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Algeria’s former defence minister is settling scores on Twitter

By Farid Alilat
Posted on Wednesday, 4 September 2019 08:51

Algeria's President the now defunct Abdelaziz Bouteflika (L) gestures while talking with Army Chief of Staff General Ahmed Gaid Salah during a graduation ceremony of the 40th class of the trainee army officers at a Military Academy in Cherchell 90 km west of Algiers June 27, 2012. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina

Their hatred for each other was always an open secret. But, in recent weeks, retired General Khaled Nezzar, former Minister of Defence, has been publicly settling scores with Ahmed Gaïd Salah, Chief of the Army Staff and Deputy Minister of Defence. 

The slow unravelling of the politico-military truce between elite regime members in Algeria continues.

What sparked this particular fire?

On 6 August, the military court in Blida, east of Algiers, issued international arrest warrants against Nezzar; his son, Lotfi; and manager of the Algerian Pharmacy Society, Farid Benhamdine.

All three are facing charges of violating public order, and ‘conspiracy against the authority of the army and against the authority of the State’.

In May, Said Bouteflika, brother of the deposed Algerian president, and two former spy chiefs — General Mohamed ‘Toufik’ Mediène and Athmane Tartag — were also arrested.

Nezzar appeared as a witness during the trio’s military trial on May 14. He used the opportunity to share details about his conversations with former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Twitter activism

Nezzar now lives in exile in Spain from where he bombards Gaïd Salah with tweets and inflammatory statements, calling him ‘Machiavellian’, a ‘sad character’, a ‘brutal individual’ with ‘a chickpea in his head’. Nezzar has also accused the army chief of imposing a fourth term on Bouteflika, and pushing him to run for a fifth. In a video, he implicitly calls on the military to clean up their institution at the top.

In 2016, he called Gaïd Salah a ‘psychopath’ for creating a law to send officers to prison for breaching their duty to serve on a reserve force. Nezzar has been called to appear before a Swiss court in September and October on allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Nezzar again took to Twitter to lash out at the army chief. “I recall that at that time [the civil war of the 1990’s] Gaïd Salah commanded the second [military] region, then the Land Forces when the ANP [National People’s Army] was fighting terrorism. As such, his name is included in the list submitted to the Swiss courts,” tweeted Nezzar on July 27.

Unsettling Gaïd Salah

It takes a lot to shake Gaïd Salah. He supported Abdelaziz Bouteflika until he fell in April. The army chief has, over several weeks, established himself as the country’s ruler, dictating his roadmap at the risk of further complicating the political game.

Gaïd Salah believes he was betrayed by the Bouteflika family who, in March, planned to dismiss him from office to remain in power. He’s holding a grudge, and pursues people close to the former president.

His massive anti-corruption operation has put several key people behind bars, including two former prime ministers, Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal; several former members of the government; and many of the country’s wealthiest people.

He is unlikely to proffer an olive branch to Nezzar, either: at the end of the 1980’s, Nezzar added Gaïd Salah’s name to a list of officers due for retirement. He owes his salvation to the then-president, who put him back in the saddle in an extremely difficult situation.

This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.

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