- Gaid Salah played a pivotal role pushing through the Presidential elections that were held in December.
- The departed army chief was present during the inauguration of the new president, Tebboune, last week.
- He played a major role as the protests emerged early in the year.
Algeria’s powerful army chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah, has died. The Algerian government radio announced that he died Monday morning in an Algiers military hospital after a heart attack. Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced a three-day mourning period. The President announced that the head of land forces, General Said Chengriha, would take over as acting Chief of staff of the armed forces.
Gaid Salah, 79, was seen as Algeria’s strongman since the pro-democracy movement began. With his backing, the country’s former president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was pushed out in April this year. He was one of the last veterans of the 1954-62 independence war against France who was still in power.
Gaid Salah played a pivotal role pushing through the Presidential elections that were held in December, despite the great opposition from the streets. He said that having the election was the only way to ensure the country does not descend into chaos. The election was boycotted by the opposition, which was calling for the whole old regime to quit. The election was contested by five candidates who were closely associated with the former president, Bouteflika. The current president, Tebboune, was dubbed “the chosen one” on social media because he was seen to be close to the army chief.
The departed army chief was present during the inauguration of the new president, Tebboune, last week. The army’s prominent role was underlined during the inauguration, whereby Tebboune embraced Gaid Salah and presented him with an order of merit immediately after his own swearing in. “The army hierarchy is unified and it will move on after Gaid Salah as it did before him,” said a retired general. “Algeria’s army is a single block, not under the influence of one general but with consensus as its engine,” he added.
Gaid Salah was appointed the commander of the army’s ground forces during Algeria’s civil war in 1994, and after the 2004 presidential elections, he was appointed Algerian army’s chief of staff. He played a major role as the protests emerged early in the year. The protests began when former president Bouteflika announced that he would run for re-election.
The military chief was the one who announced that Article 102 of the constitution— allowing the president’s removal on grounds of ill health— should be applied. His televised speech urging Resident Bouteflika to quit bore fruits when the veteran leader finally resigned. Since then the army backed the arrests of Bouteflika’s allies and senior businessmen in an anti- corruption campaign. Despite all these efforts, the Algerians were not impressed and they began calling for Gaid Salah’s resignation.
Since independence, the military has been the center of power in Algeria, making and unmaking presidents and arbitrating factional conflicts among politicians and business interests. The former president Bouteflika was brought to power in 1999 by a group of generals who had prosecuted a brutal war against militant Islamist insurgents since 1992.