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.