Algeria’s president appoints academic, former diplomat as new PM

Political newcomer’s appointment comes as country grapples with protest movement demanding systemic change.

Abdelaziz Djerad
Djerad served as general secretary of the presidency in the mid-1990s and held the same position at the foreign ministry from 2001-2003 [AFP/APS]

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has appointed a little-known academic and retired diplomat as the country’s new prime minister, who promised to win back people’s trust after months of street protests.

Abdelaziz Djerad, 65, was asked by Tebboune on Saturday to form Algeria‘s next government, according to the official APS news agency.

In his first public statement, Djerad said it was crucial that authorities work to “win back people’s trust” and pledged to bring Algerians together to meet “social-economic challenges and pull ourselves out of this delicate period”.

He previously served as general secretary of the presidency in the mid-1990s and held the same position at the foreign ministry from 2001-2003.

Demonstrators initially took to the streets across the country in February to oppose the decision of longtime ruler Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run for a fifth term as president.

But protests persisted well after Bouteflika was forced to resign by the military in April with pro-democracy activists calling for the removal of all those who served under the former president. 

Instead, the army chief at the time, Ahmed Gaid Salah, who effectively became the country’s de facto leader, pressed ahead with a presidential election which was eventually held on December 12, despite opposition from the protest movement, known as the Hirak.

Critic of ruling elite

Since the protests first erupted, Djerad, a political science professor, has emerged as a vocal critic of Algeria’s political elite. His appearances on political talk shows multiplied in the weeks before Bouteflika was removed. 

However, he also spoke out against holding the presidential vote that brought Tebboune to power, saying that root-and-branch reforms needed to be enacted before any such vote could be held.

“If a president is elected within the existing framework, currently imposed on Algerians, there will be another more important crisis and a total rupture between the governors and those governed,” Djerad told state media in April, as cited by local news site TSA.

Abdelaziz Djerad
Djerard, right, emerged as a vocal critic of Algeria’s political elite since protests first erupted in February [APS-AFP]

In June, he questioned the military’s management of the crisis, asking why the army high command had not withdrawn its support for then Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, and interim President Abdelkader Bensalah, both seen by the protest movement as remnants of the old guard.

“In any negotiation or dialogue, there are signals that we must emit to whoever we are talking to. The real power broker, the military, could send these signals by dismissing the prime minister and also the president, especially since their departure will cost them [army] nothing politically,” he told TSA.

The military, which has been a key arbiter of economic and political power in Algeria since it gained independence from France in 1962, had been adamant that the vote takes place.

Thousands of Algerians demonstrated for the 45th consecutive week on Friday against Tebboune, who they dismissed as a Bouteflika loyalist handpicked by army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, who died of a heart attack on Monday. 

Ramy Allahoum contributed to this report. Follow him on Twitter @rallahoum

Source: Al Jazeera