Algeria: President Tebboune back after two months of absence

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“It is difficult to be far from his country and even more difficult for someone who has a lot of responsibilities,” said the head of state, whose images were broadcast on the 8 pm TV news. It is with these words that President Abdelmadjid Tebboune welcomed his return to the country after two months of absence. The presidential plane had left Berlin in the middle of the afternoon to land in Algiers at around 6 p.m. local (5 p.m. GMT). Apparently in good health, Mr Tebboune, who has reportedly gained weight since his last televised intervention, suggested he was almost fully recovered. He wears a brace on his right foot, according to screenshots from the TV video. He was greeted at the airport by several senior Algerian officials, including Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad and the army chief of staff, General Saïd Chengriha.

Mr. Tebboune spoke very briefly to wish “a happy new year to all Algerians”, “much better than 2020”. The Prime Minister said he was “happy to see the President of the Republic recovering in his homeland” and “impatient to continue the work to achieve the objectives of the new Algeria “. The last public appearance of Mr. Tebboune dated back to December 13 when he announced via a video clip posted on his Twitter account his return as soon as possible. Aged 75 and a heavy smoker, Mr. Tebboune left the Aïn Naâdja military hospital in Algiers for a specialized establishment in Germany on October 28, after contracting Covid-19. He left the hospital at the end of November, but extended his stay in Germany – in an undisclosed location – for a period of convalescence.

Files on the table: the finance law and the revision of the Constitution

Mr. Tebboune officially continued to hold the reins of the country during his stay abroad, but in fact he has not been able to exercise any of his main prerogatives for more than two months. He must therefore sign the finance law for the year 2021 by December 31 at midnight. In addition, the decree on the revision of the Constitution, its flagship project adopted by referendum on 1is November, cannot come into force without its initial.

Uncertainties and disinformation

His remoteness, the little information that has filtered out about his health and the opacity surrounding his prolonged absence – until his unannounced return on Tuesday – have continued to fuel rumors and disinformation. The illness and the departure abroad of Mr. Tebboune plunged Algeria back into the humiliating pangs of the end of the reign of Mr. Bouteflika, when the latter, struck by a stroke in 2013, continued, helpless and aphasic, to assume the presidential office before being ousted from power in April 2019 by the popular uprising of the hirak.

Political uncertainty has even pushed some voices to demand the application of article 102 of the Constitution, relating to the vacancy of power, in order to avoid an institutional crisis or a scenario similar to that of his predecessor, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Coming to power on December 12, 2019 with the desire to embody “the new Algeria”, Mr. Tebboune finds himself at the head of a country at a standstill with blocked institutions and an economy at the end of its rope.

Challenges to take up, discontent to manage

Algeria is seeing its foreign exchange reserves melt, its liquidity drying up and its oil market is still depressed by the health crisis and budget cuts. Elected in a ballot widely shunned by the population and therefore suffering from a lack of legitimacy, President Tebboune first extended his hand to the “blessed hirak”, the anti-regime movement suspended since mid-March due to of the Covid-19 epidemic. But a year after the presidential election, hirak activists, political opponents, journalists and bloggers critical of the regime remain the target of harassment and prosecution, when not in jail. Among the recurring accusations they face, that of insulting the President of the Republic, on the basis of their publications on social networks. According to the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees (CNLD), which currently lists more than 90 prisoners of conscience in Algeria, arrests and arrests are daily despite the end of weekly hirak demonstrations.

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