Gaid Salah’s death may strain Algeria’s ambiguous political system

Algerian army chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah remained at the helm of power of Africa’s largest country since decades, although prominently during the past 10 months of political turmoil.

Gaid Salah, just a week ago, installed new president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune to take the reins of the oil-rich country, and ironically Tebboune appointed Said Chengriha as Salah’s replacement after he succumbed to a heart attack. Algerian strong-man was 79 years old.

The sudden demise of Salah has added to the political turmoil in Algeria, which is also a major energy-provider to Europe.

Salah, a long-time aide of the country’s former president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, waged a political war against his chief in 2018, which led to his ouster after a popular country-wide demonstration.

Being a veteran and trusted comrade, Salah had maintained a tight grip on Algeria’s ambiguous political establishment. With his ultimate powers and influence, Salah ordered to jail senior officials last year over corruption charges. It is believed that this was one of his strategies to assuage the anxious population, and divert their outrage against the armed forces.

Experts believe that Gaid Salah greatly favored military’s involvement in politics. The Independent quoted Jalel Harchaoui, a north Africa specialist at Clingendael Institute think-tank: “He had also shown a keen ability to influence the justice system over the last several months. Vis-à-vis the outside world, he had become a strong figure and had become familiar with key interlocutors such as the Gulf states, for instance. All of that is up in the air now.”

Algerian state television has declared a three-day mourning after the death, while some of the protesters are concerned about his legacy being whitewashed. Gaid was accused of aggravating tensions between the Algerian-Arab and Amazigh or Berber communities, backbreaking relations along the major key fault-line of the country with 40 million population.

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