It is now more than three months since 12 February when President Abdelmajid Tebboune returned home from his second period of hospitalisation in Germany where he received treatment for COVID-19, which almost killed him, and an operation on his foot which may have been related. During his long absence the Presidency maintained a virtual news embargo on his health and this has been maintained since his return. Neither the Presidency or the wider regime are keen for Algerians or the outside world to learn how poor his health is and that, like his predecessor, he is unfit to govern the country.
Government statements try to give the impression that Tebboune is completely recovered and is working full time to resolve the country’s serious political and economic difficulties. The truth, however, appears to be very different. According to reliable sources in both the Presidency and Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad’s entourage, there is a worrying lethargy. Tebboune usually does not arrive at the Presidential Palace of El-Mouradia until around 11.30 to meet his advisors and collaborators. Moreover, still weakened by ‘Long COVID’ he is unable to carry out working or inspection visits outside the capital and, to make matters worse, his mobility is reduced by his previous foot problems. There are also questions about whether Tebboune’s mental faculties have fully recovered from his illness. Insider sources say that he rarely holds long meetings and is more interested in political issues, such as the organisation of the early 12 June legislative elections, with many economic issues being relegated to the backburner.
The lethargy at the Presidency has had its effects on the prime minister’s office where over 255 strategically important economic files are blocked and are ‘gathering dust’ on Abdelaziz Djerad’s desk. They require meetings of the Conseil des participations de l’État (CPE) which is chaired by the premier and is composed of practically all the government ministers.
However, Djerad works in slow motion and refuses to make any commitments that could prove detrimental to his distinctly uncertain career. There have been rumours since early last year that his dismissal was imminent but, perhaps because of the COVID-19 pandemic and Tebboune’s long sojourn in Germany, the expected government reshuffle did not take place. It is now widely believed that Djerad will be replaced after the elections. Unsurprisingly he is therefore not only unmotivated but defers any action or decision for fear of being held responsible for the consequences of any bad judgments.
Other sources within Djerad’s entourage say that he is ‘totally unmotivated’ by the currently opaque and apathetic functioning of the Presidency. Tebboune’s office refuses to properly deal with the 255 economic files and provide concrete solutions to the problems they raise. According to sources in Djerad’s entourage, letters sent to the Presidency frequently remain unanswered for a long time. Answers invariably return after several days or even weeks of waiting and, in several strategic files, the Presidency does not indicate any clear or precise direction. Under these conditions, Djerad considers it wise and career protective to delay or postpone meetings of the CPE, which has not been convened for over a year.
The CPE still controls economic public enterprises through trust companies such as the Sociétés de Gestion des Participations (SGP) and certain public groups. Large investments and privatisations require the CPE’s authorisation, but its decisions are only valid if they receive the approval of the president who gives his decision through the Council of Ministers, which he chairs. Therefore — in addition to the impasse created by Djerad — there is a further potential blockage at Presidency and the Council of Ministers. No privatisations or large public investment can therefore be implemented without Tebboune’s agreement.
The current lethargy in the Presidency and the paralysis of the CPE are weakening the entire economy and exposing Algeria to the dangers of economic collapse.