Much remains unclear about Algeria’s president one month after being hospitalized and two weeks since “successfully completing treatment.”
Rabat – President Adbelmadjid Tebboune’s COVID-19 status continues to fuel speculation in Algeria. The country sighed a breath of relief when a trusted public official finally provided clarity over the weekend.
The fact that this trusted official was German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized Algerians’ mistrust in government communications.
The news of Merkel confirming President Tebboune’s successful recovery spread rapidly through the Algerian press. To many observers, Merkel’s message was a reliable confirmation amid a drip-feed of vague government statements that Tebboune had successfully completed his COVID-19 treatment two weeks ago.
Merkel’s message manipulated
Algerian’s press agency released a statement on Friday, satiating the country’s thirst for news on their powerful president.
“Merkel is delighted that President Tebboune has recovered from his coronavirus infection,” the headline read. “If Merkel is saying it, it’s probably true,” Algerian daily El Watan stated.
The moment of clarity lasted only as long as the weekend. On Monday, the head of Germany’s Press and Information Office, Christian Lichtwardt, directly contradicted Algeria’s national news agency.
Merkel’s message, Lichtwardt explained to newspaper Algerie Part Plus, only aimed to “wish [Tebboune] a good recovery.”
Merkel never confirmed Tebboune’s recovery from COVID-19, she simply wanted to wish him well, as had many other national leaders.
“Please address all other questions to the Algerian government,” Lichtwardt told Algerie Part Plus.
On the same day the Algerian press learned of the deceit, the same publication that revealed the scandal elaborated on Tebboune’s alleged COVID-19 status. Algerie Part Plus’ sources reported the president was in far worse shape, relearning how to breathe properly after having been connected to a breathing device for over three weeks.
If Algerie Part Plus’ sources are correct, that means the president was unable to breathe independently when the Algerian press service declared that he finished treatment nearly two weeks ago. Reputable sources picked up the news, including the Associated Press, Reuters, and Al Jazeera. It all turned out to be smoke and mirrors.
The news of Tebboune’s recovery surprised few as other infected national leaders, including US President Donald Trump, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Brazil’s Jair Bolsanaro all made a similar rapid recovery from COVID-19 after receiving the best medical care available.
Yet Tebboune’s age and heavy smoking habit appear to have prevented such a recovery. The president, who is known to smoke “even in non-smoking areas,” is now facing tests for voice disorders, psychological issues, and basic motor functions, according to Algerie Part Plus’ sources.
El Mouradia misinformation
The apparently purposeful misinformation coming out of the presidential palace of El Mouradia is doing little to build trust among Algerians. Denial and obfuscation have been the predominant tactic used in the sporadic efforts to inform the public. Tebboune’s COVID-19 status was not confirmed until on October 30 Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman accidentally revealed the news.
One month ago, while in a military hospital in Algiers, officials stated Tebboune was still able to perform all his presidential obligations. Even after flying the president to Germany, the government refused to provide anything but news on the good wishes from other national leaders that came pouring in.
Much of Algeria’s political power is concentrated in the presidency, which can reverse decisions by the legislative and judicial branches of government. Algeria’s revised constitution once again entrenched these powers in a broadly-boycotted referendum on November 1. With COVID-19 incapacitating Tebboune, Algeria is at risk of becoming a rudderless ship.
Officials at El Mouradia appear fearful of publishing anything that the public could see as bad news. The palace has a very real fear of renewed national protests after the vast majority of Algerians boycotted the referendum in the midst of intertwined health and economic crises. Meanwhile, Algeria’s proxy militias ended their ceasefire with Morocco.
Fears of popular unrest will come with fears of an internal power struggle that could end the political ambitions of many of the palace’s current occupants. Amid confusion and misinformation, Algerians need clear information so that the people’s expectations can match the reality that only the country’s most powerful people are aware of.