- Clientélisme et Patronage dans l’Algérie Contemporaine by Mohammed Hachemaoui
After Algeria’s single-party state broke down in 1988 outside observers were astonished to see “traditional” tribes and religious orders popping out of the rotted political woodwork. Dr. Mohammed Hachemaoui takes a fresh look at the real political processes happening in his country. In this slim volume condensed from a very lengthy French doctoral dissertation this well connected Algerian political scientist examines the politicking that went into preparing Algeria’s legislative elections of 2002, when the National Liberation Front (Jabhat al-Tahrir al-Watani, referred to in French as Front de Libération Nationale, or FLN), the former ruling party, made a striking comeback, winning a majority of seats in the new parliament.
Hachemaoui focuses on two electoral districts, Tébessa in the East near the Tunisian border, and Adrar, stretching from the Saharan Atlas down to Mali in the southwest. Tébessa is located at one corner of the notorious BTS, the triangle defined by Batna, Tébessa, and Souk Ahras that was home to much of Algeria’s political elite ruling from 1965 to 1988. Tébessa is also known as a provincial center for trabando (contraband), for the corruption associated with it, and for competitive politics. It is here, as in any big American city brimming with ethnicities, that Hachemaoui discovers “tribalism without tribes” (tribalisme sans tribu, p. 22). Like ward politicians in the United States, the FLN and competing party bosses make their tribal calculations when they compose their electoral lists in Algeria’s system of proportional representation. The principal tribal fractions, Brarcha, ‘Alwani, Awlad Yahya, and Awlad ‘Abid, had reservoirs of respectively 110,000; 50,000; 63,000; and 25,000 votes to be somehow represented in four-member lists. Political organizers all worked with the same informal political calculus. Algeria’s political police also kept tribal records, following traditions of political reporting dating back to the French colonial army’s Bureaux Arabes. Decimated by colonial predation and repression in the 1860s and 1870s, the tribes still demarcated and differentiated surviving populations even if they no longer in any sense governed them.
Practices of tribal math still raised major research puzzles. Why did the FLN, which might expect to win two or three seats, not have one Berrichi at least among its top three? Hachemaoui discovered that the Algiers FLN headquarters had changed the list originally concocted by the savvy Tébessa party commissioner and that the Berrichi originally selected, a wealthy merchant, refused to be demoted to the third slot. Algiers insisted on a new Number 2 who came from the wrong tribe, an ‘Abidi whose reservoir consisted of only 25,000 possible voters. It soon became evident that he had powerful connections. His brother was a businessman closely connected to an influential general from Tébessa, and the candidate’s three-story villa rented as his campaign headquarters dwarfed those of the nearby ramshackle FLN. Patron-client relations subsidized by business interests were clearly at work, buying elections and political cover for further business wheeling and dealing. Another big business operator also won a parliamentary seat by financing an independent list. Hachemaoui further developed the story of how these interests subsequently backed ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Bouteflika against the party apparatus that had won him the 2002 elections.
The business dynamics of patron-client relations were further illustrated in Hachemaoui’s second case study, the politicking around the principal zawaya (Sufi lodges; singular, zawiya) in Adrar and Timimoun. Already in 1990 the beleaguered presidency had attempted to promote Algeria’s religious orders and their zawaya as counterforces to the political Islamism of the Islamic Salvation Front (al-Jabha al-Islamiyya li-l-Inqadh, referred to in French as Front Islamique du Salut or FIS), and by 2003 the National Association of Zawaya counted 8,900 lodges, far more than a French census in 1897 of 349. [End Page 152] Hachemaoui’s political ethnography takes him into the “reinventing of tradition...