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Mystery in Algeria one month after president’s hospitalisation

December 1, 2020 at 4:22 pm

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on January 21, 2020 [KRAMDI/AFP via Getty Images]

One month after Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was flown to Germany for urgent coronavirus treatment, mystery still surrounds his condition. Questions and rumours about the fate of the country are circulating.

The Algerian presidency announced on 24 October that Tebboune had “voluntarily” entered a five-day quarantine, after infections among senior presidential and government officials. On 28 October, it was reported that he had been transferred to Germany to undergo “extensive medical examinations, on the recommendation of medical staff.”

According to political researcher Muhammad Hanad, this lengthy absence suggests that the president is very sick. “However, if this long absence is problematic for the authorities, then concerns are not limited to his medical condition, but also extend to the authorities’ inability to assess and manage affairs of state.”

READ: Algeria’s president leaves German hospital, back home in ‘coming days’

The president’s absence reminds Algerians of the vacuum that loomed as former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was hospitalised overseas several times after suffering a stroke in 2013. At that time, Bouteflika’s brother, Said, took the reins and sought to impose a fifth term for the sick president. That prompted the Algerians to take the streets in February 2019, leading to Bouteflika stepping down two months later.

Since Tebboune went to Cologne, the presidency has issued six statements about his health. Even though he is known to be a heavy smoker, the Algerians had to wait until 3 November to find out that he had contracted Covid-19. Five days later, it was suggested that his condition was improving. On 15 November, another statement said that the president had finished treatment and is “currently undergoing medical examinations.”

Nothing about his health has been heard since then, apart from a letter sent by German Chancellor Angela Merkel wishing Tebboune a prompt recovery. The media blackout and lack of photographs of the Algerian president have triggered all sorts of rumours and speculation.

With Tebboune supposed to have ratified the new constitution after the referendum on 1 November, and approved the 2021 budget, some are demanding that Article 102 of the constitution be applied regarding the declaration of a presidential vacancy in order to avoid a constitutional crisis.

READ: Algerian president has COVID-19 but improving

“Article 102,” explained Hanad, “will determine the presidential vacancy in a two-stage process: the first stage is temporary, if an impediment that prevents the president from performing his duties for a period not exceeding 45 days is proved. The second phase kicks in when the president confirms the vacancy by resigning if the impediment exceeds the aforementioned duration.”

In the second case, he pointed out, the deputy speaker of the National Assembly, Salah Goudjil, an 89-year-old veteran of the Algerian War of Independence, will be appointed as head of state, pending the election of Tebboune’s successor.

The French-language El-Watan newspaper talked on Saturday about “tense confusion regarding Tebboune’s health” and quoted a “reliable source” saying that the Algerian president will recover soon. It added that he is staying in Germany for physical rehabilitation sessions before “returning to the country in a few days.”