The Middle East Channel

Bouteflika Likely to Win Re-Election in Algerian Presidential Poll

Algerians headed to the polls Thursday to vote in an election in which President Abdeaziz Bouteflika is expected to win a fourth term. Bouteflika, 77, has been in power for 15 years, but has rarely been seen in public since he suffered a stroke in 2013. In 2008, Bouteflika amended the constitution, which had set a two-term limit on the presidency, so that he could run for a third term. His move this year for re-election has sparked a protest movement called Barakat, or "Enough." Several opposition parties are boycotting the election saying it is slanted in favor of the president and voter turnout will likely be low, especially among the youth. Supporters of Bouteflika at the polls Thursday expressed the importance of stability and continuity. Of the five candidates running against the incumbent, Ali Benflis, Bouteflika's former prime minister, is expected to be the main challenger.

Syria

Jordanian fighter jets fired upon and destroyed three vehicles attempting to cross the border from Syria in a rare strike Wednesday morning. An army statement said the air force sent repeated warnings, however the vehicles did not stop. The army did not mention whether the vehicles belonged to the Syrian government or an opposition group, however a Jordanian security source said they appeared to be rebels and Syrian state media said the vehicles did not belong to the Syrian army. Jordanian spokesman, Mohammad al-Momani, said the government is increasingly worried about "cases of infiltration" and the lack of security around the border.

Headlines

  • The International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran has complied with a nuclear deal with world powers, diluting or converting most of its higher-grade uranium.
  • Militants attacked a military base outside the northern Iraqi city of Mosul Thursday killing at least 10 soldiers.
  • Israeli and Palestinian peace talks are set to resume Thursday after a one-day postponement, which Palestinians say was to allow for the participation of U.S. envoy Martin Indyk.
  • Oman's Foreign Affairs Minister Yusuf bin Alawi in an interview with al-Hayat newspaper said the recent crisis between Qatar and neighboring Gulf states has been resolved.

Arguments and Analysis

'The Devoted Guardians of Algeria's Power' (Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck, Sada)

"With the blessing of the military, Algeria's president Abdelaziz Bouteflika is all but guaranteed to win a fourth term. But among the Algerian public, speculation continues about the nature of the president's relationship with the military, in particular its intelligence branch, the Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS). The relationship between the president and the DRS is especially relevant in light of Bouteflika's fragile health and the uncertainty over who will run the country in his absence and how his successor will be chosen. The recent and unusual public criticism against DRS officials from Bouteflika's own party is an example of why some believe that throughout his tenure Bouteflika has managed to keep the military and DRS in check. However, despite appearances to the contrary, he never constituted a threat to the military's strong grip on Algerian politics, and the DRS remains as strong as it has ever been. In his previous three mandates, few serious structural reforms threatened the country's military and its security apparatus. Even the little restructuring that he did undertake of the country's main security branch were largely cosmetic and should not be misconstrued for significant change."

'Learning from the Past in the Iranian Nuclear Dispute' (Tytti Erasto, MERIP)

"The controversy over the Iranian nuclear program is in many ways a product of the US-Iranian conflict. The United States and Iran are in the grip of mutual negative perceptions that, in turn, have been reinforced by the escalatory dynamics of the nuclear dispute. After years of seeming diplomatic deadlock, these dynamics suddenly changed for the better in the autumn of 2013. The positive trends culminated in November, when Iran agreed with the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany, the so-called P5+1, on a confidence-building deal known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPA). Given the record of diplomatic non-achievement, the deal is a historic development. The parties began to implement the JPA in January 2014; it is supposed to pave the way for far more ambitious next steps.

Although the de-escalation and the JPA are generally associated with the election of Hassan Rouhani as president of the Islamic Republic and the subsequent change in Iran's foreign policy orientation, these developments cannot be fully understood without taking into account the simultaneous changes on the Western side. Indeed, the summer of 2013 was a crucial period of introspection on both sides when fixed ideas and narratives began to give way to more flexible positions. The following discussion, based on interviews with negotiators and diplomats on both sides, shows that each side was reaching a critical point in a learning process around the time of Rouhani's victory."

-- Mary Casey

PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Saudi Arabia Replaces Intelligence Chief

Saudi Arabia issued a royal decree Tuesday appointing a new intelligence chief after removing Prince Bandar bin Sultan "at his own request." He has been replaced by his deputy General Youssef al-Idrissi. Bandar was formerly ambassador to the United States and had control of Saudi Arabia's Syria file. He had criticized Washington for not conducting a military intervention into Syria. However, some analysts have said the prince had been disengaged from Syria policy for months, and that the file had been predominantly taken over by Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef. Bandar recently returned to Riyadh after spending about two-months abroad for medical treatment. It is unclear if he will remain as head of the National Security Council.

Syria

The U.N. Security Council reviewed a series of photos Tuesday of bodies of people allegedly detained by the Syrian government who had been tortured and starved. The photos were said to have been taken by a defected Syrian army photographer known as Caesar. An international panel of experts hired by Qatar, which supports the Syrian opposition, deemed the photographs authentic, however the Syrian Justice Ministry dismissed the photos and an accompanying report as "lacking objectiveness and professionalism." France held the presentation pushing to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court. Meanwhile, opposition fighters appear to have obtained U.S.-made TOW anti-tank guided missiles. Online videos seem to show rebel forces using the missiles, which would be the first time a major U.S. weapons system has appeared in rebel hands. It is unclear how the opposition procured the weapons. While U.S. officials declined to comment on the origin of the weapons, they did not deny that the rebels possess them.

Headlines

  • Two Australian men were killed in Yemen in November 2013 in a drone strike along with three known al Qaeda operatives.
  • Iraq has closed the notorious Abu Ghraib prison saying its location had become a "hot zone," however it is unclear if the closure was permanent.
  • A meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators scheduled for Wednesday, which was to focus on extending peace talks, was postponed after an off-duty policeman was killed in the West Bank Monday.
  • Kuwait's prime minister said a videotape that allegedly shows former senior officials plotting a coup has been "tampered with."

Arguments and Analysis

'The Roots of Crisis in Northern Lebanon' (Raphael Lefèvre, Carnegie Middle East Center)

"The rise of Sunni extremism in Lebanon, and particularly in Tripoli, is also often explained away as a product of the Syrian crisis. However, although the radicalization of elements of the Syrian opposition undeniably has an impact, this trend has at least as much to do with national, and sometimes even local Lebanese dynamics as well. 

The past decade has borne witness to a growing feeling of socioeconomic and political marginalization on the part of Lebanon's Sunni community. This leads many Sunnis to turn away from the state and look for alternative sources of support and protection, including joining certain Islamic groups that provide services or working with criminal networks in exchange for money. And this comes at a time when the Shia Islamist party Hezbollah seems to be at its military and political apex."

'Algeria's preordained election prods debate' (Mansouria Mokhefi, European Council on Foreign Relations)

This election, which everyone agrees is already a done deal, will at least have opened the door for a genuine debate on the country's future. Will Algeria enter a consensus-driven peaceful transition process towards institutional reform? Or will it see the radical transformation of a structure that many consider obsolete, impermeable, and illegitimate? Indeed, the risks of systemic collapse are greater than ever, and many think that the time has come to effect change not only through a reform from within but through a comprehensive systematic overhaul of the system.

One could also contend that despite minor opposition groups, the status quo remains unshakable in Algeria. Algerians also know that the creation of a vice-presidential office, whether it be held by Abdelmalek Sellal or Ahmed Ouyahia, the two favourites for this new post, is only being created to ensure that the regime can carry on even if president Bouteflika's health deteriorates severely. Indeed, Algerians are being called upon to cast their ballots for a presidential candidate of their choice even though the result has likely been pre-determined. In reaction the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), the oldest opposition party, is keeping its distance from the elections, calling for neither participation nor boycott, because the 17 April vote ‘is only decisive for the regime' in power. This will also explain the high abstention rate that is likely to mark the vote."

-- Mary Casey

HASSAN AMMAR/AFP/Getty Images