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Algeria Abdelaziz Bouteflika Spying politics Analysis

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Algeria’s intelligence chief sacked in surprise shake-up

An Algerian man reads En-Nahar newspaper, bearing a picture for the first time of former Algerian intelligence chief General Mohamed Mediene, better known as General Toufik, in Algiers on September 13, 2015 AFP/Farouk Batiche

Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has replaced his powerful intelligence chief General Mohamed Mediene, better known as General Toufik, who served 25 years as head of the DRS intelligence service. The presidency said 76-year-old Mediene had retired but provided no further details.

General Mohamed Mediene is a very powerful figure, known as Algeria's "kingmaker". For him to be stepping down as head of the intelligence service marks a definite shift in the internal power dynamics within the country’s elite.

Many Algerian analysts have been reluctant to talk openly about this development, worried of reprisals against them and their families if they do so, such is the pervasive fear of the country’s intelligence service both across the country and the diaspora.

One analyst, who did not want to be named, told RFI that there is “a lot of paranoia” and “many myths” built up around the DRS and about Mediene himself which have been feeding into this cycle of fear.

Mediene had never appeared in public before but with his resignation some media has now felt free to show his face and yesterday the En-Nahar paper printed a picture of the elusive, powerful figure. Adlene Meddi, the editor of another paper, the daily Al-Watan, told RFI of conspiracy theories surrounding Mediene’s retirement, saying “General Toufik is a very cunning person who hides in the shadows and ordered the dismemberment of the DRS himself to prepare for his retirement.”

After he came to power Bouteflika sidelined parts of the army, weakening its power, and it seems likely he may be using this same tactic again to diminish the might of the intelligence services.

“This is the culmination of a longstanding power struggle between Bouteflika and General Mediene,” William Jordan, a retired US diplomat whose last posting was in Algeria, told RFI.

The president is 78 and in bad health. Jordan thinks this ‘retirement’ is a move to neutralise potential rivals and enable Bouteflika to move forward with picking potential successors.

The Algerian economy is suffering significantly from the falling price of oil and last week the central bank said that foreign reserves had fallen by 11.1 per cent in just the first six months of 2015 alone. These economic pressures may themselves see new political rivalries emerging in the years to come.