Tebboune’s renewed absence triggers political speculation

The public is wary of a new period of institutional paralysis that could take place if the Algerian president’s absence lasts a long time.
Wednesday 13/01/2021
A photo grab from a video published on the personal Twitter account of Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune shows him delivering a speech to a camera, December 23, 2020. (AFP)
A photo grab from a video published on the personal Twitter account of Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune shows him delivering a speech to a camera, December 23, 2020. (AFP)

ALGIERS - Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune traveled again to Germany for medical treatment, triggering  speculation about his health status, the extent of his ability to perform his duties, the future of the presidency and the impact his absence will have on the work of other state institutions, especially with uncertainty surrounding the future of Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad’s government.

In a departure statement at the Boufarik military airport near the capital, Tebboune said that he will return to Germany in order to complete his medical treatment, in accordance with the recommendations of the medical team due to a leg lesion “which may require surgery.”

“I do not know the time that the treatment will require,” he told his well-wishers, expressing hope to “return soon to the country.”

While Tebboune’s recorded video, posted in mid-December on hisTwitter account, showed he might have sufefred a stroke, the presidential media office has insisted his illness stemmed from a coronavirus infection. This version is reflected in the diplomatic messages received by Tebboune from a number of foreign leaders and monarchs.

According to widely circulated leaks, the German medical team that accompanied the Algerian president on his return to Algeria left the country for Berlin two days before Tebboune was transferred again. The decision to have Tebboune return to Germany was made in consultation with the supervisors of the president’s health file at the hospital in Cologne.

During his arrival at Boufarik military airport at the end of last month, Tebboune appeared with a cast on his leg, raising doubts about the exact nature of his health condition, especially due to limited information put forward by the president’s media office.

The Algerian president had been absent from the country for two months, which he spent at a German hospital in Cologne. His health status brought back memories of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who spent six years (2013-2019) managing the country’s affairs in mysterious circumstances after suffering a stroke.

Algerian authorities now seem to be struggling to explain Tebboune’s long-term absence to the public.

Observers do not rule out that Tebboune’s return to Algeria last month was arranged in order to fulfill a presidential deadline to meet constitutional obligations to ratify the general budget law and the new constitution. The country’s constitution requires that the budget be ratified by the end of December and 50 days after the popular referendum on the constitution.

Tebboune is not known to have engaged in any official activity except for ratifying the general budget law, the new constitutional text and the election law, which is expected to be enacted in anticipation of  parliament and municipality bodies being dissolved before early legislative and local elections are held. Even Tebboune’s supporters’ agenda has not been realised, except for the dismissal of some military figures, including in the Air Force Command and the Foreign Intelligence Directorate.

Due to the nature of Algeria’s political system, which concentrates power with the presidency, the country’s official institutions have been largely paralysed during Tebboune’s absence. Analysts do not rule out that civil unrest could reemerge if the president’s absence lasts for a long time, compounding the country’s troubles as it deals with a multifaceted  crisis.