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Algeria: Feud between Prime Minister and oligarchs exposes Algeria’s central problem: who is in charge?

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The North Africa Journal- August 10, 2017: The Algerian political system has been witnessing a new feud in the open between the new Prime Minister and the oligarchs, representing the country’s wealthy business owners. The rise of the oligarchs has coincided with President Bouteflika taking over power in 1999. Many of these businessmen became supporters of the President and have bankrolled his various election campaigns. But this latest feud brings to the forefront what may be Algeria’s biggest problem to date:  who is really in charge and how uncertain is the presidential succession ahead?  On the one hand, the new Prime Minister Tebboune says that his mandate is to separate money from politics, and reduce the influence of the oligarchs in the conduct of government affairs.  Mr. Tebboune claims this mandate comes directly from the President himself.  On the other hand are the powerful business lobbies who also claim to have the support of the President, and they plan to push back against the Prime Minister’s efforts to sideline them.  What is rather troubling is that a note from the Presidency this week called for Prime Minister Tebboune to correct his position and change course.

One of the figureheads of the oligarchs, Ali Haddad, the CEO of the construction company ETRHB, and the powerful head of the Algerian Business Leaders Forum (FCE), published a statement this week wherein he denounced a “hostile campaign” led by detractors against him and his company. Without naming names, but clearly targeting Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune, Ali Haddad claims that his foes are trying to manipulate the general public by “instrumentalizing the media”, in a bid to “undermine” his economic project and his commitment to Algeria. He claims that the arguments against him are “fallacious”, adding that the 52 compliance warning he received were used to “speculate” on alleged illegal behaviors.

Haddad could hit back at Prime Minister Tebboune only with the blessings of the Presidency.  Indeed, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, under the pressure of some of his aids, has decried the Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s “harassment of national economic operators.”  The President called on his cabinet to put an end to the “anarchy that characterizes recent decisions taken by the executive.” Insider sources claim that Abdelaziz Bouteflika was furious that the PM cracked down on Ali Haddad and his company, allegedly because it reflects badly on Algeria. Regarding the construction delays for which Haddad was criticized, the President urged the government to put pressure on governors and mayors, instead of ETRHB, the company owned by Ali Haddad. Consequently, rumors are suggesting that Prime Minister Tebboune may be replaced in the upcoming weeks.

Said Bouteflika, the brother and advisor of the President, whose ties to Haddad are strong, is believed to have put pressure on the President to appoint a new cabinet head. Abdelmadjid Tebboune, for his part, claims that the order to pressurize Ali Haddad came from the President directly.

This latest saga is yet another indication of a deeply opaque system where Presidential advisors and shadowy groups are influencing the course of governance.  Various voices, including opposition figures Ali Benflis and Louisa Hanoune have warned of this power vacuum that would be filled by interest groups, and they may be right.

The North Africa Journal is a leading English-language publication focused on North Africa. The Journal covers primarily the Maghreb region and expands its general coverage to the Sahel, Egypt, and beyond, when events in those regions affect the broader North Africa geography. The Journal does not have any affiliation with any institution and has been independent since its founding in 1996. Our position is to always bring our best analysis of events affecting the region, and remain as neutral as humanly possible. Our coverage is not limited to one single topic, but ranges from economic and political affairs, to security, defense, social and environmental issues. We rely on our full staff analysts and editors to bring you best-in-class analysis. We also work with sister company MEA Risk LLC, to leverage the presence on the ground of a solid network of contributors and experts. Information on MEA Risk can be found at www.MEA-Risk.com.