President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has signed a decree to curb the presence of Algeria’s military intelligence service in public institutions, government sources said, to downgrade his rivals and ensure a smooth transition when he steps down.
Since independence from France in 1962, Algerian politics has often been dominated by an opaque behind-the-scenes power struggle between military and civilian leaders to control branches of North African state’s government.
A year ago, Bouteflika began taking steps to ease the military and its DRS intelligence wing out of the political sphere before his re-election to a fourth term this April, analysts said, preparing for his eventual departure from power.
But the veteran of the country’s war of independence has stepped up the pace of DRS reform since suffering a stroke last year that left him weakened and raised questions about who will succeed him after 15 years governing Africa’s largest country.
“Bouteflika wants the DRS to become more focused on security and to become more professional, this is why his reforms can only be positive,” a recently retired DRS officer told Reuters, asking not to be identified because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The president signed the decree for the DRS to remove their officials from public institutions early in October, according to sources. But it will not appear in the government gazette, the record that makes laws fully official once published.
The DRS, the French acronym of the intelligence agency Department of Intelligence and Security, played a pivotal role in the 1990s, when the Algerian state almost collapsed in a conflict with Islamist militants that killed 200,000 people.
International observers have generally ruled elections in Algeria free and fair and the president and the parliament are chosen at the ballot box. But many Algerians see rival clans of ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party elites and army generals – generally known simply as “The Power” – have long pulled the strings in politics in backroom deal-making.
Analysts and Algerian sources say Bouteflika has slowly edged the military out of politics, consolidating his own clan’s position and transforming Algeria into more of a civilian state in preparation for his stepping down.