Rabat - The sacking of Abdelmajid Tebboune by the Algerian presidency, less than three months after his surprise appointment as Algeria’s prime minister, comes as yet another shock in the country’s political scene.
Rabat – The sacking of Abdelmajid Tebboune by the Algerian presidency, less than three months after his surprise appointment as Algeria’s prime minister, comes as yet another shock in the country’s political scene.
In May, Tebboune was appointed as the substitute to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s loyal former PM Abdelmalek Sellal, who many observers had expected would be chosen to lead the government for another mandate.
With Tebboune’s successor being Ahmed Ouyahia, known as the regime’s “joker card” for his multiple stints head of government and prime minister, the recent card game suggests that what is at stake is not just the position of prime minister, but something bigger.
Surprising but Expected
On Tuesday, the Algerian Presidency announced Tebboune’s dismissal, in a short press statement that was reported by the state-run agency.
“According to article 91, 5th paragraph, His Excellency the President of the Republic Abdelaziz Bouteflika has put an end today to the functions of the Prime Minister Abdelmajid Tebboune,” said the release. “According to the same constitutional dispositions, and after consulting with the majority in parliament, he has appointed Ahmed Ouyahia as Prime Minister.”
While no reasons were provided for the president’s out-of-the-blue sacking of his PM, observers of Algerian politics point to Tebboune’s altercation with Ali Haddad, the head of Forum de chefs d’entreprises (FCE), the local union of businessmen.
Haddad enjoys close ties with Said Bouteflika, the President’s younger brother and advisor. Said’s influence grew as his older brother’s health started to deteriorate after suffering a stroke in 2013.
In July, Tebboune declared war on businessmen “who do not respect the law” and who “transfer money abroad.” He issued a warning against companies, including Haddad’s ETRHB group, regarding delays in infrastructure projects.
Tebboune also accused his country’s businessmen of trying to influence political decision-making to serve their private interests.
Tebboune said that his government’s measures were condoned by President Bouteflika and the two houses in parliament.
While some local media hastily predicted a falling from grace of Haddad, instead, a letter attributed to Bouteflika slamming his PM for “harassing” businessmen was reported on by the Ennahar media group, an unofficial mouthpiece of the presidency.
His demise seemed sealed in late July, when Bouteflika was filmed and pictured with Haddad by his side, laughing together during the funeral of former Algerian head of government Redha Malek, while Tebboune stood a few inches away with a grim look on his face.
“It was expected,” Abderrahmane Mekkaoui, a Moroccan specialist of Algerian politics, told Morocco World News regarding Tebboune’s dismissal. “Money got the better of politics.”
Rachid Tlemcani, an Algerian political analyst, suggested to local online media outlet TSA that Tebboune made a mistake when he attacked Haddad, the man who “largely financed” Bouteflika’s electoral campaign for a fourth mandate as president.
Said the Manipulator
Amid these baffling machinations and maneuvers, inside a political system long described as opaque, lifting the curtain reveals Said Bouteflika.
More and more people are convinced that the president is no longer making the major decisions, which have seen high state officials removed and others appointed. Dismissals of Sellal and Tebboune are further evidence that the president’s younger brother is the man pulling the strings.
The nature of the regime might suggest that a certain circle of power, within the army or elsewhere, might have pushed for these sackings and appointments.
Mekkaoui, however, dismissed this reading.
“It was the presidency that decided the fate of Sellal,” he said. “He came to the end of his mission.”
He said that Sellal was no longer seen as the right man for the job because of his poor government record, and so Tebboune, who is one of the president’s right-hand men, was called to take his place.
Now, Tebboune is gone and Ouyahia is the new PM. This reshuffling appears to confirm the speculations of Mekkaoui and other observers that Said is preparing for his post-brother era, and that his aim is to take his place as the country’s president.
In 2015, with the help of the Army Chief of Staff, General Ahmed Gaid Saleh, Said succeed in taking down General Mohamed Mediène, also known as “Toufik,” the strong former intelligence chief who had probably been the most influential military officer throughout the last three decades.
Following that dismissal, Algerian French language news website Tamurt wrote that if a big fish “like Toufik was removed it certainly meant that Said Bouteflika did not do it so that a third person take his brother’s place.”
The appointment of Ouyahia, who has been serving as President Bouteflika’s director of cabinet, seems another step in Said’s carefully calculated moves to completely seize power in Algeria ahead of the presidential elections in 2019.
As the former head of government was said to nurture presidential hopes, appointing him as an PM might shutter his dreams of succeeding Bouteflika.
With Ouyahia sidelined, the final obstruction to Said’s potential “enthronement” remains General Gaid Saleh, who also vies for the presidency, according to local press.
The name of General Benali Benali, Commander of the Republican Guard and a loyal army officer to Said Bouteflika, started circulating several months as Gaid Saleh’s replacement.
“The dismissal of Tebboune is going to be followed by others to pave the way for Said Bouteflika to become president,” said Mekkaoui, who pointed to a recent media campaign promoting the president’s brother to the Algerian public.
“He became the uncrowned president of the republic,” said Mekkaoui. “But he wants to be officially instated in 2019.”