I had a chance to meet, albeit briefly, the Secretary General of the Polisario, Mohamed Abdelaziz, during his visit to Washington for one of the Defense Forum Foundation’s events in the 1990’s. He was courteous and mild mannered making him the perfect persona who the Algerian military can manipulate, use and abuse then discard. Today is a day for reckoning for Abdelaziz as the Algerians try to fire him. It is also the perfect time for him to come back home to his forgiving nation, Morocco, and among his Reguibat tribesmen.
The arrival of a new Intelligence chief at the helm of the Algerian Military Intelligence Services (DRS) was the beginning of the end for Mr. Abdelaziz. Mr. Athman Tartag who replaced Mohamed Mediène as Algeria’s top spy has started to clean house in Tindouf by replacing high-ranking Polisario officials with his own men.
Tartag’s first victim was Mohamed Lamine Bouhali, the now former defense minister of the so-called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), who was fired during Polisario’ s 14th Congress held recently. Bouhali who served Algeria’s interest at the at the expense of the struggle of his Sahrawi compatriots was discarded like a defector.
Even though some Algerian and Moroccan news organizations have published stories attributing the firing of Bouhali to Abdelaziz, Algerian sources close to the Polisario in Algiers confirmed that it was the new DRS boss who decided to fire him as part of a large campaign to cleanse the political and military leadership of the so-called SADR.
While we still don’t know Tratag’s intentions and future plans for the Polisario, it has been plenty evident that the new strongman is installing his own crew at the helm of the organization. It is just a matter of time before Abdelaziz is pushed to retire.
Tartag’s humiliation of Algeria’s long time “servant” Bouhali is an example and a warning sign of what awaits Abdelaziz if he lingers in Tindouf. The President of the self-proclaimed SADR must reflect on the events that led to his rise to the top of the Polisario. It was on the dead body of his friend El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed assassinated by the DRS that Abdelaziz assented to chiefdom.
Far from being the tough “guerrillero” you would expect given the violent history of the Polisario front, chief Abdelaziz is non-confrontational and low key. According to former Algerian Intelligence officers, the Algerian military services chose him as the head of the Polisario in 1976 because of his demeanor especially after several of the founding fathers of the Polisario started to rebel against their Algerian “hosts” in 1976.
As he waits for Tartag to decide his future, Abdelaziz has time to ponder the current volatile security and political situation in Algeria. Looking at the manner and ease with which the new Bouteflika clan dared to fire, arrest, judge and confine Algerian intelligence and military Generals, the Polisario chief must be worried about his safety and wellbeing.
At any rate, Abdelaziz at retirement will feel more at home in a nice riad in his native Marrakech or in a house in the beautiful coastal city Of Dakhla, than in a dim villa in gloomy Algiers.