Abdelmadjid Tebboune has been sworn in as the president of Algeria, as the Hirak protest movement debated its response to his offer of dialogue to end a months-long political crisis.
Mounted guards in traditional red tunics, white turbans and hooded cloaks lined the way into the Palais des Nations on Thursday as Tebboune entered, Algeria’s flag fluttering overhead.
Tebboune, a former prime minister who casts himself as a reformer, was elected last week in a vote the opposition regarded as a charade intended to keep the ruling elite in power.
Later on Thursday he named Sabri Boukadoum as interim prime minister, state television reported.
Tebboune also named Kamel Beljoud as interior minister, and instructed the rest of the government ministers to continue ruling in a caretaker capacity.
The army saw the December 12 election as the best way to end 10 months of weekly mass protests that helped remove Tebboune’s predecessor, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in April, and restore a political order in which it holds sway.
The protesters refer to themselves simply as “Hirak”, or “the movement”.
Official figures showed that 40 percent of voters took part on Thursday as protests and strikes paralysed some cities and towns, with Tebboune winning 58 percent of the votes.
State media presented even that low level of turnout as vindicating the decision to hold the election, though with no outside observers monitoring the vote, many Hirak supporters regarded the figures as suspect.
“Tebboune is not my president. He doesn’t represent Hirak and has no legitimacy. Protests must go on until the people become the decision-makers,” said Slimane Hachoud, 24, who has been protesting since February.
Since the election, the weekly Friday and Tuesday protests have gone ahead as usual, though there were widespread reports of police arresting many demonstrators in the western city of Oran.
Among the leaderless protest movement, where debate over goals and strategy takes place on social media or during demonstrations, there were mixed reactions to the offer of dialogue and a new constitution that Tebboune made last week.
“We are not against dialogue and negotiations to end the crisis, but we cannot shake Tebboune’s hand if he doesn’t first free the detainees,” said Abdeljabar, a student protester.
Many protesters and opposition figures have been arrested or jailed since the start of the protests in February on charges including “undermining national unity” and “weakening army morale”.
However, some prominent Hirak supporters urged for talks.
“Now that the generals have a civilian representative in the person of Abdelmadjid Tebboune, we must negotiate the transition to a rule of law with him,” said Lahouari Addi, a political science professor.
“Hirak must initiate and offer names with a list of demands,” said Lies Merabet, a labour union leader, on Facebook.