The New Year’s omens are not good. Algeria will start 2021 with: a seriously ill president; the COVID-19 crisis; international condemnation for its abuse of human rights; deteriorating foreign relations; a deepening economic crisis; and allegations of corruption in its national oil company. They will all be difficult to overcome.
There has been growing discussion in the media, and especially on social media networks, about the application of Article 102 of the Constitution which enables a president to be removed on medical ground. While such a radical action has probably been delayed by President Abdelmajid Tebboune’s Twitter broadcast on 10 December it involves a number of problems. It has, however, confirmed that he is still alive, albeit clearly frail, and has probably staved off speculation about his replacement for the immediate future.
One difficult one is that Tebboune’s interim constitutional successor is the president of the Council of the Nation (Senate), who becomes interim president for up to 90 days, while he has to organise new presidential elections. That person is the 90-year-old Salah Goudjil, a long-serving Front de libération nationale (FLN) apparatchik, but he is scarcely known to the public. While Goudjil’s age is not an insurmountable issue — Algeria is after all a gerontocracy — but his health is reputedly poor and no longer goes to his office.
A question also hangs over Goudjil’s legitimacy. He was appointed on 9 April 2019 when the incumbent interim Senate president, Abdelkader Bensalah, fell ill. Bensalah did not return so Goudjil has lingered on in office. There does not appear to be any evidence of his ever actually being formally confirmed in office. This raises constitutional questions about the legality of this interim succession to Tebboune. Of far greater relevance, however, and the reason why the regime will resist calls for the implementation of Article 102 for as long as possible, is that the people are unlikely to accept another election under the existing political dispensation.
But, if and when Tebboune does return to office, he faces perhaps unsurmountable, political and economic problems as well as a rapidly deteriorating foreign affairs situation.
The Presidency’s policy of relying on disinformation and propaganda to create a false narrative of what is going on is not only crumbling, both politically and economically, but is also alienating many of Algeria Western allies.
The country’s re-remerging ‘pariah’ status, especially through it abuse of human rights, is potentially dangerous because it could lead calls from shareholders for foreign companies to divestment or at least deter potential new investors from considering the country. The possibility of EU sanctions against certain individuals in the regime also cannot be ruled out.
The government’s current strategy of creating a false narrative of the country’s future economic and financial situation, may confuse some citizens, but not the IMF or the internationals markets, which are likely to react increasingly negatively towards such practices.
In addition, if the current allegations of corruption within Sonatrach are not laid to rest very quickly the impact could become damaging if they also deter existing or new investment partners.