Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck, research analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.
Algeria’s cabinet reshuffle of April 29 gave some indication of the political maneuvering underway to facilitate the looming presidential transition. However, one must keep in mind that whoever the successor is, he will be chosen from a pool of men who are all pure products of a system that has locked the country into a mode of permanent transition, in which alternation and political renewal are almost nonexistent.
During the reshuffle, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s close advisors, including key ministers, kept their portfolios. Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal was reinstated after an interim period of over a month, during which he led President Bouteflika’s election campaign. Tayeb Belaïz in the Ministry of Interior, Ramtane Lamamra in Foreign Affairs, Tayeb Louh in Justice, and General Ahmed Gaïd Salah in National Defense likewise kept their posts.
Yet in the reshuffle, Finance Minister Karim Djoudi left the government and was replaced by a close confidant of the president, Mohamed Djellab. Other important figures, such as the Advisor of Defense and Security Affairs, Major General Mohamed Touati, and the Adviser for Legal Affairs, Said Bouchair, were dismissed, as was the Special Adviser to the President of the Republic, Mohamed M’gueddem. Meanwhile General Athman “Bachir” Tartag, who left his post as the head of the Department of Homeland Security in September, has reappeared as the Special Advisor for Security Affairs, indicating the already known presence of the intelligence services in the presidency. In addition, DRS sources estimate that the majority (nearly 70 percent) of Sellal's staff are affiliated to the president and his former Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahiya, paving the way for a government that would be fully supportive of Ouyahiya.1
The great “loser” of the reshuffle is undoubtedly Abdelaziz Belkhadem, who was sacked from his position as adviser to the president on August 26 after serving him for nearly fifteen years. Although Bouteflika considered Belkhadem an asset in facing the Islamists in the past, their current decline in Algeria makes him no longer essential. Worse, Belkhadem, the former general secretary of the National Liberation Front (FLN), is prohibited from participating in the party’s activities and is now persona non grata within the National People’s Assembly. This prevents Belkhadem from being a potential successor to Bouteflika, although he maintains political aspirations that he does not try to hide.
The “winner” is Ahmed Ouyahiya, who made his umpteenth comeback, this time as a director of the President's Office with the rank of Minister of State. He is responsible for the current revision of the constitution, which he had done once before as chief of government in 2008 to allow for Bouteflika’s third term. He is also been the enforcer of difficult and often unpopular policies. The Algerian press calls him "the man of dirty work," a label he takes pride in, as he does in his credentials as a member of the uninhibited anti-Islamist “eradicator” fringe. His strength lies in the fact that he remained loyal to the president and the state despite being sacked in September 2012 as minister and losing the leadership of his party, the National Rally for Democracy. Ouyahiya seems to be the one that behind the scenes decision makers are likely to choose as a replacement for Bouteflika, despite rumors that Abdelkader Bensalah or Said Bouteflika are potential successors. The press put an end to Bensalah’s ambition when they claimed that he was a naturalized and not born Algerian—a requirement for the presidency per article 74 of the Algerian constitution. As for Said Bouteflika, he has a reputation of being a “thief” for his involvement in various corruption cases.
Ouyahiya is an alternative to both men, and he benefits from his special place in the Algerian military establishment. Decision makers are trying to buy time for Algerians to come to terms with the idea that the man who was responsible a number of unpopular policies, like the wage austerity of 1995 and the implementation of the structural adjustment program of the IMF, could become president of the Algerian republic.
1. Based on interviews with the author. ↩