WASHINGTON - Amid sudden changes in the upper echelons of Algeria’s government, the new President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is looking to establish stability and put his stamp on the country’s future.
On Saturday, Tebboune appointed Abdelaziz Djerad as the country’s prime minister, according to state-owned Algeria Press Service.
Previous prime minister, Noureddine Bedoui, resigned on Dec. 19, six days after Tebboune’s election. In his first public statement, Djerad, a diplomat and academic, said the top task for the new government is to "win back the confidence of the people."
The appointment comes just days after the sudden death of Algeria’s longtime military chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaïd Salah. Gaid Salah had been viewed as a kingmaker who helped Tebboune come to power. He died on Dec. 23 from a heart attack.
Throughout this time, the street protests that swept longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika from power have continued. The opposition boycotted the December elections and denounced Tebboune as a continuation of the past regime and a puppet of Lt. Gen. Gaid Salah. Less than 40% of eligible voters took part in the election.
William Lawrence, a professor of political science at George Washington University, said the current president has work to do to win over the general Algerian public and protesting crowds. "He has an opportunity to make good with the protesters, for example, he could release all the leaders that have been arrested in recent months or lift other controls on freedom of expression or freedom to protest," he said speaking to VOA’s Daybreak Africa radio program. "But so far, the gestures made by the new president have been fairly symbolic. For example, he's asking the population to call him ‘Mr. President’ rather than ‘your excellency’ as if that was a major concession to the protesting crowd."
Lawrence also said the appointment of General Said Chengriha as acting Army Chief could mark a break from the past. He is from the east of the country, not a traditional power center, and does not have a connection to some of the corruption past Army officials have been associated with.
"It will be interesting to see whether the new army chief has a little bit of a honeymoon period," Lawrence said. "He's sort of a strategy guy, an infantryman and not really connected to, let's say, the army deals and other aspects of the military which tend to provoke the protesters."
Lawrence said future concessions from the current government may involve bringing back some older figures who were associated with earlier democratic movements in Algeria. Much will depend on how strong and sustained the protest movement is in the coming months.
"If you're still getting a million people in the streets of various cities, that means the protest movement still has a lot of legs," Lawrence said. "But if that starts to wane, if the crackdown seems to be working, if the protest crowds are smaller, then we're probably seeing the beginning of the end of this round of protests."