The Algerian security service, the DRS, has been one of the most vicious in the world—and as of this weekend, it is no more. The North African country’s aging, infirm strongman President Abdelaziz Bouteflika—or someone speaking from behind the throne—appears to have disbanded the body, known locally as “le pouvir” (the power), as part of an opaque struggle over his succession.
John Schindler and Benjamin Weinthal had a timely piece in the most recent Weekly Standard setting the scene and the stakes for this move:
Since independence, the shadowy and feared military intelligence service, the Department of Intelligence and Security, or DRS, has been the backbone of the corrupt system—what the Algerians call le pouvoir (the power) that runs the country. But the hold of the DRS may be slipping. In September, the hidden hand of the Algerian state ousted the head of the intelligence service, General Mohamed Mediène, popularly known as Toufik. Mediène had run the DRS since 1990 and was the world’s longest serving intelligence boss, but nobody had seen him in public in years, and few pictures of him existed. A widened purge of generals and senior officers largely coincided with Mediène’s removal, including the arrest in August of the head of counterterrorism, General Abdelkader Ait-Ouarabi.
The DRS was deeply nasty, and nobody will mourn its demise. (Its tricks, as Schindler has written elsewhere, included inflaming the country’s Islamist revolt in the ’90s with false-flag massacres of civilians.) On the other hand, the DRS has had a lot to do with keeping the country together and (relatively) free from the tumult of the Arab Spring. Moreover, there’s no promise its successor will be nicer. What this points to above all is growing instability in one of the most important states in Northern Africa. Algeria’s deep ties to France, where many Algerians live, and its position between Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, and Mali, among other states, makes it a regional keystone: If it goes, much else may too.
Nor is internal palace drama all that the Algerians have to worry about. Algeria’s oil-based economy is in deep trouble, and there’s an emerging Berber nationalist movement in its Kabylie region that hasn’t gotten nearly enough attention. All of which makes Algeria just another place the West needs to worry about, as so many parts of the world grow messier and messier.