Algeria, one year after the fall of Bouteflika

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April 8, 2020 – 14:53

Algeria is marking the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of the longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was forced to resign following the outbreak of massive popular uprising, calling for fundamental political change.  

Bouteflika’s last public appearance was on April 2 last year, when he was seen on television handing his resignation to the-then Constitutional Council’s President Tayeb Belaiz. He responded favorably to the pressure of his resignation. He stepped down on April 2nd reversing his decision to seek a fifth term in power, however, this decision has failed to appease protesters and satisfy their claims. Protesters, young and old, men and women from all walks of life, indeed, remained in the streets every Friday re-appropriating long confiscated public spaces and calling for the overhaul of the whole system and the sweeping away of the remnants of Bouteflika’s inner circle, viewed as corrupt. They have directed drawing rage at the political elite they blame driving the country to a political deadlock and economic collapse.

One year later, the political landscape has shifted dramatically. Abdelaziz Bouteflika is out. In prison today are a slew of the previous regime figures; former prime ministers and other once-powerful establishment figures, including Bouteflika’s brother, Said, Chief police Abdelghani Hamel.

According to the Algerian Constitution, the then Speaker of the Council of the Nation Abdelkader Bensalah was named Head of State. This latter announced, in September, that the presidential elections, already postponed twice, are scheduled for Dec. 12 in a bid to put an end to the political crisis witnessed in Algeria and calm down the ire of months-long protests demanding the departure of the old guard and corruption-ridden system. In fact, polls were planned, initially, for April 18 and then July 4. However, they were postponed, for the second time, due to a lack of viable candidates, plunging the country into a crisis. 

The third electoral Rendez-vous was seen as a safe way-out to the political crisis the nation has been going through for almost 10 months, amid weekly popular protests demanding radical change, allowing the candidate deems fit to take the reins of the country with a view to charting a new era in the North African country and allowing it to turn the page on 10 months of protests and build the rule of law. Effectively, Algeria was voting for the first time in the post-Bouteflika period on Thursday, December, 12 for a new president, hoping that this achievement will be a passage that leads the North African country to a new bright and promising era, where the Algerian people would finally be able to achieve their legitimate aspirations for a decent life.

Former Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune snatched 58.15% of the vote, trouncing his four fellow contenders. He won Algeria’s decisive presidential election without the need for a second-round runoff, replacing the long-serving president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Tebboune, for his part, expressed determination, on his swearing-in ceremony,  to meet all the protesters’ demands with a view to ending the political blockage.

For his part, the powerful army Major General the late Ahmed Gaid Salah, who sided by the hirakists and pushed for the ouster of Bouteflika and other members of his regime, is out of the picture, having died following a sudden heart attack just four days after attending Tebboune’s swearing-in ceremony. This death comes as shock to many. General Said Chengriha replaced him as the military’s interim army chief of staff. Thousands of Algerians take to the streets in the capital to pay their respects and tribune during the funeral procession.

Protests, for their parts, are still taking place, except for this period as the coronavirus outbreak in the country, targeting goals, like providing social services, promoting human rights, or fighting corruption. Two months ago, they marked the first anniversary of  Hirak, this unprecedented protest movement in the country, which rose up against the ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s candidacy for a fifth term. There is a little doubt that it is one of the longest, most resilient and most peaceful political movements in both Algeria and the region’s recent history. It has proven its unity and peaceful nature. All the indicators say that it is to continue after the coronavirus is repelled because grievances have not been all addressed.

In other signs of recent visible changes, a wide “Clean Hands” campaign with a view to rooting out corruption linked to top tycoons and high-ranked government officials, has been launched. Several high-ranking officials, former Prime Ministers, including Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, Ex- and current Ministers, tycoons from powerful families with links to the former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and Heads of major companies and financial institutions were being questioned on corruption-related cases and then given huge sentences, and given lengthy prison terms following landmark televised trials.  Different investigations into corruption, customs-related violations, and other financial wrongdoing have been launched too, targeting the most powerful tycoons in Algeria, most of them were remanded in custody.

In addition to investigations into hampering the well- functioning of the army and State targeting members of the ruling elite, namely;  Said Bouteflika, the former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s youngest brother and two former intelligence chiefs, the Generals Bachir Athman Tartan and his predecessor, General Mohamed Madine, aka Gen. Toufik. A military court convicted the brother of ousted President Bouteflika, Said Bouteflika, who had wielded enormous influence as a gatekeeper to his ailing brother while in office. He was seen as the linchpin of an opaque clique of politicians and business leaders who influenced decision-making at the top of the gas-exporting North African country. The advisor and key aide of the former President of the Republic Bouteflika is incarcerated in Blida prison and sentenced to heaving prison term alongside the other co-defendants – two former intelligence chiefs.

Ex-Prime Ministers, namely: Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal were, also, convicted for multiple accusations; embezzlement of public money, abuse of office and granting of undue privileges. Other officials and Ex and current Governors are due to appear before the investigating judge at the Supreme Court.

Since his election, Tebboune has reached out to protesters, calling for dialogue, introducing some appeasement measures including freeing some detainees and vowing to amend the constitution to give Parliament and the judiciary more power. 

Regarding his priorities as President of the Republic, Tebboune said that, at the political level, he intends to carry out a profound and extensive constitutional reform, involving academics, intellectuals, specialists and members of the national community living abroad, and effectively, the President had started consultations and received the first draft of the constitution to be put for a broad dialogue.

Between 500 and 700 copies of this first version will be distributed to all stakeholders concerned by the revision of the country’s Basic Law, in addition to publication on a website dedicated to the constitutional revision and on social networks so as to allow all citizens to debate and enrich the text.

The President, through the amendment of the constitution, seeks to fulfill the demands of the people and address their grievances, including decrees that reduce the powers of the President, reduce the presidential terms to one, able to be renewed once, protect Algeria from falling into individual rule and create a balance between institutions, ensuring separation of powers, build a strong State where citizens, equal before the law, exercise their rights freely and lawfully and establish the rule of law and equal opportunities that will be the essence of the new Algeria, committing to setting radical change of the governing system, through deepening democracy and the rule of law, reinforcing social justice, and protecting human rights.

To this end, a referendum on the amendments is expected in the summer, followed by legislative elections by the end of the year. With an anticipated increased role of parliament within the new constitution, a new road for Algeria will be introduced. New parties are expected to emerge ahead of elections, significantly changing the political scene.

This month, Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad pitched his government’s plan of action – dubbed “a new deal for a new Algeria” to parliament, promising to “cleanse the disastrous heritage” of past governance.

With respect to the economy, Tebboune voiced his will to establish a diversified economy that generates jobs and wealth. He periodically chairs meetings with the new members of government to start developing an action plan to be presented to Parliament with a view to saving economy from collapse and reform education, universities, and the health treatment system. He appointed the technocrat Abdelaziz Djerad as Prime Minister on Sec.28, 2019 and banned the practice of addressing the President as “His Excellency”. He appointed, as well, young ministers.

As we know, Algeria faces the herculean task of transforming its economy to meet the pressing demands of a young, growing, and increasingly restless population. Despite the country’s favorable demographics, its economy remains almost entirely dependent on oil and natural gas, which account for 95% of merchandise exports. Unfortunately, Algeria’s economy is in trouble. It is facing the effects of nearly decades of energy-sector dominance and, in some cases, mismanagement.

Algeria’s tighter economic circumstances have hindered the state’s ability to provide services properly. Inflation and a concomitant increase in the cost of living have made it more difficult for many to secure daily needs.

Energy consumption is also rising at a fast pace in the country, so much that the national gas company, Sonatrach, estimates that it will exceed domestic production by 2025 if better efficiency and new fields are not found. Algeria is, therefore, in dire need of economic diversification.

Tebboune’s  government is entitled to carry out the required economic reforms to end the economy’s reliance on oil through the new economic growth paradigm, empowering the private sector and reshaping the social contract. Former governments have sought to implement similar reforms, but their bids fell short of achieving the goals.

Socially, Tebboune granted a presidential pardon to up to 15000 prisoners and released some of  Hirak detainees, including revered national figure Lakhdar Bouregaa and those arrested for their public statements, their posts on social networks, the carrying of the Berber flag, their activism, etc. This latter has become over the weeks one of the main demands of the popular movement, as the trauma of widespread arrests has had a multiplier effect on protesters.

Internationally, Algeria is getting more involved in regional issues, promising to meditate for finding solutions to unrest in neighboring Libya and the Sahel region. 

In his first speech since being sworn into office, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune confirmed Algiers’ previous stances on various policies, stressing on Algeria’s fundamental principles, namely: the defense of national independence, the recovery of national identity, the denial of any form of interference, refusal of any foreign military base on its soil, rejection of alliance policy and military pacts, and active participation in the struggle against underdevelopment and poverty, principle of reciprocity, the non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs and the peaceful settlement of crises.

 Algeria remains a pivotal country at the African, Mediterranean and Arab levels. During Bouteflika post-era, Algeria continues to play a leading role in the settlement of different crises as it did in the past in Mali where an agreement was signed in Algeria’s capital “Algiers” bringing the warring parties together. It categorically rejects the formulation of alliances to attack sovereign countries, for instance, it refused, in the strongest terms, to join the Saudi-led Military Alliance, considering it as an act of aggression.

Regarding Western Sahara,  Tebboune highlighted Algiers’ policy towards this conflict, renewing the country’s unwavering and unconditional support for the legitimate right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination through a free and fair referendum, and to stand by its side to reach a permanent solution to its just cause in accordance with international law and legitimacy, in line with the United Nations doctrine of decolonization.

Broaching the situation in Libya, Algeria is still attached to the stability of this country, refusing to be kept out of the settlement process.

Algeria, under the leadership of President Tebboune, will continue to play a leading role in the resolution of the crisis in Libya. The main principles of the Algerian initiative are known. The solution can only be political and peaceful and can only come from the Libyans themselves with international support and notably neighboring countries.

Algeria has, as part of its efforts aimed at reaching a solution to the Libyan crisis, relaunched, this year, several mechanisms gave the effects of the Libyan conflict on this country. Algiers hosted, on January 13th, the foreign minister meeting of Libya’s neighboring countries (Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Chad, Sudan, and Niger) to establish coordination and promote dialogue between these countries and the international players so that to accompany the Libyans in the revitalization of the political settlement process of the crisis through an inclusive dialogue between the different Libyan parties.

Besides, Former Algerian foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra is being considered as UN envoy to Libya, after Ghassan Salame resigned from the post earlier this month. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been consulting with U.N. Security Council members about appointing former Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra as his new Libya envoy,

With respect to Arab causes, President Tebboune remains stressing that the Palestinian issue is a constant of the foreign policy of the Algerian state. Algeria will remain a support for Palestine and its people who are fighting against a brute colonial force until the achievement of its independent state.

More recently, Algeria voiced rejection of the Middle East peace plan sponsored by US President Donald Trump, which gives the Zionist Entity the right to have Jerusalem El Quds as its capital.

Besides, Algeria still asks the League of Arab States to end the freeze on Syria’s membership and to re-represent it again in its meetings and activities, especially that this year’s Summit will be held in Algeria. Syria has been suspended from the Arab League since 2012, when a coalition of countries, led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, voted to suspend their membership.

According to Algerian Radio, Boukadoum said: “the absence of Syria has caused great harm to the League and the Arabs.” He would add that “we must push for the return of Syria’s membership and work for Damascus to return to the League of Arab States.”

Internally, the protest movement remains unstructured and leaderless, with some opposition figures refusing to get involved in dialogue with the President. However, this lack of leadership became a disadvantage as polarising opinions on strategy and future objectives and steps become more common.

Protest movements in Algeria, for the second year, are still thronging the streets. Two months ago, they marked the first anniversary of  Hirak, this unprecedented protest movement in the country. All the indicators say that it is to continue after the coronavirus is repelled because grievances have not been all addressed.

True the presidential election of December 12, 2019, has put an end to the institutional vacuum. It is, therefore, necessary for the newly elected President to face reality and take charge of the economic and social challenges.

The newly-elected Algerian president is facing complex political and economic challenges. He has inherited a tough economic situation from his predecessor, as the country’s foreign reserves have dropped to around 35 billion U.S. dollars following the slump of oil prices in the global market.

A few months later, his government is entitled to carry out the required economic reforms to end the economy’s reliance on oil through the new economic growth paradigm, empowering the private sector and reshaping the social contract. Former governments have sought to implement similar reforms, but their bids fell short of achieving the goals.

Politically, a total transformation and core reforms are needed, including a new constitution and a new electoral system as promised by the president, taking into account authentic democratic principles such as; free and fair elections, genuinely independent political parties, political participation, and freedom of expression.

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