Unconvincing cabinet reshuffle reminds Algeria’s Hirak supporters of blocked horizons of change

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets, Monday, in Algiers and other major cities to demonstrate against the ruling elite
Tuesday 23/02/2021
Algerians rally in the capital Algiers, on February 22, 2021. (AFP)
Algerians rally in the capital Algiers, on February 22, 2021. (AFP)

ALGIERS - A ministerial reshuffle announced by Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune on Sunday failed to win over the protesters and reassure them of the prospect for change.

On the contrary, the tepid line-up change reminded the popular protest movement of the blocked horizons of the political situation and authorities' inability to provide new solutions to the country.

Authorities could not satisfy protesters with appeasement steps taken over the past few days, including releasing a number of prisoners of conscience, reshuffling the government of Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad for the third time, dissolving parliament and establishing new youth bodies.

The new government line-up did not impress the public nor Algeria watchers.

This reshuffle did not de-escalate mounting tensions in the country. Instead, it became the subject of satire, the latest form of resistance among supporters of the popular protest movement.

With the comeback of two prominent figures of what is known as the “Bouteflika system," namely Mohamed Ali Boughazi and Dalila Boujemaa, to the government, the regime has consolidated the pillars of the system.

It has proven that the narrative of change it has promoted so far is nothing but slogans. This has further stoked the anger of the street and given another argument to those advocating for a complete overhaul of the system.

New Tourism Minister Mohamed Ali Boughazi had previously held ministerial posts. He was an adviser to former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika until he stepped down in April 2019.

Environment Minister Dalila Boujemaa also held the same position in previous Bouteflika governments.

A woman holds an Algerian flag as Algerians demonstrate in Algiers to mark the second anniversary of the Hirak movement, Feb. 22, 2021. (AP)
A woman holds an Algerian flag as Algerians demonstrate in Algiers to mark the second anniversary of the Hirak movement, February 22, 2021. (AP)

In his cabinet reshuffle, which did not affect key ministries, Tebboune kept Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati in his position, even if the latter had become a symbol of the judicial prosecution of political opponents and Hirak activists. He also maintained Communication Minister and government spokesperson Ammar Belhimer, who exerts influence over the media.

In reaction to the disappointing reshuffle, Algerians returned to the streets to demonstrate against the ruling system and reiterate the same demands for change they have been voicing for two years.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets, in Algiers and other major cities on Monday to demonstrate against the ruling elite and to express their continued commitment to the basic demands of the popular protest movement, which include the exit of the regime and comprehensive political change in the country.

Algeria, which has gone through two years of polarisation between the street and authorities, is back to square one.

One the one hand, there is the street which has not been deterred by the pandemic, counter-propaganda or the 14-month suspension of protests. On the other hand, there are the authorities, which are not ready to make real concessions that could take the country out of its ongoing impasse.

Authorities are even invoking conspiracy theories to explain the continuing protests.

Belhimer said Monday that Algeria is confronted by "an intensive and vile electronic war aimed at undermining the elements that constitute the secret of Algeria's strength and reflect the unique state of fusion between the army and the nation."

"The enemies of Algeria have tried to invest maliciously in the movement," added the spokesman in a statement published on his official Facebook page on the second anniversary of the popular protest movement.

Since the military monopolised the management of the country’s affairs during the institutional vacuum phase, authorities have not been able to convince protesters to support the political course it has followed since the end of 2019.

The presidential elections that made Tebboune head of state, the adoption of a new constitution and successive government reshuffles have not offered sufficient political guarantees of real change to the street and failed to set the country on the path towards a genuine solution to the crisis.

The new government reshuffle, the third by Djerad, disappointed many political forces, such as the Ennahda Movement (Muslim Brotherhood) and the Workers Party (leftist).

General Secretary of the Workers' Party Louisa Hanoune declared that “dissolving parliament and introducing a government reshuffle will not solve the crisis."  Her words were illustrated by the two anti-government demonstrations and rallies on Monday.

The protesters dismissed the warnings and fears about the spread of the pandemic, as many believed that “the authorities have used the public health crisis to suppress the movement, retaliate against activists and forcefully impose its agenda.”

They contend that "14 months of suspension have not dampened the activists' political will, and the authorities find themselves today confronted to a fait accompli."

As in the capital, Algerian men and women of different age groups and political and ideological orientations came out in all regions of the country to renew the same political demands they made two years ago.