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Algeria flexes military muscle on 60th anniversary of independence

Algerian authorities send a message of strength in the midst of crisis with Morocco and Spain
Ejército Argelia

AP/TOUFIK DOUDOU  -   Algeria celebrates 60th anniversary of independence from France with ceremonies across the country

Algeria managed to throw off French occupation in March 1962, after seven years of war that ended another 132 years of colonial rule and resulted in more than a million deaths on both sides. But it was not until 5 July that the authorities officially proclaimed independence following the resounding victory of the 'yes' vote in the referendum on self-determination, with more than 99% of the votes. The Algerian nation began its journey alone in the midst of decolonisation. 

Since then, it has been customary for the authorities to commemorate national day with a military parade. The outbreak of the bloody civil war in 1991 triggered by the Islamist threat suspended the tradition and plunged Algeria into an impasse that has lasted more than three decades. Now it has returned in a context marked by heightened tensions with Morocco and the suspension of trade relations with Spain, in response to Pedro Sánchez's government's U-turn on the Western Sahara issue. 

The main avenue of the capital, Algiers, was the scene on Tuesday of an unprecedented deployment of forces on the African continent. For two hours, the Algerian regime's top brass reviewed the thousands of army personnel, who displayed their extensive arsenal of weapons, including modernised Soviet-made T-72 tanks, Russian Sukhoi fighter-bombers and Russian BMPT-62 tanks. The warships and two submarines were waiting in the port of Algiers. All this was accompanied by the national anthem, patriotic songs and a sea of green and white flags.

Argelia
AP/TOUFIK DOUDOU  -   Warplanes fly to display the number 60 during a military parade to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Algeria's independence, Tuesday, July 5, 2022 in Algiers

The specialised blog Menadefensa criticises the absences from the parade: "No Iskander ballistic missiles, no YJ-21 supersonic missiles, no Boxer armoured vehicles, no Seeker drones, no Yabhon United 40 and Flash, no CH-3s and no CH-5s. For all these and other equipment, the Algerian National People's Army saw fit to store it in its hangars. 

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune opened the ceremony by laying a wreath at the Monument of the Martyrs of Independence. Afterwards, Abdelaziz Bouteflika's former prime minister and winner of the controversial 2019 elections, held in the midst of mass protests against the government, climbed into a convertible Mercedes in which the army chief of staff, Saïd Chengriha, the country's real strongman, was waiting. The closeness between the two symbolised the reunion between Algeria's political and military wings. Unity within the regime. 

"These moments have deep significance, and the Algerian people are now seeing the professionalism and control of technology and military science that our esteemed army has achieved," Tebboune declared. Algeria's armed forces are ranked 31st out of 142 national armies in terms of warfare capability, according to the latest GlobalFirepower rankings. In recent months, the North African country has been embroiled in an arms race with Morocco, with whom it competes for hegemony in the Maghreb.

Hundreds of people followed the parade on the streets, lining both sides of the avenues. However, the most significant scenes took place on the rostrum reserved for the authorities, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the head of Hamas's political bureau, Ismael Haniye, clashed over differences in their approach to the Palestinian question. Tebboune later boasted of having brought them together years later to iron out differences. In the eyes of the gallery, the reunion was one of the trophies of the day. 

Also present at the parade were Tunisian President Kaïs Saied, who has embarked on a controversial constitutional drafting process, Nigerian President Mohamed Bazoum, Libya's acting foreign minister Najla Mangoush and Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali. The main European authority was the President of the Italian Senate, Maria Elisabetta Casellati, whose presence was a response to the improvement in bilateral relations between Rome and Algiers, particularly in energy matters. The diplomat Fernando Morán, ambassador to Algiers, represented Spain. 

Desfile Argelia
AFP PHOTO / HO / PPO  -   Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, accompanied left and right by Tunisian President Kais Saied and Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali. Kais Saied, and Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali

"It was a reminder of the anti-colonial struggle that Algeria led and cultivated throughout the African continent, this was clear from the guest list," political analyst Zine Labidine Ghebouli told Atalayar. "As for the material itself, the army only demonstrated its defensive capabilities, in a message to international partners about Algeria's ability to defend itself and its immediate neighbourhood against traditional and emerging threats. "The agreement between President Tebboune and the military leadership was clear and encouraged new hypotheses about a second term for the current president. The current army leadership seems to back Tebboune and has been supporting his programme since he came to power," adds the analyst. 

In an exercise of magnanimity, the Algerian gerontocracy claimed to pardon 14,000 prisoners to calm the waters on the 60th anniversary of independence, according to the authorities. But in reality, the sentences were not lifted, but reduced by 24 months. The president leaked that those released would include common prisoners and protesters from the Hirak (Movement), mass protests that erupted in 2019, although everything "is blurred at the moment", Zine Labidine Ghebouli points out to this media outlet.

Palestina
AFP/HO/PPO  -   Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (C) meeting with Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune (C-R) and Palestinian Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (2nd-R) during Abbas' visit to attend the 60th anniversary of Algeria's independence in the capital Algiers

The opposition took to the streets against the late ex-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who intended to run for the fifth consecutive time in the 2019 elections after 20 years in office. In those elections, the pro-government Tebboune ended up winning, weighed down from the outset by a lack of popular legitimacy as a result of high voter abstention and a block boycott by the opposition. A president who has become the target of criticism from the pro-democracy opposition. 

"Six decades after independence, we see more disappointments than promises kept. We face the same problems of political instability and economic fragility", the Front des Forces Socialistes (FFS), the main opposition force to the regime, which was not invited to the ceremony, said in a statement. Some in the street interpret the parade as a manoeuvre to draw attention away from the real problems. Algeria is a country burdened by high unemployment, inflation, a rising cost of living and a lack of basic commodities. But it is militarily solvent.