August 27, 2017

Fall of Algerian prime minister sparks calls to remove Bouteflika

Absent. Portrait of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers. (AP)

Tunis- The sudden firing of Abdel­majid Tebboune as Alge­ria’s prime minister led to intensified calls to remove President Abdelaziz Boutef­lika, the country’s ailing president who many say is controlled by a clique of businessmen and ambitious politicians.

Bouteflika, 80, has been plagued by health problems since he suf­fered a stroke in 2013. After being elected to a fourth five-year term in 2014, he attended his inauguration in a wheelchair, struggled to deliver a speech and mumbled through the oath of office.

The president has rarely appeared in public since, fuelling concerns about his ability to handle state af­fairs.

Such worries grew after Tebboune was sacked August 15, less than three months after being appointed to the job. Even Bouteflika’s staunch sup­porters said the events could only be explained by the incapacity of the president.

“The message conveyed to the people from the firing of Tebboune is that we have to worry because the man who leads the state is un­conscious,” said Abdelaziz Belaid, a former chief of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN)’s youth or­ganisation.

Former Trade Minister Noureddine Boukrouh, who served under Boutef­lika, said it was likely that someone other than the president was behind Tebboune’s removal.

“When Tebboune, after his firing, uttered the sentence: ‘My fidelity to the president remains complete,’ some saw it as a sign of spineless­ness but it was likely a small gesture of courage to tell us in sibylline lan­guage that it was not the president who removed me.”

“It could be also a gesture to thank the politico-financial mafia for spar­ing his life and not killing him as they did to Boudiaf,” said Boukrouh, referring to former Algerian leader Mohamed Boudiaf, who was assas­sinated by a bodyguard in 1992 after vowing to “cleanse the regime of cor­ruption.”

“To put the matter in a nutshell, Bouteflika is staying in power even absent, even invisible and even in a state of clinical death,” Boukrouh added in a statement.

Political analyst Guemache Hamid said doubts about Bouteflika’s capac­ity to lead the country have intensi­fied after Tebboune was fired.

“These doubts had never been as strong as they are now,” he said. “Af­ter the opposition, doubts spread to the periphery of the core of the re­gime.”

Former Finance Minister Mourad Benachenhou compared Bouteflika’s reign to the final years of former Tunisian President Habib Bourgui­ba who, after growing senile, was sidelined by Prime Minister Zine el- Abidine Ben Ali in a “medical coup” in 1987.

“The function of a president is a mission that requires inexhaustible energy, a permanent watch and vigi­lance at every moment. Is it the case now in Algeria?” asked Benachen­hou. “If Algeria has its ageing Bour­guiba on the top of leadership, who will be his Ben Ali?”

“The Algeria ship risks being knocked off balance because the storm is bearing down,” he added.

Tebboune was replaced as prime minister by Ahmed Ouyahia, a ca­reer diplomat who held the position of prime minister three times previ­ously.

Since Bouteflika’s election in 1999, the presidency displayed rigour, at­tention to detail and resolve to re­build Algeria after a black decade that humbled its government and isolated the country on the world stage but since he became ill, confusion has seeped into the Office of the Presi­dency.

In June, the president named Mes­saoud Benayoun as tourism minister. Benayoun was fired three days later because his “police record was not clean.”

Benayoun was again named tour­ism minister in Ouyahia’s govern­ment but removed the same day after the presidency said he had been ap­pointed because of a “typo.”

Analysts were puzzled by the re­shuffle, particularly after the abrupt firing of Tebboune.

“Tebboune was fired without warn­ing, which means that it is not the president who appointed him,” said political analyst Benzatat Youssef. “If it were the president who named him, he would have taken time to dis­cuss with him his mission and make sure he understands his task.

“Moreover, the president is not present physically and he communi­cates his messages via his entourage. Nothing proves that the president is the genuine author of these messag­es. It could be someone else usurping his identity.”

“Tebboune is a political product of the regime. He must be aware of the whole situation and have acted out of full consciousness. He was likely backed by a faction in the military that seeks to finish with the Boutef­likas,” he argued.

Political analyst Mustapha Ham­mouche said: “Tebboune could not be so candid to believe that he could survive his declaration of war against the alliance between politics and money. By attacking the alliance, he would change the regime in the pro­cess and the regime neutralised him.”

Meanwhile, many Algerians, in­cluding political opponents and intel­lectuals, took to social media to call for the implementation of Article 102 of the fundamental law, which stipu­lates a president can be removed from office if he is unable to carry out his duties.

“The calls for Bouteflika’s depar­ture coincided with the campaign against Tebboune because of his hos­tilities against the head of the [Algeri­an Business Leaders Forum] employ­ers group Ali Haddad (who is close to Bouteflika’s brother and adviser Said),” said political scientist Redha Mahmoudi.