. Heads of large families
abound there, testifying to a rare involvement in paramilitary organizations. Of the 208 supporters of Bouyali, there were forty-nine business
workers, twenty-two agricultural workers, twelve teachers, twenty-two traders and artisans, eight students, nine employees, three entrepreneurs
and other professions that we were unable to identify. All social groups are represented there”. Repeating the praetorian mantra, the author of
L’Algérie et son destin diagnosed the crisis of 1988-1992: “The state-FLN policy did not correspond to the needs of the society or to those of
the forces that the post-October had revealed. The FLN, undermined by successive purges, undermined by scandals, was unable, despite the
return to the fold of the old figures of the movement (Bouteflika, Boumaaza, Belaïd, Yahiaoui) to regain the free membership of the community
(sic). The prospect of “rigged” elections provokes a stiffening of the FIS […] The radical sectors which controlled the streets and imposed by
violence the moral order on the middle classes in search of a savior had taken over the elements “Infiltrators”, object of the solicitude of the
power and its services”. While the process initiated by Abassi Madani and Abdelkader Hachani completely contradicts this biased account, the
expert maintained the following idea: “The only topic for reflection was on the means to confront the state. The memory of the FLN ‘8 days
strike’ in 1957 inspired Abassi Madani. He rallied behind him all the forces that made violence a fetish and wanted to fight with the army,
finally giving it the opportunity to respond to the wishes of the middle classes (sic)”. Using the official storytelling, he stated that: “The
paralysis of the state apparatus after the victory of the FIS, foreshadowed an irrepressible push in its favor and precipitated military intervention
[…]”. Ignoring the role of the secret police in spreading rumors, the public intellectual avouched what follows: “Public rumor already compared
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
Maghreb and Europe”.
Borrowing a rhetoric forged by military dictatorships during the Cold War, the
regime of Colonel Boumediene had already stirred the so-called specter of Marxism to justify the process of
the 1965 coup. France Observateur could title “Algeria: the Military or the Marxist?”
Boumedienne’s heirs renewed this strategy to adapt it to the post-Cold War context. “To prevent the [“islamic
totalitarianism”] ‘threat’, the army will put itself in a favorable position […]. The choice of the moment for
this posture must be meticulously fixed because it irremediably signifies the pursuit, until the end of the new
The message was well understood in Paris, Rome and Washington, who supported the coup.
President François Mitterrand expressed confidence the day after the coup: “there is a hypothesis on which
it is forbidden, for the moment, to think: the establishment of democracy”.
Inescapable trope structuring
the official mantra as well as the conventional scholarship, the analogy with the fall of the Weimar Republic
by the democratically elected National-Socialist party in 1933 reveals all its emptiness. While the political
liberalization in place in Algeria between 1989 and 1992 is by definition a political situation, the Weimar
Republic (1919-1933) was a political regime
more democratic than authoritarian. Hitler, whose party
had not won the parliamentary majority in the November 1932 legislative elections, did not come to power
thanks to universal suffrage but because of a deal orchestrated by the conservative right to block the formation
of a coalition government of left-wing parties that held the majority of seats in parliament.
Also, despite its immense importance, the Algerian military document of the autumn 1990 was disregarded
by the prevailing scholarship.
The “emotion” that the praetorian propaganda sought to generate by waving
the scarecrow of the “theocratic totalitarian government”, provided the “opportunity
to execute the long
prepared coup. In a speech broadcast on 2 June 1991 on the Algerian public television, President Chadli
reiterated both his will to go to the parliamentary elections on 27 June 1991 and his enthusiasm to work with
the democratically elected parliament. But the army’s praetorian command imposed the state of siege the
next day.
Despite this praetorian counter-process at work since the implementation of the political
liberalization by the reformers, the rising “organic intellectual” Lahouari Addi affirmed in Le Monde
that the new military command embodied by Minister of Defense Khaled Nezzar and the
boss of the strategic Direction Centrale de la Sécurité de l’Armée (DCSA) Mohammed Mediene
are “more
and more attracted by the republican model, loyal to the institutions that the country gives itself”. And to
affirm about the state of siege of June 1991 that “the army intervened to mark the limits not to cross without
questioning the march towards democracy…” Saïd Saadi of the RCD is of the same opinion: “for the first
time, an army in a third world country did not seize power when it could do so. This is a salutary political
development that Algeria can be proud of”.
On the other hand, the reformist minister of the Interior spoke
of a “sound of boots” (“bruits de bottes”) and “Chilean scenario”, just one day before the state of siege.
The coup reached its final stage a month before the forced resignation of Chadli Bendjedid. It had begun after
the praetorian state of siege of 4 June 1991 that had led immediately after to the release of the reformers. In
other words, this meant the dispossession of the president of the republic, who was also (formally) the
the fate of the rulers to that of the Pieds noirs […] play its place and perhaps its survival. Together with the middle classes, she felt she had
saved the country”. Id, pp. 223-224. My own translation.
See also Nezzar,1999, pp. 226-230.
Delisle, 1964.
Nezzar, 1999, pp. 226-230.
Védrine, 1996; Financial Times, 18 January 1992. The US State Department considered that the creation of the Haut Comité d’Etat three
days after the coup was in conformity with the Constitution. Le Monde, 16 January 1992.
For a conceptual clarification, read Linz, 1973.
The conventional scholarship, which takes up the trope of the analogy with the fall of the Weimar Republic, takes liberalization for
democratization, thus falling into the transitology traps of the blank page and the electoralist fallacy.
Inter alia Martinez, 2012; Mundy, 2015; McDougall, 2017; Roberts, 2003; Lowi, 2009; Werenfels, 2007; Aït Aoudia, 2016; Arezki, 2018.
See Finer, 1962.
Interviews with Khaled Nezzar, Algiers, November 2010; interviews with Abdelhamdi Mehri, Algiers, November 2010. “Décret présidentiel
du 4 juin 1991 portant proclamation de l’état de siège”, Journal Officiel de la république algérienne, n°29, 12 June 1991, pp. 903-904.
August 1991, p. 6.
“Décret du 5 Décembre 1988 portant désignation dans les fonctions de directeur de la direction centrale de la sécurité de l’armée”, Journal
officiel de la république algérienne, n°50, 7 December 1988, p. 1299.
El Watan, 24 September 1991. The eve of the state of siege of 4 June 1991, the “démocrate” Saïd Saadi declared prophetic: “the army is
called for the second time in three years to make up for the bankruptcy of a system condemned by history”, El Watan, 30 May 1991.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The power to order troop movements was given to the minister of
the interior (Major-General Larbi Belkheir) and the head of the government (a civilian client of the military
oligarchy) instead in violation of both the letter and the spirit of the 1989 Constitution.
Unnoticed by the
conventional scholarship notwithstanding its critical implications, the low-key institutional dispositif adopted
on 6 December 1991 shows clearly that the organization of the coup was ready as early as one month prior
to the results of the parliamentary elections—the “meticulously chosen moment for orchestrating the posture
of the army” to quote the praetorian global strategy released in autumn 1990.
Seeking to co-opt the prestigious leader of the democratic opposition, Minister of Defense Khaled Nezzar
met Hocine Aït Ahmed just after the first-round of elections.
Publicly arguing for the continuation of the
electoral process, the moderate opponent reminded the hardliner of the constitutional prerogatives of the
President, including the ability to dissolve the Assembly. The Guardian’s response resembles the one
advanced by the “3B” some thirty years earlier: “I replied that there was no presidency in the real sense of
the word.
Abdelkader Hachani was incarcerated on 22 January 1992. Not only was the moderate leader
of the FIS not calling for violence
but he was actively working to build an anti-authoritarian alliance with
the FLN and the FFS since the military coup.
Also, the praetorian command released at the same time
Rabah Kebir, who was willing to “establish the Islamic Republic to save the Algerian people”
in Annaba
on 15 November 1991. Knowing that as Gramsci put it, “in politics the ‘war of position’, once won is decisive
definitively”, the praetorian oligarchy choose the form of war in which the garrison state it ran had an
overwhelming superiority: the “war of maneuver”.
The orthodox account considers that “only the army could cope” with the “situation of establishing an Islamic
republic” and that what happened on 11 January 1992 was a “military defense of democracy”…
But this
kind of report does not only take over the official storytelling, it is above all biased. It ignored the famous
interview of Khaled Nezzar in September 1990, in which he reaffirmed the praetorian nature of the Algerian
army, rejecting categorically its return to barracks; it overlooked the document of the military high command
in which the praetorian “global strategy” of militarizing the polity was developed during the autumn 1990; it
confused liberalization and democratization, political regime and political situation; it finally disregarded the
historic institutional compromise proposed by the moderate leader of the Islamic Salvation Front Abdelkader
Hachani to the President Chadli.
Mentioning neither the praetorian dispositif launched during the autumn 1990 nor the democratic
compromise of the political society exhumed above, the leading figure of the Algerian intelligentsia
Mohammed Harbi echoed the official story. Suggesting a parallel with Marshal Pétain and the Vichy
government, the former FLN’s “organic intellectual” asserted on the one hand that “any compromise with
the FIS becomes impossible” and on the other that the president “Chadli was ready for all compromises to
stay in power”. Conversely, his judgment on the army was wholehearted: “Boudiaf is in the situation of
General de Gaulle after 13th May 1958. The Algerian army does not seek to take center stage and therefore
needs a political boss”(sic).
Affirming that “the new leaders’ clear concern to assert their respect for
Journal officiel de la République algérienne, 63, 7 December 1991, pp. 1961-1962.
This meeting was confirmed by Ali Haroun (former executive in the “Fédération de France du FLN”, well-established lawyer, minister of
Human rights and member of the Haut comité d’Etat) and Hocine Aït Ahmed in Labat and Ait-Aoudia, 2003 (sequence from 42:23 to 47:00)
Nezzar, 1999, p. 238.
In his international press conference of 29 December 1991, the leader of the Islamic Front of Salvation insisted on several points: the respect
by his political party of the constitutional framework; to refrain from calling for an early presidential election as long as the assembly was not
stripped of its prerogatives; the change of the Constitution can only be done in compliance with the Basic Law, which reserves this prerogative
to the President of the Republic; the commitment of the FIS to work with all the forces of the country regardless of their ideological inclinations. . In a communiqué published on 13
January 1992 in which he denounced the “conspiracy” of the “junta”, Abdelkader Hachani “calls the people to arm themselves with patience
and prudence”. Le Monde, 15 January 1992, p. 3.
Le Monde, 18 January 1992, p. 3.
El Moudjahid, 16 November 1991.
Aït-Aoudia, 2016, p. 298, p. 288.
Harbi, 1992a.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
constitutional legitimacy” stems from a “desire for the rule of law that inhabits Algerians”,
authoritative intellectual asserted the following: “To leave the democratic game under the pretext of unlimited
popular sovereignty, subject to the versatility of any conjunctural expression, is nothing but a populism
undisclosed behind the screen of ultra-democratism”.
This argument resembles that which Friedrich
August Hayek had set in stone in support of the Chilean military junta in the aftermath of the 1973 military
The founding secretary of the Society for Algerian Studies,
Hugh Roberts, reproducing an
argument advanced by an Algerian minister to Le Monde,
declared the following: “In cancelling Chadli’s
mandate and thereby precipitating the suspension of the electoral process, the Algerian officers’ corps were
not flouting the democratic will of the people, they were arguably reflecting it”.
A week before the pronunciamiento however, an influential newspaper (directed by a senior officer) recalled
the Zeitgest of the epoch: “to be reliable, in 1992, a coup can only be placed in the perspective of the defense
of the democracy”.
Also, the praetorian propaganda promoted the story according to which Algeria was,
as the so-called independent press put it, a “democracy without democrats”.
Such a narrative reached
intellectual dignity less than two years later as Democracy without Democrats,
edited with sponsorship of
a foundation of ENI, an oil company strategically linked to the core of the praetorian state power through
TransMed, the pipeline supplying Algerian natural gas to Italy.
In his contribution, a well-known
economist and deputy director at ENI understood as the “linchpin of the project”,
made the following
prophecy urbi et orbi: “There will always be opposition, but it will never be more democratic than the power
Ite missa est.
The manifesto, which ignores the literature on democratization as well as the democratic compromise reached
before the reactionary coup, resumed after the book’s release in France in the pages of Le Monde with the
story of the “Algerian tragedy of a democracy without democrats”.
Written by an authoritative Algerian
intellectual just as the praetorian government launched the “shock therapy”, the prophet actually condemned
Algeria to the “tragedy”—of “civil war”. His judgement is all the more important as he had claimed elsewhere
that the “intervention of the army on 11 January 1992” was dictated by “the justified fear of the breakup of
the country”
and painted a dithyrambic portrait of Ali Kafi, the successor of (the assassinated) Mohammed
Boudiaf at the head of the HCE.
Essentialist, he opposed the “Citizen to the Believer”.
Also, three days
only after the assassination of human rights activist Youssef Fathallah on 18 June 1994, the trustworthy
expert published an article in Le Monde in which he affirmed ex cathedra that it was the Islamists who had
killed Fathallah.
The former FLN intellectual omitted to remind the readers of the French newspaper three
crucial information: Youssef Fathallah had refused to endorse the report of the official commission of inquiry
on the assassination of the head of state Mohammed Boudiaf of which he was a member; three weeks prior
to his murder the lawyer took part in an Amnesty International meeting in Berlin in which he described
Harbi, 1992b, p. 146.
Ibid, p. 147.
Cf. Hayek, 1978a, 1978b; Farrant and McPhail, 2014; Cladwell, Leonidas Montes, 2015. On the imprint of Carl Schmitt’s thought on that
of Friedrich A. Hayek, see Cristi, 1984, 1998; Scheuermann, 1997; Chamayou, 2018.
The Society for Algerian Studies, as stated on its website, “established and maintained (since its foundation in 1993) good relations with
the Algerian Embassy in London”: (last view 31 January 2019).
Le Monde, 14 January 1992, p. 3.
Roberts, 2003, p. 121.
Khelladi, 1992b, p. 5.
See “Démocratie sans démocrates”, L’hebdo libéré, 1-6 January 1992, p. 11.
Salamé, 1994. For a critique of this kind of scholarship, see Heydemann, 2002.
The “mani pulite” investigations revealed the payment by the Italians of a $ 30 million bribe at the end of the 1980s to an “institutional
Interview with Jean Leca, one of the contributors of the book (Paris, 18 October 2018).
Luciani, 1994. Also Salamé, 1994.
Harbi, 1994a.
Harbi, 1992a, pp. 57-60. While the editorials of Bachir Ben Yahmed, the director of the flourishing press group Jeune Afrique, were
reproduced in the pages of the L’Hebdo libéré, a journalist-officer of the Algerian weekly, moreover led by a senior officer, publishes in the
Parisian magazine under pseudonym.
Harbi, 1992c. Harbi failed to specify to the readers of his hagiographic article devoted to Ali Kafi that the latter is none other than his
maternal uncle.
Harbi, 1992.
Harbi, 1994b.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
“extrajudicial executions, killings and other human rights violations”;
the human rights activist was killed
with a silent pistol. While no “jihadist” group claimed responsibility for the assassination, no investigative
commission or trial has been set up since.
Was There Really a “Civil War” in Algeria? The Genealogy of a Discourse
Machiavelli famously unearthed the logic of survival in his Discourses on Livy:
If one wishes a sect or a republic to live long, it is necessary to draw it back often toward its beginning
[…] They called regaining the state putting that terror and that fear in men that had been put there in
taking it, since at that time they had beaten down those who, according to that mode of life, had
worked for ill. But as the memory of that beating is eliminated, men began to dare to try new things
and to say evil; and so it is necessary to provide for it, drawing [the state] back toward its
As an enterprise used for “perverting the significance of events and (...) insinuating false intentions”,
propaganda can never reveal its true projects and plans or disclose government secrets. That “would make
the projects vulnerable to enemy action”. Propaganda “must serve instead as a veil for such projects, masking
true intentions”.
The genealogy of the “Algerian civil war” discourse is a relevant analyzer of the efficiency
of the power/knowledge dispositif of the praetorian ideological poweran issue completely neglected by
mainstream scholarship.
While the FIS leader Abdelkader Hachani reiterated in the aftermath of the coup
the “commitment of his political party to respect the Constitution” and build an anti-authoritarian alliance
with the leaders of the FLN and the FFS
, the praetorian propaganda machine, anxious to justify
militarization shortly before the coup, spread a narrative describing Algeria as a polity already divided,
through a summa divisio, between “two peoples” engaged in a “civil war”.
The hegemonic story of the
“Algerian civil war” that structures the doxa had already been disseminated by propaganda in June 1991 to
justify the exit of the Reformers’ Government, the postponement of legislative elections (initially planned
for 27 June 1991) and the establishment of a renewed praetorian infrastructural power in the wake of the state
of siege. “Will Algeria be a second Lebanon?” wondered El Watan, an influential daily close to the DRS, in
an editorial dated 26 June 1991. Again, it is L’hebdo libéré, a major newspaper led by a Commander who
spread this story at a time when reformers and moderates had reached a democratic compromise.
That this
war machine the importance of which has been completely neglected by the conventional scholarship
not hesitate to deliver, a few months earlier, an anti-Semitic campaign
against the reformer Minister of
Economy Ghazi Hidouci, says a lot about the propaganda deployed by the praetorian regimein the shadow
of the Kuwait war.
In Le Monde (of 4 June 2004), Mohamed Benchicou, a celebrated figure of the “Algerian independent press”,
acknowledged having defended the army during the 1990s by relaying the official thesis concerning the
crimes of the second counterrevolution. Indeed, one of the first promoters of the “Algerian civil war” thesis
in the social sciences was a well-known propagandist of the Algerian political police, Aïssa Khelladi.
receiving a scholarship from the army to study psychology, the secret agent became captain of the Sécurité
Militaire. With the political opening of 1989, he converted to journalism, officiating in a praetorian
propaganda machineled by an army commander and financed by a former director of information at the
Presidency turned crony capitalist, furthermore very close friend of the head of the DRS
who had
wholesaled the “civil war” story even before the coup. From 1994 the officer-journalist became an established
Amnesty International, 1996.
Machiavelli, 1996, p. 209.
Ellul, 1996.
Roberts, 2003; Werenfels, 2007; Lowi, 2009; Martinez, 2012; Mundy, 2015; McDougall, 2017.
Le Monde, 17 January 1992, p. 6; Le Monde, 18 January 1992, p. 3.
Khelladi, 1991; Mahmoudi, 1991. The first author was a captain, the second a commander.
Mahmoudi, 1992; Metref, 1992; Aït Larbi, 1992.
Martinez, 2003; Ait-Aoudia, 2016.
Le Nouvel Hebdo, n°31, 23-29 January 1991; Le Nouvel Hebdo, n°33, 6 February, 1991.
Aïssa Khelladi published Les islamistes algériens under the pseudonyme of Amine Touati.
Mohamed Mgueddem.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
essayist-novelist-publisher in France (with political refugee status) and director of a journal that published
several Algerian so-called “republican” authors
(i.e, favorable to the military coup) for which he was
rewarded by becoming an adviser to the Algerian Presidency in 2004.
This trajectory is far from being idiosyncratic. The one borrowed by Arezki Aït-Larbi participates in a similar
logic. Berberist activist and human rights defender, the journalist wrote in L’hebdo libéré on 13 January
1992: “The leaders of the FIS must understand that every time a citizen is beheaded […] the blows will be
multiplied by eight! Resistance to tyranny is not only democratic but also an Islamic duty”. The son-in-law
of Amar Ouzegane, the author of this article is a member of the leadership of the RCD, the secular party that
called for a military coup just after the first round of parliamentary elections. The journalist became the
correspondent of French daily newspapers Le Figaro and Ouest France during the second counter-
The career of Malik Aït-Aoudia follows a similar path. Close parent to Mohand Akli (alias Daniel)
Benyounes, a former member of the FLN’s fédération de France commandos and brother-in-law of General-
Major and Minister of Defense Khaled Nezzar, Malik Aït-Aoudia began his career as communications officer
of the RCD. Collaborating with French media, he produced “Ce que j’ai vu en Algérie. Carnet de route
d’André Glucksmann”, a 75-minute television documentary in which he filmed a complacent observation
conducted by the “embedded-philosopher” on the massacre committed in Sidi Hamed (Mitidja) on 11 January
1998—the day after the arrival in Algiers of the “nouveau philosophe” as Glucksmann called himselfin a
context where the praetorian government forbid any independent inquiry into mass killing.
The insider
journalist also produced “Le martyre des moines de Tibhirine”, a 75-minute propaganda television
documentary broadcast by French national TV channel France 3 on 23 May 2013 at prime timesome weeks
before judge Marc Trévidic arrived who vainly projected to exhume this file buried by the Algerian and
French governments.
Malik Aït-Aoudia, who broadcast the praetorian regime propaganda, is the brother
of a wealthy comprador who got rich in the shadow of the “civil war” before becoming the exclusive local
representative of a major luxury jewelry brand. The man died in 2015 and the Tizi-Ouzou press house now
bears his name.
The Re-Invention of Tradition: The Second Counterrevolution and the Metamorphosis of the Garrison
Far from being a “defense of democracy”, as “military” as it was, 11 January 1992 constitutes a reactionary
coup that killed the possibility of democratization and renewed the militarization of the polity. As an “attitude
and a set of institutions that regard war and the preparation of war as a normal and desirable social activity”,
the militarization of politics, with its state of exception
and armed counterinsurgency
allowed the
dictatorship to launch nothing less than its second praetorian counterrevolution. Manufactured by the
“ideological power” of the garrison state even before the military coup, the discourse of the “Algerian civil
war” proceeds from a mystification that seeks to “obscure and secure”
the praetorian counterrevolution.
In his Jihad, the Lewisian orientalist Gilles Kepel took up the official thesis of “Islamist guerrilla” and the
“civil war” too.
The former author of La revanche de Dieu
neglecting the fact that the FIS leaders
Among them the editorial director of L’Hebdo Libéré, Arezki Metref.
He later reedited in Algeria a book that takes up this thesis. See Martinez, 2003.
The man founded a publishing house (Koukou) at the end of the 2000s.
Communicated some hours after the mass killing, the official record reports one hundred and three deaths. 20 heures, France 2, 12 January
Mann, 1987, p. 124.
Scheppele, 2010.
Khalili, 2010.
Burawoy, 1979.
Inter alia, Amnesty International, 1996; Bedjaoui, 1999; Samraoui, 2003; Tincq, 1998; Veilleux, 2003.
Kepel, 2000. Gilles Kepel, several times invited by the DRS controlled Institut d’Etudes de Stratégie Globale during the 1990s, was sent to
Algiers by the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in September 2014 as ‘chargé de mission’ at the same time as the historic visit of the chief-
of-staff of the French armed forces in Algeria. El Watan, 15 Septembre 2014.
Quoted by Huntington, 1993.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
(Madani and Hachani) had repeatedly denied having created any armed group
did not consider the
hypothesis of an armed “counterinsurgency without insurgency”
despite the legacy of praetorianism and
the proven manipulation of the so-called “jihadist” groups in Algeria.
However, the Algerian press
reported, in the context of the bloody conflict that precipitated the resignation of President Liamine Zeroual
in September 1998, of the creation in January 1992 of “death squads of some 300 elements for the central
region alone”.
Social scientist Stathis Kalyvas does not escape this mystification either in his widely quoted article relative
to “the logic of massacres in Algeria”.
Even if this specialist of the Greek civil war is right to stress the
existence of a rationality in the conflict that caused bloodshed in Algeria, the scholar is wrong about its
content. Indeed, his article shows multiple biases: a “sociological antihistoricalism” (to use Calhoun’s and
Somers felicitous expression),
the non-critical use of sources. However, most of the documentary sources
mobilized by Kalyvas in his second-hand study are produced by “organic intellectuals” of the praetorian
regime, such as Hassan Zerrouki, correspondent for LHumanité in Algiers and editorial director of a
presumed left-wing newspaper (Le Matin) that promoteswhile benefiting from the generous “public”
advertising windfallshock therapy.
Contrary to a legend, the Algerian state was never on the verge of collapsing in the 1990s. Two indicators
are indeed sufficient to refute this cliché: the solid geopolitical support it had enjoyed in Paris and Washington
since the reactionary coup of 1992; and the strengthening of its oil and gas infrastructures and their
preservation from the supposed “jihad.
On the contrary, the alarmist discourse on the threat of the
“collapsed state” makes it possible to snatch diplomatic support from Western powers. The “global strategy”,
promoted by the praetorian doctrinal document of 1990, emphasized this geopolitical issue.
The success of this “global strategy” lies in the cohesion and effectiveness of the coercion apparatus,
dependent on the security services’ know-how. The strategic redeployment carried out by the DRS
necessitated as a first step the praetorian elite taking control of the entire state apparatus, from its
technostructures to the municipalities; the institutions of coercion to the legal apparatus; the intelligentsia to
the diplomatic apparatus; official publications to the “independent press”; and from crony capitalism to the
“investigation of corruption scandals”. This redeployment, strongly emphasized in the praetorian “global
strategy” issued in 1990, allowed the secret police to organize purges and extend its control. It resulted in a
re-configuration of the institutional arrangements thanks to the innovative distribution of resources and
authority. This gradual and hidden change, which mainstream scholarship has had difficulty capturing, was
caused by a transformation within security services. The politics of this metamorphosis went hand-in-hand
with what Charles Tilly called the formation of the “state as organized crime”,
operatingmuch more than
an “upgrading”—a transformation of security services into the so-called deep state. I have defined the latter
as a diffuse system of government reaching to the heart of the institutional arrangements of the political
formula, which, in syphoning off state power, has been able to neutralize competing segments of the ruling
bloc, pre-empting decision-making and achieving autonomy from other components of the polity. While the
state power is the keystone of the state-regime complex, the deep state constitutes the supporting structure of
For the testimonies of Abdelkader Hachani and Abassi Madani, see respectively: Libération, 16 September 1999, 9; (from minute 36).
Harcourt, 2018.
Inter alia, Amnesty International, 1996; Tincq, 1998; Bedjaoui, 1999; Samraoui, 2003; Veilleux, 2003.
Demain L’Algérie, 7 September 1998. Dropped by a newspaper officially close to Zeroual-Betchine group a few days only before the
resignation of Head of State Zeroual, the “coup” targeted Larbi Belkheir, who was actively preparing his return to power via the co-opting of
Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Ammar Belhimer, the director of the daily Demain L’Algérie was appointed director of advertising in the public agency
ANEP between 2000 and 2003 and minister of communication and government spokesperson since January 2020.
Kalyvas, 1999.
Somers, 1996.
Zerrouki, 1993. Le Matin, 15 September 1993.
Mamdani, 2004.
Nezzar, 1999, p. 222.
Andrzejewski, 1954.
Tilly, 1986.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
the authoritarian system.
Knowing that “the exercise of authority is not just the exercise of power but also
potentially a way of generating power”, not only did the DRS gain control over political authority; the real
holder of state power successfully managed to use political authority to institutionalize advantage: i.e., to
“lay the groundwork for future victories”.
The formation of the Algerian deep state has proceeded from a
“conversion” mechanism, in other words “the transformation of an already-existing institution or policy
through its authoritative redirection, reinterpretation, or reappropriation” which “requires active
reinterpretation of existing formal rules to serve new ends”.
The legal measures that made this possible
included the reestablishment, following the release of the reformers on 4 June 1991, of the system that made
all appointments to key posts in the state apparatus conditional on “security clearances” provided by the
By including the state of exception in the legal order, the repressive paradigm of government also
included the so-called presidential decree of 9 February 1992 establishing the state of emergency, the
“legislative decree on the fight against subversion and terrorism” of 30 September 1992, and the inter-
ministerial order of 25 July 1993 that transformed the state of emergency into a state of siege.
The Missing Link: “Shock Therapy” and “War of Maneuver”
While the fall of the Berlin wall almost immediately enshrined the “Washington Consensus” as the only way
forward, mainstream international press was increasingly praising the Chilean model. So it was with The
Economist published on 22 December 1990 on “Mikhail Sergeevitch Pinochet?”
In an article on “free market and the generals” published in Newsweek less than ten years before this
neoliberal moment of hegemony, Milton Friedman, running to aid an economy ruined by the Chicago
put forward the myth of the “Chilean model”:
Chile is an economic miracle… Many state enterprises have been denationalized and motor transport
and other areas deregulated. A voucher system has been put into effect in elementary and secondary
education. Most remarkable of all, a social-security reform has been adopted that permits individuals
to choose between participating in the government system or providing their own retirement privately.
Chile is an even more amazing political miracle. A military regime has supported reforms that reduce
sharply the role of the state… The political miracle is the product of an unusual set of circumstances.
In a now famous passage from his bestseller Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman highlights the role of crises
in the implementation of neoliberalism:
(…) keep options open until circumstances make change necessary. There is enormous inertia—a
tyranny of status quoin private and especially governmental arrangements. Only a crisisactual or
perceivedproduces real changes. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the
ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing
policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically
The praetorian oligarchy concerned since the beginning of the 1980s by the neoliberal transformation of the
populist-authoritarian formula, has operated much more than a “re-equilibrium” since the coup of January
Hachemaoui, 2015, p. 661. I advanced the definition of “the deep state that emerged during the praetorian and neoliberal counterrevolution”
in Hachemaoui, 2014, 2015. In his Généraux, Gangsters et Jihadistes. Histoire de la contrerévolution arabe (Paris: La Découverte, 2018),
Jean-Pierre Filiu, a former diplomat, expert and adviser sometimes to the ministry of defense sometimes to the ministry of foreign affairs of
the French state, claimed that Algeria constitutes ‘the matrix’ of the ‘Arab counterrevolution’ without making the slightest reference to works
that document and theorize the mechanism and the process of formation of the Algerian deep state in the wake of the second pr aetorian and
neoliberal counterrevolution in Algeria. Indeed, none of the specialists of Algeria mobilized by this prolific author in support of his second-
hand work on the Algerian case advance the interpretation of counterrevolution and the deep state. The works mobilized by the expert are,
moreover, part of the orthodox scholarship.
Pierson, 2015.
Hacker, Pierson, Thelen, 2015, p. 185.
Author’s interview with former Chief of Government Sid Ahmed Ghozali, Algiers, November 2010.
Hachemaoui, 2011.
Valenzuela and Valenzuela, 1986; Constable and Valenzuela, 1992 ; Solimano, 2012.
Friedman, 1982a.
Friedman, 1982, pp. viii-ix.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
Worried about gaining the support of the institutions of the “Washington consensus”, the praetorians
undertook a counterrevolution, the second after that carried out by their predecessors during the founding
moment of the war of independence. Hence the cooptation of Mohammed Boudiaf, Ali Kafi, Rédha Malek,
Ali Haroun, etc., for assuming formal government of the garrison states. After the failure of the “passive
revolution” of the “infitah”, the October 1988 Blitzkrieg and the “war of position” of the liberalization of
1989-1991, the second counterrevolution can only be done now through a “war of maneuver”. However, it
was not only praetorian in character; it was also neoliberal. Particularly fierce in form, it followed a logic of
“creative destruction”
since while the militarization required the tight control of the polity, the “protection
racket” politics that was also underway allowed the government to carry out the neoliberalization of the
authoritarian-populist formula, something that had been on pause since the “infitah” of the beginning of the
1980s and that the reformers had jeopardized between 1989 and 1991. The government justified the
agreement of a structural adjustment program with the IMF in April 1994 by pointing to a “cessation-of-
payments”. However, nothing of the sort had taken place since Abdesselam Belaïd (the head of government
from July 1992 to August 1993) had left behind him a surplus in the country’s balance of payments of some
2 billion US dollars before being removed after his refusal to follow the neoliberal agenda recommended by
the praetorian oligarchy.
While the conditionalities imposed by the IMF served as a useful pretext to
accomplish the privatization of state owned enterprises and to make well-connected crony capitalists, the
terror made the cost of any opposition to such structural adjustment very high indeed. Simultaneously with
the Blitzkrieg of shock therapy, the praetorian government launched the notorious watchword: “la peur doit
changer de camp!”(fear must change sides).
Eager to obscure the processes that had been at work since 1992, the DRS strengthened pseudo-politics.
While a military dictatorship had been behind waves of political assassination, forced disappearances,
sporadic raids and concentration camps, the security services were at the same time redoubling their efforts
to promote the narrative of “Algeria: the next fundamentalist state”
to go hand-in-hand with the established
culturalist discourse of the “clash of civilizations”.
To get closer to the United-States some days before the
conclusion of the Structural Adjustment Program with theWall Street-Treasury-IMF Complex”,
Algerian garrison state 2.0 broke diplomatic relations with Iran on 27 March 1993 on the dubious pretext that
the “Ayatollah finance[d] the FIS”.
At the same time however, the DRS installed the former senior
executive of the Sunni neo-fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front (Saïd Guechi) as ambassador to Saudi
The praetorian government, offering a laboratory for orientalism and economicism, propagates
through its “ideological power” the story of a “civil war” opposing so-called “republicans” to “islamo-
However, was it simply a coincidence that professionals of pseudo-politics from “democrats” to
fundamentalists” including “experts”, defended the “shock therapy”? Implacable, the new praetorian
neoliberal counterrevolution led its agents from the “trotskyists” still profoundly anti-internationalist to
Lowi, 2009.
Inter alia Harvey, 2005; Mirowski and Plehwe, 2009; Brown, 2015.
Interviews with Abdesselam Belaïd (Algiers, October 2000) and Abdelouahab Keramane, (Paris, February 2012).
This infamous phrase, originally used by Marcel Bigeard during the “Bataille d’Alger”, was taken over by Prime Minister Rédha Malek
during the funeral of the assassinated leftist dramatist Abdelkader Alloula in March 1994. This slogan had already been the subject of an
editorial of the commander Abderrahmane Mahmoudi in L’Hebdo Libéré (n°23, 29 May 1991) some days before the imposition of the state of
Fuller, 1996
Lewis, 1990; Kepel, 1992; Huntington, 1993.
Wade, Veneso, 1998.
Rédha Malek was then the Algerian garrison state’s minister of foreign affairs. El Watan prefigured this decision some months before. See
the editorial of Tayeb Belghiche, “Isoler Teheran” (El Watan, 30 November 1992).
Immediately after the invasion of Kuwait, Ali Benhadj publicly denounced the ‘secular’ Saddam Hussein and defended Saudi Arabiain
contrast to Abassi Madani. Nonetheless, noting the support of Algerians to Saddam Hussein, Benhadj executed a turnaround.
The “organic intellectual” Rachid Boudjedra launched the term of ‘fascislamism’ in his well-diffused pamphlet Le Fis de la haine (Paris:
Denoël, March 1992). Bernard-Henry Lévy, who promoted the ideological crusade against “fascislamism”, was invited by the Algerian
establishment to visit Algeria in 1997 following the massacres of civilian populations. In his articles in Le Monde (8 and 9 January 1997), the
‘embedded’ philosopher exculpated ex cathedra the Algerian military from the massacres of the second counterrevolution. While the Algerian
‘independent press’ warmly congratulated the French intellectual for his testimony, in his Mémoires, former Minister of Defense Khaled Nezzar
did not fail to express his gratitude to Bernard-Henry Lévy.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
“NATO’s Islamists”. This included incorporation into the country’s institutions of pseudo-politics (elections,
parliament, government, “commissions of reforms”, etc.), the demobilization of the population, the defense
of policies of impunity and amnesia, and backing joining NATO’s security architecture. The sophisticated
institutional arsenal launched after the country’s first democratic election of June 1990 invalidate the
orthodox narrative that denies the neo-praetorian and neo-liberal counterrevolutionary strategy whose
paradigm is well-known since the “Chilean Miracle” touted by Milton Friedman and the mainstream
international press. Thanks to this “cumulative bureaucratization of violence”,
the DRS managed to
coercively discipline the entire polity under its control through a repertoire including political assassinations,
torture, massacres of civilian populations, blackmail, corruption, etc.
The collective power commanding the garrison state perceived the danger that international justice
represented to the security community when Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón issued a warrant against Augusto
Pinochet in 1998. The urgency of “civilianizing” the praetorian formula became clear, especially since the
Algerian “pivotal state”
had recently hosted a senior NATO officialCommander-in-Chief of the United-
States Naval Forces in Europe and Commander-in-Chief of NATO’s Southern Command—for the first time
since the independence of Algeria but a few months only after the massacres of civilian populations.
However, this visit invalidates the official story of the “quarantining of the Algerian state”.
It reinforced
relations with the US and came just one month before the resignation of general-president Liamine Zeroual,
who did not receive the NATO officiala conjuncture neglected by experts on Algerian politics who
attribute this geopolitical achievement to Bouteflika.
Civilianizing or Camouflaging the Garrison State?
In this context, established US expert William Quandt published Between Ballots and Ballets. Algeria’s
Transition From Authoritarianism. Staff member of the National Security Council during the Nixon and
Carter administrations before becoming Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution, then Professor at Virginia
University, Quandt concluded his report as follows: “For the moment, Algeria should be thought of as a
country in the early stages of a difficult transition away from its authoritarian past. But it will not be surprising
if Algeria reaches the goal of accountable, representative government in advance of many others in the
This accurately describes the link between the key geopolitical move of the ex-“revolutionary state” and the
launch of the civilianization of the praetorian regime as not being the result of a fortuitous hazard. While
General Liamine Zeroual did not even finish the third year of his presidential term, the “independent press”
began to talk about “succession”
in August 1998 just a few days after this highly crucial sequence,
Malešević, 2017, p. 96.
Chase, Hill, Kennedy, 1996. The authors of this Foreign Affairs’ article define the “pivotal states” as the “small number of countries whose
fate is uncertain and whose future will profoundly affect their surrounding regions”. The conceptors of the “conservative doctrine” emphasize
the idea that “a preventive assistance” for these “new dominoes” to “reduce the chance of collapse would better serve the American interests”.
Considering Algeria as a “pivotal state”, they stress the following, in echo to the Algerian praetorian blueprint of autumn 1990: “A civil war
and the replacement of the present regime by extremists would affect the security of the Mediterranean sea-lanes, international oil and gas
markets, and, as in the case of Egypt, the struggle between moderate and radical elements of the Islamic world”. See Chase, Hill, Kennedy,
1998, p. 8.
« L’OTAN se rapproche des Algériens », El Watan, 11 August 1998, p. 1 and 3.
Roberts, 2007; Martinez quoted by Werenfels, 2007, p. 58.
Quandt, 1998b, p. 164. El Watan published a translation of the conclusion of Quandt’s book five days after the visit of the US and NATO
higher officer to Algiers. Quandt’s book was translated into French soon after and published by the insider and well-established Casbah Editions
in Algiers. Robert Malley, Special Assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs and Director for Near East and South Asian affairs at
the National Security Council, subscribed to the orthodox narrative too in his Call from Algeria (Malley, 1996). International Crisis Group, the
organization of which Robert Maley was to become president in 2018, co-opted the former Algerian Ambassador to Washington (1996-1999)
and Foreign Minister of the Algerian garrison state (2013-2017), Ramtane Lamamra, in its “board of trustees” (until March 2019) alongside
Lawrence Summers, former director of the US National Economic Council and secretary of the U.S. Treasury in the Clinton Administration.
El Watan, 19 August 1998, p. 2. In his contribution to the edited book The Pivotal States, Quandt writes the following: “It is probably fair
to say that as of early 1998 Washington’s hopes that Zeroual would turn out to be an effective president (…) have been disappointed (…)”.
Quandt, 1998a, p. 212.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
launching a fierce campaign against Zeroual’s right-hand man. The state-controlled trade union (UGTA) was
not far behind: the “administered mass organization” threatened to recourse to a “general strike”—
as it
had in the last days of the reformer governmenta threat that this apparatus of pseudo-politics withdrew
immediately after President Zeroual’s unconstitutional announcement on 11 September 1998 to shorten his
mandate and organize a presidential election six months later:
an artifice to dissimulate the resignation and
dress up the constitutional void dug by the praetorian process.
Operationalizing agenda control, the deep state built by the DRS moved on to a new stage: supplanting the
discredited formula of the turnover of presidents (1992-1998) by a new one, namely the longevity of the raïs.
Led by Major-General Mohamed Mediene, it coopted Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the pro-western foreign minister
during the Boumediene regime and supporter of the “infitah”, on the basis of a policy agenda made quasi-
public at the time. It included: whitewashing the international image of a state that had been blackened by
the massacres and political murders of the second counterrevolution; the lock of political space; the
implementing of a policy of impunity and forgetfulness; the subordination of the official authorities to the
secret police; the consolidating, in a post-conflict and depolitized peaceful time, of the market;
deepening of the neo-liberalization through the lenses of embeddedness; the strengthening of the integration
of the Algerian state into the US Empire, including integration into NATO’s security architecture and close
collaboration with Washington in counterterrorism.
These were the enduring legacies that constrained Bouteflika since his co-optation in 1999. The successor of
Zeroual did not take long to get to work. In an international press conference held in Algiers in the aftermath
of his authoritarian election, the “civilian president” Abdelaziz Bouteflika—who the intellectual Mohammed
Harbi proclaimed in Le Monde was “not manipulable”
swept away the issue of torture, saying: “Our
house is made of glass!”
Some weeks later, he shook hands with the Israeli prime minister at the funeral
of King Hassan II, capturing thus the attention of the French and international media. While the Algerian
foreign minister was received by his American counterpart in Washington some days after the historic NATO
senior official’s visit to Algeria,
Bouteflika was in turn received at the White House by the freshly installed
George W. Bush Jr. administration. The myth of Bouteflika’s “brilliant” leadership was born.
For the
influential expert Lahouari Addiwho claimed in El Watan (24 August 1992) that the “the army”, which
constituted according to him, “the main achievement of the national liberation movement … should not be
touched by austerity measures to allow it a maximum level of combativeness”(sic)—the “election of M.
Bouteflika to the Presidency of the Republic” in April 1999 “gave rise to formidable hopes”. For this “organic
intellectual”, the “conditions [for a political resolution of the Algerian crisis] are now more favorable, under
the auspices of Mr. Bouteflika, of whom it is to be hoped that he will be able to send the soldiers back to their
One final great obstacle, however, thwarted the agenda of the garrison state 3.0. Released after five years in
pre-trial detention, Abdelakader Hachani, 42 years old, strongly opposed the policy of impunity and amnesia.
Multiplying the interviews to the international pressonly to stretch him the microphonehe insisted in
September 1999: “All those who have committed crimes in the camp of power, like the other camp, should
be trialed”.
The FIS popular leader was assassinated two months later in Algiers by a silent pistola
Benjaminian historical moment reminiscent of the assassination of Filali and Bekhat in 1957, Mécili in 1987,
Boudiaf in 1992 and Fathallah in 1994.
El Watan, 27 August 27 1998.
El Watan, 16 September 1998.
The established expert William Quandt indicated the Algerian politics of Washington in 1998: “In brief, we will support a pro gram of
economic and political reform but will find it difficult to back a purely military solution to the problem of internal violence”. Quandt, 1998a,
p. 213.
For the last issue, see Keenan, 2009.
Le Monde, 17 April 1999, p. 8.
Participant observation.
El Watan, 19 August 1998.
Roberts, 2007; Werenfels, 2007; Lowi, 2009.
Addi, 2001.
Libération, 16 Septembre 1999, p. 9.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
In exchange for carrying out the agenda of the garrison state 3.0, the “civilian president” enjoyed some margin
of maneuver and above all, longevity. Not having and being unable to constitute infrastructural power, the
coopted “president”, as “shrewd” as he was supposed to be, was unlikely to threaten the consolidated
praetorian state-regime complex.
Who Governed the New State-Regime Complex?
The cumulative power of the deep state, working to extend its domination, made the longevity of the raïs a
key objective. Promoting this story from the outset, the “independent press” assigned responsibility for the
military reshuffle of February 2001 to Bouteflika, when evidence suggests that the praetorian elite in the
wake of Zeroual’s resignation had initiated this.
Realizing, a year after Bouteflikas cooptation, the extent of state power that the head of the DRS managed
to capture during the second counter-revolution, the rivals of the patron of the deep state constituted a
praetorian coalition. This alliance was formed around the director of the presidential cabinet Larbi Belkheir,
the director of the counterintelligence Smaïn Lamari and Chief of staff Mohamed Laamari. Three months
before the official visit of the Algerian head of state to the United-States, the coalition launched an
unprecedented public attack against General Major Mohamed Mediene (alias Toufik), who had succeeded in
weaving a strategic alliance with Washington. The blow was delivered via the Algerian “independent
and went so far as to accuse the dreaded boss of the DRS of having sponsored the political
assassination of moderate leader of the FIS Abdelkader Hachani! The newspaper El Watan (dated 23 April
2001) published for the first time a photo
of the head of the DRS and considered its exit.
Toufik’s counterstroke was however much more dissuasive. Mediene’s client, the former chief of staff of the
Délégué Général à la Prévention et à la Sécurité (1987-1988) published a resounding interview in the columns
of the Nouvel Observateur in which he accused General Larbi Belkheir, the influential director of the
Presidential cabinet during the 1980s, of having sponsored the political assassination of the Algerian
opponent Ali André Mécili in Paris on 7 April 1987.
By bringing the conflict to France, this new testimony
resumed the Mécili case in court. Indeed, the trial launched in Paris by Khaled Nezzar, former Defense
Minister and loyal and sure ally of the head of the DRS, against a deserting second lieutenant made the
hypothesis of the judicial reopening of the Mécili case even more likely than ever. This threat is all the more
serious as Larbi Belkheir is accused, in the columns of the deeply controlled daily Le Matin, of the
assassination of Head of State Mohammed Boudiaf on 29 June 29 1992 in Annaba.
The exchange of blows did not stop there, however. As in every tense conflict, the protagonists resort to
violence. It is precisely in this context that the very obscure cycle of repression that struck down Kabylia
from 18 April 2001 arose. The commission formed by the praetorian government to investigate this state
violence which caused more than a hundred dead, by ruling out any involvement of the DRS in this sequence,
stresses the responsibility of the command of the 1st and 5th military regions and therefore the Head of Army
chief of staff. The verdict of the president of this official commission was as follows: “We did not meet with
the DRS during our investigation. The DRS has no interest in doing this. Some circles may have accounts to
settle with the DRS…”
Understanding that the tenant of the El Mouradia Palace was the hostage of the head of the DRS, the army
chief of staff decided to publicly oppose Bouteflika’s reelection for a second presidential mandate, in the
authoritative daily El Khabar.
Contrary to what the AFP, the French and the Algerian press wrote, General
Addi, 2001.
L’Authentique, 13 and 14 April 2001.
The publication, of the photo of Kasdi Merbah for the first time in the press had preceded the fall of the hitherto head of the secret police
Le Nouvel Observateur, n°1910, 14 June 2001.
Cherif, 2001, 2002.
Algeria Interface, 8 May 2003.
El Khabar, 15 January, 2004, p. 3.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
Mohamed Laamari did not resign but was severely dismissed.
The humiliating removal of the army chief
of staff and his allies in the wake of the 2004 presidential election is an indisputable indicator: the DRS
siphoned the infrastructural power of the garrison state.
Mohamed Laamari was not only dismissed from
his post of chief of staff. Indeed, TONIC, his “private” economic empire built in the early 2000s thanks to
crony capitalism, collapsed like a house of cards just after his release.
El Khalifa bank, the conglomerate whose meteoric rise dates back to 1998-1999 foretold in truth the decline
of Larbi Belkheir and his group,
when he brutally began his fall from the autumn of 2002.
Though he
remained director of the presidential cabinet after the 2004 electoral coup, Larbi Belkheir had no choice but
to leave the Presidency.
A week before the exit of the former Minister of the Interior (October 1991-July
1992), an interview of the widow of Mohamed Boudiafwho was assassinated in June 1992declared on
Al Jazeera television that Boumaarafi was not the assassin of the head of state and that she had the video
recording this state crime!
Also, it was the second term given to Bouteflika thanks to the secret police infrastructural power, that
facilitated (less a crucial moment in the restoration of the presidency as the substantive and not merely
formal apex of the Algerian power structure
than) the ejection of praetorian rivals by the DRS.
In short,
Abdelaziz Bouteflika who was maintained in office for a third term despite his illness, less “gently
shepherded” the praetorians “back toward the barracks”
than he was a hostage of the deep state. This is
similar to Mohamed Laamari’s successor as army chief of staff (Gaïd Salah) since after 2004 the boss of the
DRS, who controlled the Direction Centrale de la Sécurité de l’Armée since December 1988,
had been
able to impose his grip on the entire military command chain, consolidating its position as an army above the
army. With the humiliating dismissal of the chief of staff and his allies in 2004, the DRS managed to control
the “military power”, i.e. “the social organization of concentrated lethal violence”.
The final confrontation opposed the group formed by Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his minister of the Interior,
former number two of the Sécurité Militaire, Nourredine Yazid Zerhouni, to the powerful general of the army
corps Mohamed Mediene. Carefully concealed behind the smoke screen of an “anti-corruption campaign”
launched by the DRS investigators” (sic),
the issue of the crisis actually concerned the replacement of the
head of the DRS. The declarations of Chafik Mesbah, a “retired” secret service senior officer converted into
a quasi-official expert of the army offer some clarification. Indeed, an interview granted at the heart of this
conflict to El Watan by this well-known unofficial spokesperson of the patron of the DRS, identifies the real
issues at work beyond the screen of pseudo-politics:
Garçon, 2004. “Décret présidentiel du 3 août 2004 mettant fin aux fonctions de chef d’état-major de l’armée populaire nationale exercées
par le général de corps d’armée Mohamed Lamari”, Journal officiel de la république algérienne, n°49, 8 August 2004, p. 24.
Hachemaoui, 2015.
Hachemaoui, 2011.
Beau, 2002; Rivoire, 2003. In the documentary devoted to the “Khalifa affair” which Canal + broadcasted during President Jacques Chirac’s
state visit to Algeria (2-4 March 2003), the director presented Larbi Belkheir as “the No. 2 of the regime” and the real conductor of the Khalifa
empire. In support of his story, Rivoire broadcasted exclusive videos of official and private receptions showing Larbi Belkheir at work. On the
day of the first broadcast of this documentary, the very controlled Banque d'Algérie decided to appoint a provisional administrator at the head
of El Khalifa Bank. The ban on transfers abroad issued by the Algerian central bank against El Khalifa bank followed shortly after the
publication of articles in the French weekly Canard enchaîné (October 23, 2002) announcing the fall of the “Khalifa empire”. It is allowed, at
this stage, to put forward a hypothesis, not taken into account by the expertise, to elucidate the unpunished crime of the monks of Tibhirines:
a war of the services opposing the apparatus of the head of the DRS Mohamed Mediene to that of the counter-espionage of Smain Lamari. The
beheading of monks aimed to discredit General Smain Lamari (and Larbi Belkheir) whose links with the French DST was open secrecy.
“El Khalifa Bank ou le scandale des scandales”, Algeria Interface, 13 June 2003; Mahmoudi, 2003; Aggoun, Rivoire, 2004.
332 (last view 12 January 2019).
Roberts, 2007, p. 14.
Among them, Generals Mohamed Laamari, Larbi Belkheir and Brahim Fodhil-Cherif, respectively army chief of staff, director of the
presidential office and chief of the 1st military region. Hachemaoui, 2015.
Lowi, 2009, p. xi.
Nowadays, no decree has appeared in the Journal Officiel confirming the appointment of so-called successors to Mohamed Mediene at the
head of the immensely strategic Direction Centrale de la Sécurité de l’Armée. The most recent is the one published on 7 D ecember 1988
certifying, we saw it, the installation of Mohamed Mediene at the head of the DCSA.
Mann, 2009, p. 351.
This story was sold by the so-called independent press and a number of experts, including a former top manager of SONATRACH. See
“Lettre ouverte à Messieurs les enquêteurs du DRS”, El Watan, 30 January 2010, pp. 1 and 8-9.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
Mesbah: […] notwithstanding all the Byzantine discussions, the power of the head of state rests on a
main pillar, the DRS...
El Watan: However, it would seem that the project lent to the President of the Republic to bring
together all the security and intelligence services under a single supervision, a great minister of
security, have precipitated the current investigations by the DRS.
Mesbah: […] It is politically ingenuous to assume that the head of state, in his current position, is
thinking of cutting the branch on which he is sitting.
The conflict was far from ending there. A week later, it rose to extremes with the political assassination
“behind closed doors” of Ali Tounsi, the head of the police, colonel and former comrade of Yazid Zerhouni
in the Sécurité Militaire. Struck with tactical paralysis, Zerhouni neither succeeded in constituting a great
minister of security nor in appointing his candidate for the head of the police; losing his power struggle with
the fearsome boss of the DRS, he left his functions as minister of the interior in May 2010.
The resignation of President Zeroual, the dismissal of Chief of staff Mohamed Laamari, the successive exits
of Larbi Belkheir and former Minister of the interior Yazid Zerhouni reveal, in negative, the winner-take-all
politics pursued by the all-powerful DRS in the shadow of the neo-praetorian and neoliberal counter-
The Military-Capitalist Complex
It was in the shade of Bouteflika’s presumed “regime” that the army increased its military spending by 176%
between 2004 and 2013.
Supported by such financial flows, the Algerian military captured 46% of arms
imports in Africa between 2006 and 2010 and became the ninth largest arms importer in the world.
Strengthening this trend, the Algerian garrison state ranked fifth among the world’s largest arms importers
in the world between 2014 and 2018.
With its elevated ratio of military spending/GDP (5.7 in 2017), its
130 000 active soldiers and high numbers of paramilitary forces, the Algerian garrison state 3.0 was the
most heavily militarized in Africa”, ranking fifteenth in the Global Militarization Index of 2018.
quantity and dimension of barracks crisscrossing the territory, starting with Algiers, are as impressive as they
are dissuasive.
Parallel to this structuring logic towards militarization, another no less structuring trend was doing its work:
the consolidation of “crony capitalism” in the shadow of the cliché of the “bazar economy”. This universal
type of capitalism intended to apprehend such systems in which those tightly connected to the hierarchical
power of the state gained highly valued economic favors.
The most frequent scheme consists of: 1)
providing capital very cheaply to politically connected cronies through government-controlled banks; 2)
awarding protected monopoly or oligopoly to crony capitalists that allowed them to set high prices and earn
monopoly rents. But what retained the despotic power of the state from changing the arrangements? The
solution lies in “collusive corruption”: actors of the despotic power share the “high rates of rents generated
in short time horizons” by crony capitalists. Crony capitalism thus generates “misallocation of public
resources”. Politically rather than economically created, the ‘private’ monopolies and oligopolies cannot
survive without the backing provided by those who hold the hierarchical power of the state.
Karl Marx uncovered the “secret of primitive accumulation” in his chapter 26 of Capital:
El Watan, 17 February 2010, pp. 6-7.
between-2004-and-2013.png The issue of rising military expenditures is surprisingly neglected by Roberts in his influential “Demilitarizing
Personal observations in and around Algiers, Blida, Kabylia, Tipaza and Oran, during the spring and summer 2019.
Haber, 2003; Dawisha, 2014; Pei, 2016.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
This primitive accumulation plays in political economy about the same part as original sin in theology.
Adam bit the apple, and thereupon sin fell on the human race. Its origin is supposed to be explained
when it is told as an anecdote of the past. In times long gone-by there were two sorts of people; one,
the diligent, intelligent, and, above all, frugal elite; the other, lazy rascals, spending their substance,
and more, in riotous living. (...) Thus it came to pass that the former sort accumulated wealth, and the
latter sort had at last nothing to sell except their own skins. And from this original sin dates the poverty
of the great majority that, despite all its labour, has up to now nothing to sell but itself, and the wealth
of the few that increases constantly although they have long ceased to work. Such childishness is every
day preached to us in the defense of property… In actual history it is notorious that conquest,
enslavement, robbery, murder, briefly force, play the great part. In the tender annals of Political
Economy, the idyllic reigns from time immemorial. Right and “labour” were from all time the sole
means of enrichment, the present year of course always accepted. As a matter of fact, the methods of
primitive accumulation are anything but idyllic.
In Algeria, it was in the shadow of the so-called “war against jihad” that this primitive accumulation of capital
took place. The golden legend of businessmen like Issad Rebrab, Arezki Idjerouidene, Mustapha Ait-
Adjedjou, Abdellah Hasnaoui or Mohamed M’gueddem illustrates perfectly this structuring logic. According
to Abdesselam Belaïd, head of government between August 1992 and September 1993, three cronies had
been co-opted at the end of 1991 by decision-makers to capture through the controlled Conseil du crédit et
de la monnaie, the monetary authority of the Banque d’Algérie,
bank credit lines of $200,000 each: Rebrab,
Ait-Adjedou and Idjerouidene.
Exclusive representatives in Algeria of global firms (Nissan, Daewoo,
Hyundai, Komatsu, Sanofi, GSK, Samsung, etc.), the deep-rooted Algerian crony capitalists supply military
and civilian institutions of the garrison state (Army, Gendarmerie, Police, Sonatrach, etc.) with vehicles,
equipment and logistics.
Unsurprisingly, these individuals and their families are among the wealthiest in
the countryif not in North Africa.
The third oil boom made it possible to reconnect with social redistribution and broaden the social bases of
the regime. Hence the increase of minimum wages, the granting of housing subsidies, etc. But far from
making a return to the policy paradigm of the 1970s, in a Polanyian “second movement”
this policy rather
proceeds from an embedded neoliberalism. Indeed, public spending benefits not only the middle and popular
classes but also, if not especially, private oligopolies.
Another mechanism disregarded by conventional
economic expertise reveals the deepening of neoliberalization: household debt. This new phenomenon has
experienced a vertiginous growth in Algeria, reaching 3 billion US dollars six months after the fourth re-
election of the impotent Bouteflika in the context of the Arab collective mobilizations.
The popular uprisings that precipitated the ousting of “presidents for life” Ben Ali and Mubarak
weakened Bouteflika. Controlling the ideological power of the garrison state, the DRS gained an important
“diagnostic learning”
from this critical juncture.
« Loi n°90-10 du 14 avril 1990 relative à la monnaie et au crédit », Journal officiel de la république algérienne, n°16, 18 April 1990.
Interview with the author, Algiers, November 2000. Information confirmed by a former banker.
Hachemaoui, 2011, 2012b.
Polanyi, 1983 (1944).
Hachemaoui, 2012b, 2015.
El Khabar, 24 November 2014; Le Quotidien d’Oran, 13 December 2008. For the political economy of debt in the authoritarian Tunisia of
Ben Ali, see Hibou, 2011.
Inter alia Achcar, 2013; Beinin, 2015.
Levy, 1994.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
Redefining the Situation
Jack Levy defines the “political learning” as such “changes in beliefs about the definition of the situation or
the preferences, intentions, or relative capabilities of others”.
The first analytically constructed political
lesson drawn by the DRS was that the anger of those millions of “losers” of neoliberal authoritarianism had
been channeled into the denunciation of the “raïs” and his “clan” since they embodied authoritarianism-and-
corruption in popular representation.
In Egypt, the praetorian army managed to preserve its powerful
institution in a context of revolutionary process by sacrificing raïs Mubarak.
This explains why the
command of the Algerian deep state played the Bouteflika IV card at the same time as the western-accepted
coup carried out by the Egyptian army since it allowed the very useful fiction of the “sultanistic”
drift of
the Algerian praetorian regime to be reinforced thanks to pseudo-politics. The second political learning was
that in the hypothesis of a popular turmoil the “presidential clan” could be forgone in order to preserve the
real structures of the Algerian authoritarian system. The third political lesson regarding the “change in beliefs
about the definition of the situation” troubled the call for the dissolution of the mukhabarat. At a time when
the secret police had been formally dissolved in neighboring revolutionary Tunisia, the DRS had then to
announce its deceptive disbanding, preempting and underlining the “futility of revolution”.
A simulacrum
of “dissolution” of the DRS could then be propagated through false reports to avoid having to endorse the
farce of Bouteflika IV. The fourth lesson in this learning process concerns the role of youth in the
revolutionary processes in Tunisia and Egypt. Additionally, the praetorian government that was more than
ever under the control of the DRS had launched a new wave of “political parties” and “civil society
associations” in Algeria in 2012—as well as in France were an important Algerian community lives. These
include “Jil Jadid” (New Generation) of Sofiane Djillali: former executive member of the PRA (Boukrouh’s
Parti du Renouveau Algérien, a professional of pseudo-politics who supported the praetorian and neoliberal
process since 1989) and former campaign director of Ali Benflis during the 2004 authoritarian election,
Bouteflika’s alleged challenger; UPC of Zoubida Assoul, former member of the designated parliament during
the shock therapy and adviser of the president of a rubber stamp parliament during the 2000s. “NABNI” is
another product of this fabric: formed essentially by young educated “heirs” and crony capitalists, the
neoliberal think-tank benefited from its launch by an outstanding media coverage in both “private” and
“public”, Algerian and French media; the government interlocutor, who recycled the orthodox neoliberal
policy prescriptions, proceeded from a smooth depoliticization of the economy.
Exacerbated by the popular Arab uprisings, the urgency to take care of the young Algerians appeared also in
the field of culture, the apparatus of the praetorian government (ministry of culture, the Agence Algérienne
pour le Rayonnement Culturel, the Centre National de la Cinématographie et de l’Audiovisuel, the Centre
Algérien du Développement du Cinéma, etc.) promoting new musicians, humorists and filmmakers; the latter
having in common the promotion of the praetorian narrative from its origins to the “civil war”. Maintenant
ils peuvent venir (2015), the film directed by Salem Brahimi, the son of the former foreign minister of the
praetorian government and grandson of a Bach-Agha of the colonial makhzen, is emblematic. Generously
funded by governmental agencies, the film conveys the official narrative of the war against “Islamist
Last but not least, noting the key role played by the media in the revolutionary emulation, the DRS launched
private television channels in 2014 with the strategic objective of “chasing Al Jazeera in the audiovisual
space of Algerians”—to quote a journalist-and-military high officer, editorial director of Liberté and co-
producer of propaganda documentaries. “Ennahar” is one of the most successful of them. The “private” TV
Ibid, p. 285.
Hachemaoui, 2012b.
Achcar, 2013; Beinin, 2016; Abul-Magd, 2017.
Chehabi, Linz, 1998.
For an illustration of such reactionary rhetoric, read the article of the “organic intellectual” Kamel Daoud in Le Point, the magazine of the
global luxury industry mogul. Daoud, 2014.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
station, which is located near a famous DRS garrison in Algiers
, is owned by Mohammed M’gueddem:
the main shareholder of L’hebdo libéré having become, thanks to his deep connections with the head of the
DRS, a powerful comprador capitalist representing major German automotive brands. The car fleet of the
higher public institutions is mainly made up of luxury cars provided by the “private” oligopoly.
Having reached the height of his power, theshadowleader of the deep state was forced to come up with
a narrative that emphasized the “DRS as the loser of the Bouteflika presidency” to avoid being seen as the
real government of the polity. However, even if obscured by pseudo-politics the facts refute this story. The
formal “dissolution” of the military’s judicial police in no way damaged the apparatus of the deep state
specializing in cases of grand corruption, the security services having enjoyed, since 1966, the privilege of
appointing officers from among its ranks. The so-called re-attachment of the Central Direction of Military
Securityunder the grip of General Mediene since December 1988and the press service to the army chief
of staff, of which the DRS is anyway a part, in no way meant that these apparatuses had been captured by the
nominal head of the armed forces either. The praetorian configuration of state power in fact drains influence
away from the country’s formal institutions. The neutralization of the chief of staff during the October 1988
plot by the “professional officerKhaled Nezzar
or the humiliating dismissal of Mohamed Laamari in
2004 illustrate this phenomenon.
In the Shadow of the Simulated Simulacrum: The Meticulous Preparation of the Peaceful
The façade of Bouteflika’s autocracy allowed the deep state, controlling the political, ideological, economic
and military powers, to consolidate and extend its hold on the polity as a whole. For example, presidential
decree no. 14-183 (dated 11 June 2014) on the “creation, missions and organization of the judicial
investigations department of the internal security section of the DRS”—silenced the hegemonic narrative
despite the enormous political resources it concealedformalized its scope, encompassing a spectrum that
can be expanded at will from “security of territory” to “subversion” and “organized crime”.
As an result,
the DRS had four decisive prerogatives: the setting up of mobile brigades, the implementation of judicial
police operations, the requisitioning of courts and the handling of mutual legal assistance cases.
the decree stipulated that “the organization of the judicial investigations department of the internal security
service, along with the roles of its various components, shall be determined by the head of the DRS”,
not, as in the earlier 2008 text, by decree of the minister of defense.
This overlooked extensive power shatters the thesis of the “loss of leadership of the DRS” put forward by
conventional expertise.
This is all the more the case in that the “law” of 5 August 2009 also formalized the
use of surveillance tools that the deep state was already using. This dispositif, quietly adopted by parliament
and ignored by the conventional scholarship, stipulated that “for reasons relating to the maintenance of public
order, equipment to carry out the surveillance of electronic communications and to collect and record their
contents in real time can be employed, as can searches and seizures of electronic information systems”.
dense network of surveillance cameras reinforced the Orwellian arsenal.
As noted by a close ally of the
praetorian oligarchy, Sid-Ahmed Ghozali (former CEO of Sonatrach, former minister of foreign affairs,
former prime minister and former ambassador in Paris)a few months before the French military
Personal observation.
The commander of Land forces Khaled Nezzar, whom conventional expertise presents as a "professional officer" (Aït -Aoudia, 2016),
proudly claimed his insubordination during the military repression of October 1988: “…the chief of staff was much more of a brake on our
work flow. His action seemed so suspicious that I had to keep him away”. Nezzar, 1998, pp. 65-93.
Journal officiel de la république algérienne, n°32, 12 June 2014, pp. 4-5.
Ibid, p. 5.
Journal officiel de la république algérienne, n°8, 13 February 2008, pp. 5-6.
Martinez, 2015; Roberts, 2015.
Journal officiel de la république algérienne n°47, 16 August 2009, pp. 4-7. See also the BBC documentary on the cyber-surveillance tools
purchased by the Algerian garrison state:
Personnal observations in Algiers. See Parkinson, Bariyo, Chin, 2019.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
intervention in Mali: “If you count all those who officially work for the services, those who work informally
with them, out of fear, out of interest… you will discover the existence of a clandestine party of two million
Despite the obvious weakness of the hegemonic narrative, army general Mohamed Mediene’s “retirement”
in 2015 was nevertheless taken as final proof of its veracity. “Sixteen years after his election, Bouteflika is
now in power alone” wrote Le Figaro.
Yet, why had the presidency not published the decree relating to
this alleged “retirement”, as it had with the retirement of the army chief of staff in 2004?
Why had the
Journal officiel not published the appointment of the alleged new head of the DRS as it had when Mohamed
Liamine Mediene was made chief of the Central Security of the Army in December 1988
and when Larbi
Belkheir was appointed as the effective chief of the Haut Conseil de Sécurité
in April 1980?
Such inconsistencies reveal the structure that conventional scholarship has not allowed to reveal, namely that
the deep state controls a strategic resource worth more than almost any other: information and its counterpart
“ideological power”. Using journalists, experts, organic intellectuals and novelists, the DRS fabricated and
promoted stories of “Islamic totalitarianism”, the “sultanate of Bouteflika” and the “new oligarchs”, etc. In
this way, rational arguments attempting to establish the truth counted for less than the narrative codes used
to tell a story and gain general assent for it.
Much ado about nothingcould be the title of this episode of pseudo-politics. Indeed, the “dissolution of
the DRS”, far from signifying a “political earthquake”, proceeded from a politics of dissimulation. Moreover,
the story of the “weakening of the DRS” is a myth, a “depoliticized form of speech” that works to “evacuate
the real”.
The supposed retirement of Major General Toufik was orchestrated ten days after the visit to
Algeria of the US intelligence community head.
It was also a form of storytelling related to the regional
context since Tunisian president Béji Caïd Essabsi had earlier put pressure on the DRS by declaring on a
French TV station that “every time a terrorist group is uncovered in Tunisia there is an Algerian leader”
behind it.
Two months later Essabsi publicly asked for US help in intelligence gathering. Following this
move, US President Obama awarded Tunisia the privileged status of “a major non-NATO ally”.
Pushed into a corner, the DRS orchestrated the quarantining of the head of the Groupe d’Intervention Spéciale
(GIS), the DRS elite force, General Abdelkader Aït Ouarabi, a.k.a. Hassan, with a story about a “clash of
clans” to create a diversion. The announcement in the controlled “independent press” that Aït Ouarabi had
been “incarcerated” in a “military prison” at the same time as the visit that would have been made by the
head of the US intelligence services to Algiers was far from a coincidence.
The circle was complete with a New York Times article about the “removal of the head of the Algerian secret
services” that appeared at the same time. The author of this article did not hesitate to proclaim in the headline
that “Algerian president fires the head of the secret services,
but forgot to mention the role the “private
press” had played in the Algerian authoritarian system since the “fight against islamo-fascism” had begun.
He wrote, “Mr. Mediene’s removal came just a few weeks after the arrest of Abdelkader Aït Ouarabi” for,
quoting a newspaper close to the DRS, “forming an armed group”, and reflects processes that “have been
viewed in Algeria as the fulfillment of Mr. Bouteflika’s long-stated aim to exert more civilian control over
the military”.
Posted from Tunis, this article concluded by quoting an expert who candidly asserted that
Hachemaoui, 2015, p. 662.
Le Figaro, 5 September 2015, p. 9.
Journal officiel de la république algérienne, n°49, 8 August 2004, p. 24.
Journal officiel de la république algérienne, 7 December 1988, 1299.
Journal officiel de la république algérienne, 6 May 1980, p. 519.
Barthes, 2014, pp. 252-253.
While the deeply controlled Le Soir d’Algérie was the sole that reported on the supposed visit, the APS did not report it.
See, among others, the virulent editorial published by El Watan on 29 March 2015.
France24, 25 May 2015.
Tlemçani, 2015;
Gall, 2015. The article of NYT does not mention the visit to Algiers which would have occured two weeks before by the director of US
national intelligence.
Sociétés politiques comparées, 51, mai/août 2020
“Bouteflika has now succeeded”. “ [T]his act is very positive […] It signifies to people that no one is immune
and that no one is above the law”.
However, if this had really been the case, how can one explain the fact that a professional of pseudo-politics,
who worked ardently in favor of impunity and the amnesia of the second counterrevolution, was not in the
least bothered by the judicial apparatus when she announced on