Algeria again faces the dilemma of having its powerful presidency incapacitated.
Rabat – Algeria’s President Abdelmajid Tebboune is in Germany receiving COVID-19 treatment, leaving the country rudderless. The president’s absence comes at an unfortunate time with Algeria in crisis due to COVID-19. The country is in desperate need of effective government intervention with hospitals overflowing and despair spreading among the citizenry.
Algeria depends on its top leadership to function. Its new constitution, approved in a broadly boycotted referendum on November 1, again enshrined the power of the office of the president. With President Tebboune incapacitated in Germany, the country faces a crisis without effective leadership. The current situation eerily mirrors the final years of the regime of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whose last years in office were mired in controversy after he suffered a debilitating stroke.
Algerian newspaper Liberte Algerie described the country’s current economic and health crises as “the great upheaval.” Hospitals are overflowing with COVID-19 patients while the crisis leaves citizens with stress, anxiety, discomfort, lack of economic prospects, and an explosion of domestic violence, according to the Algerian daily.
The office of the president has attempted to assuage concerns over Tebboune’s condition, stating that Algeria’s president is “undergoing post-protocol medical examinations.” Vague statements from Tebboune’s office have done little to reassure Algerians. French daily Le Figaro described Algeria’s predicament as a “zombie presidency” which leaves the country a ship “without a captain.”
Le Figaro painted a dire picture of the despair that has descended on Algeria’s streets in the absence of Tebboune amid its COVID-19 crisis. “No one escaped this test of God,” a concerned citizen told the newspaper. He told Le Figaro that a third of his neighborhood had been “swept away by illness.” Graffiti on the walls of Algiers cries “oh God, get rid of this pandemic!”
Tebboune’s infection has led many in Algeria to see the crisis as having spiraled out of control.
“Even the president, with all the protection he has, is also affected,” the citizen told Le Figaro. The absence of transparency over the President’s condition worries many.
Ever since health professionals detected COVID-19 infections in Algeria’s presidential office a month ago, Tebboune’s office has downplayed concerns, even after the president’s hospitalization. Citizens of Algeria only found out about Tebboune’s COVID-19 status through a message from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman who accidentally revealed the news while wishing him well “following his infection with the new Coronavirus.”
Algerian daily El Watan described the president as “contaminated, then isolated, then expatriated” as it lamented Algeria’s misfortune regarding its leadership’s medical problems.
Tebboune’s absence is bringing back Algeria’s traumatic experience with a vacuum in leadership during Bouteflika’s final years. Algeria’s presidency controls much of the state apparatus, exercising far-reaching control over all other branches of government. With Tebboune incapacitated, Algeria is left with the president’s close confidants in control of the presidential El Mouradia Palace.
In many ways Algeria’s condition mirrors that of President Tebboune. The president is a heavy smoker and a high-risk COVID-19 patient due to his age. Algeria similarly is at high-risk, with leadership centralized in an empty presidential office as the virus continues to spread along with the growing despair on the street.