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Algeria remains in throes
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 20 - 06 - 2019

Algeria's public prosecutor ordered the arrest of seven businessmen and former officials in connection with corruption charges on Tuesday.
The men include the business partner of former prime minister Ahmed Ouyehia, Mourad Oulmi, CEO of Sovac company, Volkswagen's representative in Algeria; Omar Boudiab, former general manager of the Credit Populair d'Algerie bank and former Investment ministry officials Abdelkerim Mustafa and Hasiba Meqrawi.
Two other officials in the bank and the Investment Ministry were held in custody.
Nine former officials were placed under judicial supervision in connection with charges of money laundering, misuse of bank funds and inciting public servants to abuse power.
The arrests are part of a month-long anti-corruption drive supported by Gaid Saleh, Algeria's military chief of staff and de facto ruler since former president Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika resigned in April. The head of parliament's upper house, Abdel-Kader Bensalah, was named interim president on 9 April. He was expected to oversee presidential elections within 90 days, which he scheduled for 4 July, but massive weekly protests since 22 February — which forced Bouteflika to step down — demanded his resignation and the departure of the ruling elite.
The protest movement's scepticism towards elections under the political and executive system that existed throughout Bouteflika's 20 years in power resulted in their boycott by the vast majority of political parties and potential presidential candidates. Despite Saleh's insistence on holding the elections on time, to uphold the constitution, the military chief eventually accepted that Algeria's political turbulence would not allow for a poll as early as 4 July.
Elections have been postponed, but no new date has been set as both Saleh and the protest movement maintain the status quo, with neither side showing signs of changing tack.
On Monday, Saleh gave a speech where he stressed the need for a political dialogue that would lead to presidential elections.
He also said that a crackdown on “the scourge of corruption” since Bouteflika's resignation would spare none of those who benefited at the expense of Algerian citizens.
After the elections were cancelled by the Constitutional Court on 2 June, Interim President Bensalah called on the country's political class and members of civil society to “choose the path of inclusive dialogue”. In an address a few days later, Bensalah urged people to cooperate as the government tries to “draw a roadmap that will help set up the vote in a climate of harmony and serenity”.
The court's cancellation of the elections was viewed as a concession to the Algerian street and provided further impetus to the popular protests that have rocked the country's political class, wrote Simon Speakman Cordall in Al-Monitor.
“With the postponement Algeria's elite has essentially positioned itself beyond the reach of the constitution it has clung to throughout the unrest, which began in mid-February. Moreover, by doing so it appears to lend additional credence to protesters' calls for a new electoral committee to oversee a fresh vote,” he added.
Protests continued for the 17th week on Friday, demanding the removal of the ruling elite and prosecution of former officials linked to Bouteflika.
Last week, the Supreme Court placed Ouyahia, the ex-prime minister, in custody as part of anti-graft investigations targeting senior officials linked to Bouteflika. The former premier is the most senior official to be placed behind bars.
Ouyahia, who left the government in March as part of a cabinet reshuffle, is being investigated on corruption cases including “awarding illegal privileges”, state television reported.
His former transport minister, Abdel-Ghani Zaalane, was also audited by the Supreme Court in connection with a corruption investigation.
Several senior figures, including another former prime minister, Abdel-Malek Sellal, and eight former ministers, appeared last month in a court in the Algerian capital on suspicion of corruption.
Bouteflika's youngest brother, Said, and two former intelligence chiefs have been placed in custody by a military judge for “harming the army's authority and plotting against state authority”.
Several prominent businessmen, some of them close to Bouteflika, have been detained pending trial.
The continued arrests were met with mixed reactions. While some Algerians support efforts to fight corruption, others fear they are politically motivated.
“The swift crackdown provokes fears without much time for corruption cases to be developed,” Yasmina Allouche, an Algerian researcher, wrote on Twitter. It also raises questions as to how due judicial procedures can be applied when the same system remains, she added.

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