Opinion

General Said Chengriha leads Algeria into a war impasse

atalayar_chengriha argelia

The Algerian army chief of staff, General Said Chengriha, is leading the country into a dead end, whose only foreseeable and desired solution for the military veteran, the true centre of power in Algeria, is war against its neighbour Morocco.

The latest decisions taken by Algeria in relation to its Maghreb neighbour to the west: severance of diplomatic relations; expulsion of Moroccan businessmen and cessation of joint ventures; closure of neighbouring roads to traffic in the border area; occupation 'manu militari' of villages in the border area traditionally inhabited by Moroccan citizens; closure of Algerian airspace to Moroccan civilian and military aircraft; non-renewal of the Algeria/Morocco/Spain gas pipeline; all these decisions taken by the Algerian High Security Council were in fact imposed without discussion by General Chengriha on his military counterparts and the Head of State under his tutelage.

Over the past three months, Algeria has failed to obtain explicit support from any of its traditional allies for this adventurist and suicidal policy. Russia, its most faithful strategic ally for half a century, and at whose Voroshilov Staff Academy Said Chengriha studied, has not supported any of these measures, neither the severing of diplomatic relations nor the incipient reopening of hostilities. Moscow, as well as Havana and Beijing, have repeatedly called on Algiers to resume dialogue with Rabat and resolve their differences on the basis of political negotiation. In Algiers, far from listening to the appeals of the European Union and UN Secretary General António Guterres, the drums of war are beating. General Chengriha is imposing and dragging behind him the ANP General Staff, with a militaristic conception, devoid of political and strategic vision.

Rumours are circulating that the Algerian generals are deeply unhappy about this 'diktat' of the chief of staff, who offers no way out of the 'bilateral conflict' except armed confrontation. Perhaps General Chengriha wants in this way to settle his old debt with Morocco, whose prisoner he was in the military confrontation of Amgala in 1976. The humiliation that the then ANP lieutenant received is expressed by a viscerally anti-Moroccan policy, which he has practised for decades in command of the Third Military Region of Bechar and the Tindouf area that is home to the armed militias of the Polisario Front.

The only implicit support General Chengriha is getting is from Polisario leader Brahim Ghali, for whom, according to Saharawis close to him, an armed clash between Algeria and Morocco "would be a saviour for the Saharawi cause".

The appointment of the politician Staffan de Mistura as the UN Secretary-General's special envoy for Western Sahara has been welcomed by the Moroccan and Algerian governments, by the Polisario Front at the time, and by other actors in the conflict such as the Sahrawi Peace Movement, the Mauritanian regime and various international bodies. However, it seems highly likely that General Said Chengriha will force the Algerian army to take a stand against him and prevent President Abdelmadjid Tebboune from having a free hand.

Among Western diplomatic analysts and intelligence service offices, it is said that as long as Said Chengriha is in absolute command of the army, which holds the real power in Algeria, there will be no political or negotiated solution in the Sahara or in the Maghreb