The contested Algerian president returned to Algeria on the 29th of December following a 2-month long stay in Germany after contracting Covid-19. He had been evacuated to Germany on the 28th of October after a worsening of his health. Weeks earlier he had stated in a televised interview that Algeria has the best health system in Africa.
Appearing weakened, unable to stand and merely able to pronounce a few sentences, while dressed in an over-sized suit that highlights a substantial weight loss caused by his near-death experience. Tebboune reminded Algerians of his predecessor Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who had governed the country by proxy, through his brother and a gang of oligarchs currently in jail, for much of his 3rd and the entirety of his 4th term, before large protests forced the military generals to have him sacked.
While hospitalised, little had filtered on his health status, however, senior officials at the Algerian embassy in Berlin who spoke to the Algiers Herald under the condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals, confirmed that Tebboune had suffered a stroke. Three-quarters of a century old and a heavy smoker, Tebboune’s quick health deterioration required the German medical team to conduct a lobectomy, which consists of opening the chest and removing damaged lung tissue, it remains unclear how much of his lungs was removed. This procedure is often conducted on patients suffering from lung cancer and has lasting effects on one’s ability to breathe.
According to country’s constitution, his handicap should cost him his job as president, however, as everything else in this rogue regime of North Africa, the laws and the constitution are secondary to the military generals’ whims and fancies.
An Egypt-zuelian scenario?
While the Covid-19 crisis put on suspension the large pro-democracy protests known as the ‘Hirak’, widespread government incompetency and corruption mean that it is very much difficult for foreign direct investment to take hold in a country where the vast majority of the population does not even recognize the authorities as legitimate and where corrupt shady military figures can at any moment intervene to kick one investor or another out depending on the bribe at stake. While street protests have been on suspension, the movement moved online where anger towards the regime has increased.
To counter a potential return of the pro-democracy protests, the regime is tabling on an increase of the security forces, judiciary and prisons budgets as set out in the ‘Loi de finance 2021’. All indicators appear to point towards civil unrest once the Covid-19 pandemic declines, unrest amplified by inflation, degradation at all quantifiable levels, that the regime hopes it can counter with the recruitment of more police officers.
On social media, Algerians welcome almost any government announcement with laughter and insults while calls for a parallel provisional government have multiplied.
The devaluation of the national currency, Dinar, has also hit the pockets of Algerians, prices of essential foodstuffs have witnessed an important increase while salaries remained stagnant, with a Covid-19 crisis leading to millions more losing their jobs. The government, of 39 ministers, one more useless than the next, has been contenting itself with empty statements and unrealistic promises.
The military regime has officially announced that it will seek to devaluate the national currency amid falling dollar-denominated reserves and shrinking oil and gas outputs. For economist Nordine Grim, speaking to Le Point, “this devaluation is not made, as is traditional, to attract investors and promote non-hydrocarbon exports, but only to boost the state budget through the effect of converting oil revenues denominated in dollars into dinars (…) Thanks to this artificial swelling of budgetary revenues, the Algerian government will indeed be able, without too much difficulty, to pay its three million civil servants, social transfers and other price support for consumer products. They can also continue to spend lavishly to maintain their lifestyle“. Although the agonising regime will be able to pay for its police state, the impact on Algerians’ purchasing power is already being felt.
Judicial terrorism amid a return of the old guard
Meanwhile, the military regime itself is undergoing a rebalancing within its power poles. Two widely believed war criminals and former military generals, Khaled Nezzar and Toufik Mediene, were acquitted of any wrongdoing following a year-long cabal initiated by the deceased army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah. Nezzar who had been hiding in Spain, and against whom the judiciary issues international arrest warrants, came back to the country aboard the president’s official aircraft. Toufik Mediene who had been accused of seeking to destabilise the military was also cleared of any wrongdoing.
In parallel, the repression of pro-democracy activist continues to strengthen, as evidenced by the regime handing a 3-year jail sentence to Facebook memes page administrator Walid Kechida on the 4th of January, 2020, on the charges of “attack on the President of the Republic, on the public force in the exercise of its functions and attack on the precepts of religion“.