Handout from the complex in In Amenas
© AFP
Handout from the complex in In Amenas
Wided Khadraoui
Last updated: January 22, 2013

Analysis: Algerian media on In Amenas and beyond

Your Middle East's Wided Khadraoui has analyzed the ongoing debate in Algerian media in light of the hostage crisis in the isolated In Amenas.

The operation to free hostages in Algeria went on for almost four days and wholly captivated the world while raising several complex issues, both domestically and internationally. Comprehensive details about the development have been scarce from the Algerian authorities, leading to international confusion and domestic frustration.

At least 23 hostages and dozens of Islamist militants are reported to have been killed since the rescue began on Thursday. The Algerian Interior Ministry said while some 685 Algerian workers and 107 foreigners were freed in the standoff against the Masked Brigade, a Mali-based Al Qaeda offshoot.The Algerian Communication Minister Mohand Said Oubelaid said in an address to the national media to elucidate that the “terrorists are multinational” coming from various nations in the region with the explicit purpose of “destabilizing Algeria, embroiling it in the Mali conflict, and damaging its natural gas infrastructure.”

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Britain, the United States, France and other countries that have nationals working at Tiguentourine gas have reacted mostly negatively to the events of Thursday and Friday. Algeria’s security forces’ attack against the terrorists, who took both Algerian and foreign nationals hostage to gain political leverage, have drawn criticism for lack of international communication. Yet, domestically the stance is mostly accommodating.

Journalists on both sides of the spectrum defend Algeria, and other sovereign nations, to act independently to domestic terrorism issues, as they see fit, pointing to the legacy of terrorism in Algeria and the international community’s indifference and occasional complaisance.

M. Koursi article for state-run El Moudjahid states the hypocrisy associated with the West’s stance towards Algeria is astounding, demanding to know why, in the case of Algeria, it is expected to “negotiate with an entity whose sole purpose is to benefit from the terms of negotiation …to expand its capacity to harm.” Koursi brought up Algeria’s role in the UN adoption of Resolution 1904 criminalizing the payment of ransom, again part of the legacy of the Black Decade in the 1990s.

Le Soir d’Algerie’s Hakim Laalam, whose anti-government column Pousse avec eux, that has caused him legal prosecution in the past, shares the same sentiments and validates the recent actions with lessons from Algeria’s terrorism ridden past. Publishing an ironic apology to Japan and Western countries about ‘forgetting’ to ask permission before launching the military action, Laalam writes that this is the only method to deal with terrorists, and since Algeria has always had to act unilaterally, it continues to do so.

Hilary Clinton continued to emphasize international cooperation on counter-terrorism in her address on Friday, illustrating a worldwide undertone of disdain concerning Algeria’s decision to act independently. UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s address on Friday stated that despite “technical and intelligence” offered by the UK, the collaboration was not accepted by the Algerians. Cameron also urged Algerian authorities that the UK and other countries affected by the hostage situation, like the United States and Norway, should be consulted before any action is taken.

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Algeria notoriously believes in no negotiation in regards to dealing with terrorism, and also apparently believes that unilateral decision-making is the best course of action. The situation is increasingly complicated by Algeria’s reluctance to fully share details of the process, making it difficult for external observes to decipher whether or not a military action was necessary.

Understandably, the primary political objective of the Algerian forces in storming the extremely isolated Tiguentourine gas complex in In Amenas was to save the lives of the hostages. Economic incentives provide another reason for such quick and decisive action, securing the site in a crucial economic sector. Arguably though another critically important goal for the Algerian authorities is to pull the rug out from under the Islamists and their propaganda.

The discourse within Algeria is adamantly discussing the future implication of the hostage situation. A legitimate question circling domestic op-eds is how a convey of terrorists with an apparently heavy arsenal, including a rocket launcher, managed to travel hundreds of kilometers to the extremely isolated Tiguentourine gas complex in In Amenas unnoticed. This attack is also unparalleled because of the setting; terrorists have never perpetuated any attacks against Algeria’s petroleum industry.

Recollections of the height of terrorism of the 1990s are also a prominent feature in opinion articles during the last couple of days in Algeria, with a direct call for authorities to sincerely explore the ineptitude that allowed this incident.

Omar Belhouchet’s op-ed piece in El Watan highlights the government’s poignant impotence in dealing with terrorism. Belhouchet fairly states that political reform is critical in Algeria, not only for combating terrorism, but also for initiating legitimacy for the government. He states that elections do not have any credence with the population and trust between the two groups does not exist, which is going to be extremely problematic in what he claims is an “increasingly turbulent future.”

Algeria’s power as a sovereign nation with absolute control within its borders has been highlighted in an unprecedented manner these past couple of days. Conflicting, inaccurate, and partial news releases have not helped in enforcing Algerian authority’s grip on the situation. Kamel Daoud writing for Le Quotidien Oran’s popular satirical column Raina Raïkoum states that, as per usual, Algerians will be looking for foreign news sources and agencies for their news.

Hundreds of foreign citizens have been evacuated out of Algeria since Thursday from various gas facilities across the country. The implications of the events at In Amenas will not stop at simply an industry slow down, but introduces a myriad of issues that will have to force the government to change its tactics and cooperation efforts to reclaim its validity. As Algerian journalist Chekri writing for Liberte Algerie stated in his op-ed regarding changes necessitated, “one thing is certain: there is a before and after In Amenas.”

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