Algerian political and business tribes own their fight

President Bouteflika (81-years old) who has been ill and in a wheelchair since his hospitalization in France on 26 November 2005, has run his country from his hospital bed. He has not been seen in public since 19 March 2017 and the main news which comes out from his office are communiqués of dismissing or appointing Ministers. The latest was the sacking on 15 August of his Prime Minister, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who was only appointed on 25 May 2017, and his replacement with Ahmed Ouayhia, leader of the National Rally for Democracy Party, the second largest party in Algeria, who has been Prime Minister three times (1995-1998, 2003-2006 and 2008-2012). Ouayhia is a close confidant of the President and his brother Said who is hoping to become President, in case his 81-year old brother, Abdelaziz, does not stand for a fifth term in the 2019 election. In fact, a recent French Senate members analysis report at the end of July, said that the ailing 81-year old president is preparing himself for a fifth term despite being a “living dead ”.

The dismissal of Abdelmadjid Tebboune took every analyst of Algerian politics by surprise, as did the announcement of the appointment of Ouyahia. But it is hard to predict the daily tribal politics not only in Algeria but also in the whole Arab world.

The reasons for sacking Abdelmadjid Tebboune are many. Deep disagreements between the President’s inner circle including the President’s brother Said, who sees himself as Vice-President, and Tebboune’s declaration of war on corruption in the Algerian system.

The Prime Minister’s programme was to reduce imports, particularly milk, vegetables, fruit, flour, meat, pharmaceutical goods, and cars, which heavily affect the national economy, in light of the drop in oil and gas income in recent years, which accounts for 94 percent of the country’s export revenues. Mr Tebboune wanted to reduce the burden on the country and encourage investments in the abandoned Algerian industries. This move was not welcomed by Algerian business tycoons and the Algerian army who hold the monopolies of the imported goods.

Another cause was Mr Tebboune’s public criticism and attack on Mr Ali Haddad, a powerful businessman, President of the Algerian Business Forum and a close friend of the President’s family.

These clans, who invest most of their money outside Algeria and prevent any investment reforms, took their complaint to the President and on 8 August he sent a warning letter to his Prime Minister ordering him to stop his attack on the Algerian business community.

Abdelmadjid Tebboune should have resigned when he received this letter, but perhaps he still believed that the clan would let him carry on, particularly as he was organising the forthcoming visit to Algeria by French President Emmanuel Macron. However, due to Bouteflika’s health problems, no date has been agreed.

Will Ahmed Ouayhia now allow the Algerian economy and corruption to carry on? For sure foreign investors will not invest in Algeria under present restrictions. At present, Algerian business tycoons are not investing much in Algerian industries. They get much better return for their investments in Europe and elsewhere.

The other issue which will take up much of Ahmed Ouayhia’s time is preparation for the 2019 presidential election. The FLN (National Liberation Front) secretary general, Mr Djamel Ould Abbes, said in a recent television interview that Said Bouteflika, who has been well-trained by his brother to run the country, is an ideal candidate should he choose to stand. On this issue, in Algeria, like in Egypt, the Army have the final say.

Recent Referendum in Mauritania


The Mauritanian president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, seized power in a Coup d’état on 6th August 2008 and was elected President on 18 July 2009 for a term of 5 years. He was elected again on 21 June 2014 for a second five-years term. He organised a contentious referendum on 4 August 2017 to abolish the Mauritanian Senate which he considers to be interfering with his authority and replace it with regional Council which he can easily control, as well as merging the Islamic High Council and national Ombudsman into a High Council of the Fawa. During the election campaign, Ould Abdel Aziz did not explain what kind of legislative power regional Council will have and if this body will get material resources to manage local affairs and implement policies.

Abolishing the Senate, which in fact supported most of his policies, is a very dangerous act. This policy will backfire on him.

The referendum he called was also about the revival of Mauritanian nationalism. President Ould Abdel Aziz proposes to change the national flag by adding a red band at the top and bottom to symbolize “the sacrifices that the people of Mauritania will commemorate, the price of their blood in defending their country” as well as modifying the national anthem.

A proposal in the referendum to allow him to run for a third term— which he can not do under the present Constitution — was dropped after violent protests but he promised to hold additional referenda in the future to carry out his reforms.

Mauritania has never had a peaceful transfer of power since independence from France on 28 July 1960.

Ould Abdel Aziz says the abolition of the Senate which he described as “useless and too costly” will improve governance and democracy in Mauritania.

The opposition concern is that the vote is a ploy to increase Ould Abdel Aziz’ power and abolish the present Constitution so that he can stand again for Presidential election in 2019 and follow other African leaders of more than a dozen African countries including Algeria, Uganda, Cameron, Equatorial Guinea, Egypt and more recently Rwanda and Congo Republic.

The election campaign was violent, protest leaders were reportedly beaten up and many of them were arrested. The authorities did not respond to the opposition requests for authorization for the protests and dispersed all gatherings by excessive force throughout the campaign. Also, the opposition was not given time in the National Media calling for a boycott.

Even after the referendum result, any opposition or criticism is met with an iron fist. Indeed, on 12 August 2017, President Ould Abdel Aziz ordered the arrest of the outspoken Senator Mohamed Ould Gadda without any explanation, and his parliamentarian colleagues have called for his immediate release.

Ould Gadda’s Lawyer, Ahmed Salem Ould Bouhoubeini, requested the authorities release his kidnapped client. He has also written to International human rights organisations seeking their help.

Ould Abdel Aziz’ proposal of institutional reforms would simply strengthen even more his presidential power.

Like all African regimes, the Mauritanian political system led by Ould Abdel Aziz and other presidents before him hinges on tribal interest groups in the defence of the regime and the army.

Mauritania’s relations with most of its neighbours namely Senegal, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad have improved a little recently due to continued terrorism activities in the region, but there is no investments or assistance to Mauritania. Only Algeria gives Ould Abdel Aziz financial support in return for a strong support to the Polisario movement, but no investment in Mauritania. However, Algeria is also in financial difficulties due to the drop in oil and gas income and have recently imposed taxes on imported good.

Because of high-level government corruption and terrorism activities in the region, there is very little foreign investment coming into the country at present.

His relations with Morocco have deteriorated significantly during the last few years, this is due to his support to the Polisario movement and because he blamed Morocco for an assassination attempt on his life on 13 October 2012.