It is funny to hear Arab and foreign television stations broadcast the news of the election of Suleiman Shanein MP as the new Speaker of the Algerian parliament. The news items usually end with the statement that, “It is worth noting that this is the first time an opposition MP has been elected to this position.”
The funny part is that Shanein is being classified as part of the opposition after spending the last 25 years serving the regime, even from the outside. He accompanied the late Mahfouz Nahna, like his shadow, better than even some of the regime’s members. There are Algerians outside the regime who served it at the height of the political and security terror it was spreading in the 1990s even more than some of the ambassadors and civil servants. These individuals include Shanein, Khalid Toumi, Saida Benhabiles and other intellectuals, journalists and politicians from every group and class. The difference between Shanein and the “service Islamists” is that the latter give the impression of intelligence more than the others.
From the outside, and at first glance, choosing Shanein seems to be a noble democratic act (as some Arab and international media think) and a gift to the popular movement as it achieves some of its demands. However, in truth, it is the first disappointment in a structure that hasn’t been built yet.
Shanein does not belong to the regime and he is a member of a party that was founded in 2013 with no support or consensus whatsoever. Nor does he meet the criteria of a statesman; he lacks the charisma that would qualify him to head the parliament and make him the third man in the chain of command. Moreover, he is not protected in Parliament and so could be overthrown easier than if he was elected. Based on these facts alone, he is the last person who should have been elected or appointed as the Speaker.
Politics in Algeria is a dark and complex maze, though, made up of everything but noble and innocent actions. A closer look at Shanein’s election shows that it has nothing to do with political and democratic work or any form of concession to the popular movement or anything else. It is enough to know that those who chose Shanein are MPs from the National Liberation Front and Democratic National Rally, along with MPS from the Algerian Popular Movement and the Rally for Hope in Algeria. In short, this is the same miserable quartet responsible for killing partisan and political work in Algeria; the quartet that served former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his family for many years along with their main man until 2015, Mohamed Mediene. They fiercely defended a third and fourth term for an absent, incapable President, and then a fifth, fighting with all their might. Meanwhile, the Islamists abandoned Shanein, even those with whom he began his partisan career: the Movement of Society for Peace. Even the Justice and Development Front, led by Sheikh Abdallah Djaballah, disowned him, although it is supposedly a part of a parliamentary alliance that includes the new Speaker.
The MPs who nominated Shanein belong to a school that receives its orders on the phone, listens and goes overboard with the execution. These parties are in the service of the strongest and do not know anything about independent political work because it has never been practiced before. The MPs of these parties and their leaders have been utilised to serve the de facto authority ever since Liamine Zeroual, followed by Bouteflika. They obeyed him blindly and continued to take orders for many years. Today, it has been decided that they will serve the new strong man, General Ahmed Gaid Salah and his camp. Telephone orders were given to nominate Shanein as their Speaker with no questions or thought. They then came up with weak slogans to promote this choice, such as the “greater good of the country” and the “security and stability of the country”.
That is why there isn’t a single reason to rejoice or be optimistic about the election of Shanein as Speaker of the Algerian parliament. On the contrary, it is a setback and a sign that the same politics are in place, with the same people and parties, but a different godfather.
If we were to give a political reading of Shanein’s election, it would be that there is an operation taking place within the regime in order to protect itself and allow it to continue imposing its agenda. This decision was the first step in a series of rebuilding institutions after Bouteflika. The last step would be “choosing” the State President under the pretence of elections that the regime will not allow to veer off of the roadmap insisted upon by the army chief of staff and his supporters, either in good faith or out of opportunism.
Moreover, those who relied on the election of Shanein to change anything in the streets or score points with the Islamists are mistaken. They lack cleverness and political intelligence and are no different to the manoeuvres that the Algerians have grown tired of and which led them to the dilemma in which they no find themselves. The “new regime” has chosen a man who lacks everything from charisma to the support of the political and partisan circles, beginning with the Islamists, with whom he is supposedly associated. The mistake lies in the way that he was chosen and then in the absence of those welcoming his election, both within and outside parliament. There was strange indifference almost to the point of astonishment at this decision and the audacity of the regime and its lackeys to repeat the same practices that were the cause of its current decline. People are shocked at the fact that this regime, which is drowning in its own stupidity, refuses to learn from domestic and international experiences.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Quds Al-Arabi on 15 May 2019