On 5 May 2014, less than three weeks after his controversial re-election, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has reshuffled his fourth Cabinet. The newly appointed ministers are well-known figures of the so-called “old guard” – the bulk of the powerful Algerian ruling class – “Le Pouvoir” – the deep-rooted network of politicians, businessman and military figures that has dominated the country since its independence from France.
Former Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal was reinstated, after he resigned expressly to become Bouteflika’s presidential campaign manager. Another pillar of his personal entourage is Amara Benyounes, who was appointed as Trade minister. The prestigious position of Energy Minister went to Youcef Yousfi, former prime minister and loyal to Bouteflika. His position is key as the government has launched a campaign to bolster national energy revenues, which are seen by Bouteflika’s supporters as the main source of national wealth.
Following a tradition of governmental reshuffles in Algeria which are aimed at preserving the status quo, the new Cabinet is likely to solidify Bouteflika’s already immense power, and it is not by chance that it occurred after a failed attempt by the prime minister to incorporate opposition figures into a coalition government.
Whilst opposition groups are very fragmented, naïve, and unlikely to significantly challenge the power of the regime, in the last months they gained visibility by first boycotting the presidential elections and then denouncing the regime of vote rigging, and more generally by refusing to cooperate with the regime. Bouteflika’s attempt to lure them into the Cabinet, regardless of its sincerity, was meant to buy legitimacy for the regime, either by co-opting opposition forces or by creating impression of openness from the side of the President.
However, what the regime is most concerned about is the crystallising alliance between opposition political forces, the civil society and the broader population, which is growing increasingly dissatisfied with the high levels of unemployment rate and poverty throughout the country. Although Bouteflika’s re-election (last 17 April 2014) was more a plebiscite than a genuinely contested election, discontent with the fourth election of the 77-year-old raìs has been particularly strong all over the country. Massive street protests in Kabylie towns of Tizi-Ouzou and Bejaia, and civil society activism, such as the Barakat! (“Enough!”) movement in Algiers, cause headache to the regime.
It is not by chance that Bouteflika emphasised the commitment of the new government to increase energy revenues for the benefit of the whole country. Minister Yousfi has already announced that he will oversee the North African OPEC nations’ efforts to bolster oil and gas production.
Despite the fact that it is very difficult to undermine Le Pouvoir in Algeria, given its pervasive political, economical and security control structure, Bouteflika knows that growing socio-economic discontent is a direct challenge to regime legitimacy.