Hi, my name is Chekib Khelil, and I am running for President

Hi, my name is Chekib Khelil, and I am running for President
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There are three elements in the power structure of the Algerian state: oil, religion and politics —  these elements are to maintain the intra-clan interests, social order and keep the institutions functioning.

By Abdennour Toumi

Abdennour Toumi

Abdennour Toumi

These days in Algeria the regime’s machine is busy paving the road to el-Mouradia Palace for the former Energy Minister and CEO of Sanatrach, the powerful national oil company. Given the repetitive “off-sides” positions and gaffes of Premier Sellal and the “swiss cheese” defense tactic of the President’s Chief of Staff Mr. Ouyahyia, Dr. Chekib is the plausible and virtually possible heir to succeed President Bouteflika.

According to the on-going political development on the ground, fundamental elements caught the pens and the micros of the analysts: the precipitant return of Dr. Chekib Khelil from the U.S., the recent picture-taking with the Russian Foreign Minister and later with France’s Premier in Algiers, then President Bouteflika looking seriously tired and rushed to Geneva, Switzerland last Sunday for a “routine” check-up, according to the Palace communiqué.

The President’s deteriorating health has led many to think that an early presidential election is in process. Waiting until 2019 is an eternity for the President’s circle. Dr. Chekib, whose public appearances on the so-called “independent” media (Ennahar TV and Djezair TV) left the public and the political class perplexed. Dr. Chekib’s “testing-the-waters” moment sounds like a planned presidential campaign and a public image rehabilitation from the President’s clan in Zeralda-sur-Mazafarn, Algiers (the President’s campaign headquarters). 

Public relations smoothly orchestrated by the President’s media chiefs and owners are presenting Dr.Chekib Khelil as a providential man of the conjuncture involving populism, popular belief and international skills.

Better still, the former Energy Minister also appears as a victim of the former DRS (Intelligence Service) chief and his men…revealed in an article published on March 5, 2013 in “Jeune Afrique” that talks about corruption in the oil sector in Algeria.

Chakib Khelil, Algeria

Chakib Khelil, Algeria

On the other hand, Dr. Chekib declared he does not have any ambition for the highest position in the land, though the appetite is there. During his appearance on Djezair TV, he declared: “I do not have any political ambition.” Then to temper it down, “I am ready to serve my country, if I am asked.” National duty oblige!

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The only flat remaining lies within the Algerian Constitution, which demands that the candidate cannot be a dual citizen. Dr. Chekib, according to many news reports, is an Algerian-American. Born on 8 August, 1939, he received his Bachelor and Master degrees in Mining and Petroleum Engineering from Ohio State University in 1964 and 1965, respectively. He also obtained a Ph.D. in Petroleum Engineering from Texas A&M University in 1968.

Meanwhile, Algerians who usually don’t care much what is burning in the regime’s kitchen, are a bit concerned this time about the name of their next president. This is the first time the army and the FLN are not directly/publicly involved. Bouteflikism gave birth to a new political imperative and system, which reveals that the real power is in the hands of the petro-business, an oligarchic clan à la rus(s)e.

Dr. Chekib is touring the Zaouias wrapped up in a clean white wool bernous (a traditional men dress white cloth as a symbol of purity). As if he needs the pardon and the blessings of the Zaouias‘ sheikhs! More curiously, why does a secular man with western values and style use pro-regime Mosques for his campaign?!

Algerian Imams

Algerian Imams

Historically, the Algerian regime has invested a great deal in the Zaouias (literally means corner) since 1962, as nationalism and traditional Islam are the mainstay mottos invoked to contain fundamentalist Islam — the democratic weakness of the real foundations of a modern nation-state; particularly its ruling clans and cliques, who have been using the Zaouias as fusion of the state, the nation and the religion.

This societal practice has shown an ambiguous relation and to some degree a conflictual one regarding the Islamists, the Ulémas of Sheikh Ibn Badis, and currently with the Islamist ideology. The Islamists viewed the Zaouias using Koranic schools and Zaouias to indoctrinate the masses from rising for their rights and fighting the colonial practices and policies during the occupation, unlike  the Islamists, who saw themselves as the anti-dote of these religious paradigms and curriculum.

In response to the Algerian velvet opposition critics about Dr. Chekib’s odd political marketing comportment, he didn’t wait to justify his visits to the Zaouias, but simply making a gesture of courtesy. He is a simple man from a simple Algerian family, and his family and his children suffered from the local media voyeurism. Before he appeared on the “independent” Algerian TV programming, Dr. Chekib had already made an appearance on the CBS network. 

This is what fueled the story-line in the Algeria political saga as to who wrote the scenario. Western powers and multi-national oil companies, led by the U.S., do not have much time to configure their “joker,” and will not wait for 2019.

Knowing the strategic dispute between Paris and Washington over the next Algerian President is not a state secret, events seem to be shifting for Washington. Dr. Chekib is the man at the center of the external/internal consensus, and international powers are only likely to preserve the national interests of each other.

Since the French-Algerian relations are in such troubled waters, at least on the surface, these events weigh in favor of Dr. Chekib’s case as a diversion to better place the American joker.

In democracies, people choose their presidents, even if they are weird like Donald Trump. But in Eastern countries, democracy is a doping pill, scare tactics and international competence combine to hide political visions and hope in order to keep the people within the boundaries of the land. Algeria’s deciders of the twenty-first century prefer to get its political legitimacy from a Zaouia (corner), after they have been cornered by their own incompetence. 

Forgetting a fight for a political career and post begins like any fight on the street corner: rolling up the shirt sleeves, shaking a thousand hands, kissing tens of babies, distributing his political flyer and introducing himself to the voters, “Hi, my name is Chekib, and I am running for President.”

The Arab Daily News

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Abdennour Toumi
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