The political class is trying to prepare for a post-Bouteflika era.
Algeria's political establishment has seen off the Islamist challenge, the Arab Spring and attempts at internal reform that would have consigned rule by the military and security elite – widely known as 'le pouvoir' (the powers that be) – to history.
But a power vacuum has become apparent at the top, with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in poor health, his close circle at the centre of corruption investigations and talk of retirements that never seem to materialise, from Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS) chief Major General Mohamed 'Tewfik' Mediène and chief of staff General Ahmed Gaïd Salah down through a
rigidly hierarchical system.
Across Algeria, strikes and protests demanding improved services and living standards remain a fact of daily life.
This movement has never taken off where it would matter most to 'le pouvoir' – on the streets of Algiers – but the authorities remain nervous. An assertive protest movement is giving securocrats jitters as it gathers momentum in towns like Laghouat and Ouargla across the oil- and gas-rich south of the country.
In Algiers, most chatter within the political class is focused on the expected 2014 presidential election and manoeuvrings for the candidacy of Abdelaziz Bouteflika – even though the ailing president suffered an apparent mini-stroke on 27 April, for which he was evacuated to a Paris hospital.
A Bouteflika candidacy would require a further change in the constitution, as was necessary to secure the president's third term in 2009. Analysts believe this would be likely to pass in the legislature, but it would not elicit public acclaim.
A political leader who requested anonymity commented: "A Bouteflika candidacy says that even though many of them hate him, 'le pouvoir' hasn't agreed on an alternative candidate. It also says that the Bouteflika clan is desperate to hang onto power – the cost to them could be very high once he leaves El Mouradia [the presidential palace]."
Previous efforts to promote the president's younger brother, Saïd Bouteflika, led to a backlash both among the elite and the people.
Another round of allegations about corrupt business practices – led from abroad by Italian and Canadian investigators looking into the businesses of Eni and SNC-Lavalin – has led to more DRS investigations into oil company Sonatrach, the senior management of which was decimated in a previous anti-corruption drive.
A rising star in the DRS, General Athman 'Bachir' Tartag, is said to be playing a leading role in the corruption crackdown as well as in actions to counter Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Other politicians are jockeying for position. Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal is seen to be more effective at implementing policy than some of his predecessors.
He could feature in upcoming power plays, provided he can line up the right allies. The dominant Front de Libération Nationale is suffering a leadership crisis, as are other parties●