ALGERIA'S PRESIDENT, ABDELAZIZ Bouteflika, has emerged as the victor in a long battle with the military for control of the North African country after a calamitous civil war with Islamist insurgents. It may well be a landmark triumph that will influence other regimes across the region at a time when it is struggling to cope with internal and external pressure for political reform, with military-backed regimes on one side and increasingly empowered Islamists on the other.
On 14 March, parliament approved a new law that strengthens the hand of Bouteflika over the country's military, capping a long struggle to curb the power his generals amassed during a brutal but waning 15-year war against Islamist rebels in which the army has been held responsible for wanton human rights abuses. Bouteflika's victory appears, in part at least, to be due to a general amnesty that will protect the generals from prosecution for wartime excesses.
The new law aimed at modernising the much-criticised armed forces limits the age of military commanders, furthering Bouteflika's drive to eliminate the army from political life. The legislation, presented by the deputy defence minister, Abdelmalik Guenaizia, stipulates that from now on the careers of senior generals will be overseen by the presidency. It further stipulated that the chief of staff must retire at the age of 64, major generals at 60 and other senior officers at 56.
Bouteflika's efforts to strip the shadowy cabal of hardline generals known as les eradicateurs (the eradicators) who held total power between 1992 and 2004, has won widespread support among Algerians, including younger military officers, and abroad, particularly in the United States. The influential newspaper El Watan applauded the army's removal from politics and declared: "It will no longer be a kingmaker".
Bouteflika's position in relation to the military is now the strongest it has been since he was elected, with the backing of the generals, in April 1999. A hero of the 1954-62 independence war against France and an architect of the post-war Algerian state, Bouteflika, a former foreign minister, had long sought to weaken the power of the generals, collectively known as le pouvoir (the power). That process was accelerated when he was re-elected with a resounding majority in April 2004.
In this he was aided by the younger generation of officers, sickened by the horrors of the civil war. They wished to withdraw the army from politics and to...