Ali Haddad and Algeria’s ‘economic barons’

Ali Haddad and Algeria’s ‘economic barons’
5 min read
27 March, 2015
Analysis: A new force – in the guise of Algeria’s leading businessmen and industrialists – is emerging to replace the gerontocratic military and security elite
Ali Haddad [AFP]

Algeria’s opaque political system – ‘façade democracy’ manipulated by anonymous ‘décideurs’ traditionally located in the army and the security services – has acquired a new level of complexity in recent years with its ‘economic barons’.

The barons are a group of businessmen who have come to political prominence because of their commitment to the Bouteflika presidency and who, as a result, increasingly influence policy and political events throughout the country. They have become a counterweight to the security services – which Bouteflika always distrusted but never managed to

     Said Bouteflika is anxious to succeed his brother as president.

control – and are now gathering behind the disabled president’s brother, Said Bouteflika, who has long sought to succeed him.

The path to greatness

Algeria has always had a substantial private sector, despite the state capitalist economy that was created after independence in 1962. Economic liberalisation began under President Chadli Bendjedid in the 1980s but really took off after the country adopted an IMF debt restructuring programme in 1994. With the end of the civil war and the advent of the Bouteflika presidency in 1999, neoliberal economic reform burgeoned, despite irredentist resistance from Algeria’s entrenched old guard, with the president’s blessing.

Of course, given the nature of the Algerian state, personal economic success linked to political ambition could involve severe personal risk, as Rafik Abdelmoumen Khalifa was to discover. He had been Algeria’s first great private sector success, creating a pharmaceutical company, a bank, an airline that rivalled Air Algérie and a car rental agency whilst schmoozing the great and the good in France and Algeria and becoming the darling of the president in the early 2000s.

Then in late 2002, he fell foul of the presidency, not least because he had started two satellite television channels that failed to support the presidential candidature for a renewed mandate in 2004. Within a year, his companies had been shut down and he faced serious charges of corruption. Although he fled to Britain, he was sentenced to lengthy imprisonment in absentia in 2007. After being extradited to Algeria in December 2013, he now faces a new trial on May 4 and the certainty of many years in prison thereafter.

Ali Haddad has avoided such mistakes. After studying civil engineering at university in Tizi Ouzou, with start-up capital of 10,000 euros he began a small-time building firm, ETRHB, in 1988 in the port-city of his birth, Azzefoun in Kabylia, while also running a hotel with his brothers. Then, in 1993, he won a 41 million euro road-building contract and, after surviving a kidnap attempt during the Algerian civil war two years later, his company picked up major contracts as Algeria’s new president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, sought to relaunch the economy after elections in 1999.

By the mid-2000s, ETRHB had expanded into the major private sector housing, road building and oil refining company in the country. Now just fifty years old, he also controls a football club, two newspapers and two of the country’s brand new television channels. Although there have been the usual rumours of corrupt influence having helped him on his way, he rejects such accusations with contempt, claiming to be no more than a very successful businessman. As such, he would argue, he is one of a growing number.

At the same time, he, and they, is not without considerable political and social influence. He, for example, is also president of the country’s major business association, Le Forum des Chefs d’Entreprises (FCE) and, more important, has financed and organised the president’s last two campaigns to renew his mandate in 2009 and 2014. Not surprisingly, therefore, he has easy access to the Mouradiyya, the president’s official residence in Algiers. This has proved to be particularly important, even before the president’s disabling stroke in April 2013: he is close to the president’s younger brother, Said.

Political ambitions?

It is an open secret in Algiers that Said Bouteflika is anxious to succeed his brother as president, although he has no political vehicle or reputation that could help him realise such an ambition. For several years, ever since the president suffered from serious gastric problems late in 2005, Said has cast about for a sponsor, despite opposition to his plans from ‘les decideurs’ in the army and the security services, but without success. Now, it is rumoured, he has found one in Ali Haddad.

There is little doubt about Haddad’s political pull; he recently complained about the role of Abdulhamid Zerguine, then head of Sonatrach, Algeria’s massive oil-and-gas company, in blocking a contract for ETRHB. Shortly afterwards, Zerguine was removed from his post.

Louisa Hanoune, the secretary-general of the Parti des Travailleurs, has publicly accused Haddad of being responsible, as she highlighted the new role of Algeria’s economic barons the he leads.

Now, capitalising on rumours coursing through Algiers, she claims that he intends to found a political party, Al-Fakhr (‘Pride’), which will push Said Bouteflika for the president post when his brother dies in office. Other rumours suggest that a clutch of small, pro-presidential parties will unite to do this instead, no doubt with Haddad in the background.

Haddad himself dismisses all such claims, “Leave politics to the politicians!” he has said. But the Algerian press has noted that the FCE has recently been granted semi-official status abroad with the task of promoting Algeria’s economic interests. It has already signed one such agreement with Qatar. Despite the stagnation in Algeria’s political life and irrespective of Said Bouteflika’s ambitions, a new force to replace the gerontocratic military and security elite is emerging in Algeria.