Tebboune reshuffles cabinet on eve of Hirak anniversary

A new energy minister, Mohamed Arkab, a former mining minister, replaced Abdelmadjid Attar.
Monday 22/02/2021
Demonstrators wave Algerian national flags during a rally in Paris on February 21, 2021, in support of the Hirak anti-government movement in Algeria. AFP
Demonstrators wave Algerian national flags during a rally in Paris on February 21, 2021, in support of the Hirak anti-government movement in Algeria. (AFP)

ALGIERS--Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune announced Sunday a highly anticipated, but ultimately limited, government reshuffle on Sunday on the eve of the second anniversary of a protest movement that is regaining momentum.

The reshuffle saw few major changes, according to a list published by the presidency.

Among those keeping their posts are under-fire Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad and Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati, seen as a symbol of Algeria’s judicial crackdown on protesters and opposition activists.

A new energy minister, Mohamed Arkab, a former mining minister, replaced Abdelmadjid Attar.

Those on the way out include industry minister Ferhat-Ait Ali, who had attracted criticism for his handling of a relaunch of the auto sector.

A handful of other ministries, including the energy, water, tourism and public works portfolios will also change hands in the limited reshuffle.

Tebboune Sunday also “signed a presidential decree dissolving the People’s National Assembly,” whose mandate is set to expire in 2022, state television reported.

A date for the early polls has yet to be set, but the vote should take place within three months, according to the constitution. The deadline can be extended once for another three months.

During an address to the nation Thursday, Tebboune had called for the dissolution and said he would reshuffle the government.

He also declared dozens of pardons for pro-democracy activists in a gesture of appeasement, as the Hirak protest movement, which swept former strongman Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power in 2019, gathers momentum again.

The movement’s weekly rallies had been suspended in March last year amid coronavirus restrictions.

Tebboune’s initiative comes ahead of the Hirak’s second anniversary on Monday, with calls on social media for demonstrations to mark the day.

On Saturday, rights group the National Committee for the Liberation of Prisoners (CNLD) said at least 35 people had been released from jail in the past 24 hours.

The justice ministry had reported Friday the release of 33 detainees held over acts linked to “the use of social media networks,” adding that procedures were underway for others.

The CNLD estimates that around 70 people were in prison over their links with the Hirak or other peaceful opposition political activity.

Among those pardoned on Friday was prominent journalist Khalid Drareni, a correspondent for French-language TV5 Monde and press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

He was jailed for his coverage of the Hirak protests, and like many other detainees, accused of incitement.

“My fight (for freedom of the press) will continue,” Drareni told TV5 Monde after his release from the Kolea prison west of Algiers.