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Algeria: Government reshuffle uncovers conflict between Tebboune and army

Prime Minister of Algeria Abdelaziz Djerad in Algiers, Algeria on 10 September 2020 [Mousaab Rouibi/Anadolu Agency]
Prime Minister of Algeria Abdelaziz Djerad in Algiers, Algeria on 10 September 2020 [Mousaab Rouibi/Anadolu Agency]

The government reshuffle in Algeria has sparked a wave of controversy in political circles due to the ambiguity accompanying it, combined with the delay of the date set by the president himself.

Observers of Algerian affairs are aware that the authorities and the public are on different axes. While the president talks about changes in the government to improve its performance and meet the needs of the citizens, tens of thousands of Algerians occupy the streets to express their rejection of the entire system, considering that the demands of the popular movement were sidestepped.

According to Arabic Post, sources in the Algerian government have revealed that the cabinet reshuffle suggested by Tebboune was intended to dismiss Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad. However, the decision was nullified at the last moment, explaining the one-day delay in presenting the reshuffle.

As revealed by the sources, Djerad met with his cabinet on 17 February, two days before the government reshuffle. He delivered a farewell speech to the ministers, in which he thanked them for their efforts and encouraged them to be prepared for the next stage.

At a time when the government reshuffle was to be announced, state television reported a meeting between the president of the republic and the Supreme Security Council, as well as high-ranking civilian officials.

It seems, according to observers, that the Supreme Security Council played a major role in keeping Djerad and limiting the scope of the cabinet reshuffle, especially since early legislative elections are to be held soon, introducing a new government as stipulated by the new Algerian constitution.

On the eve of 12 February, President Tebboune returned to Algeria after a month-long stay in Germany for treatment. His return came amid escalating tensions in the country and social media platforms calling on Algerians to return to the streets to achieve the objectives of the popular movement that has been hindered due to the coronavirus.

One day after his return, Tebboune returned to work and initiated bilateral meetings with various political actors, both supporting and opposing him. He met with President of El-Bina Movement and his rival in the October 2019 presidential elections Abdelkader Bengrina, head of the Future Front Party Abdulaziz Belaid and leader of the Jil Jadid Party Soufiane Djilali. Djilali rejects the results of the presidential elections that allowed Tebboune to take office, but adheres to engaging in dialogue with the head of state.

The Algerian president also met with opposition parties including Abdul Razzaq Muqri, the head of the Movement of Society for Peace and the Socialist Forces Front, which until recently did not recognise Tebboune as the country's president.

Following these meetings, Djilali revealed that the president had promised a government reshuffle within days, to replace ministers who failed to improve the citizens' living conditions. Meanwhile, Bengrina stated that Tebboune took a decision to dissolve the People's National Assembly and announced that pre-legislative elections would be held in the near future.

In a speech on 18 February, the Algerian president announced dissolving the People's National Assembly, claiming that most of the MPs won seats through unlawful means.

Tebboune also called on young people to run for the upcoming legislative elections, while promising to secure a large part of the expenses of their election campaigns.

In the same speech, the head of state revealed that he intends to conduct a cabinet reshuffle within 48 hours.

After the expiration of the deadline specified by Tebboune, many people became anxious and waited for state television to announce the latest developments about the new government composition. However, the cabinet reshuffle did not occur, sparking controversy on social media platforms and prompting Algerian press to speculate.

The head of the Jil Jadid Party, who is currently one of the closest personalities to President Tebboune, told Arabic Post that he believes that the government reshuffle cannot be considered a "political event".

Djilali justified this statement by asserting: "The government reshuffle was intended primarily to serve as a technical amendment to handle some imbalances in the government, and does not concern the public opinion with anything."

Regarding appointing one of Abdelaziz Bouteflika's advisors as a minister during the government reshuffle, Djilali explained: "This was least expected, as this move can be considered as a provocation of the Algerian public and the popular movement."

He added: "The real cabinet reshuffle will come after the legislative elections, and will be proposed by the winning parties that will inevitably create a new political map."

Political activist Samir Bin Al-Arabi, one of the most prominent figures of the popular movement in Algeria, looks at the government reshuffle in a different way.

Al-Arabi sarcastically told Arabic Post: "After three days of waiting for the radical government reshuffle that would meet the requirements of the current phase and the difficult economic and social conditions the country is going through, President Abdelmajid Tebboune announced a third government led by Djerad, which came as a surprise to everybody."

He added: "The government reshuffle covered only three ministries and cancelled another, but it is also strange to appoint personalities who worked with the former president."

The activist referred to a struggle at the top of the power hierarchy, stating: "What happened after three days of waiting confirms that there is a power struggle between the presidency and the army's chief of staff overrunning the country's affairs."

A day after Tebboune signed the government reshuffle decision that disappointed the political class and many observers in Algeria, tens of thousands of Algerians took to the streets in most states of the country to commemorate the second anniversary of the popular movement that toppled Bouteflika.

Arabic Post was present in the Algerian capital, which was crowded with demonstrators, and surveyed the views of some young demonstrators on the government reshuffle.

Sofiane, 33, believes: "Neither the cabinet reshuffle nor the government itself interests him [Tebboune] because these details do not matter as long as most of the popular movement's demands have not been achieved."

Amina, 34, told Arabic Post: "All the recent decisions taken by Tebboune are not important, except for the pardon for prisoners of conscience, which is a step that we value and consider as a leap forward and a good gesture from the authorities."

As for law student Elyes, he considers that the Algerians must focus on and organise the popular movement in order to achieve justice, freedom and build a civilian state, and: "As for the government, it was changed three times in one year, yet it has and never will change anything."

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