7 May 2014

Algeria: Little Change in New Bouteflika Cabinet

Algiers — Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Monday (May 5th) unveiled the first cabinet of his fourth term in office, leaving key positions unchanged.

Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, reappointed April 28th, has tried in vain to persuade opposition parties to join the new cabinet.

The oldest opposition party, the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), was reportedly offered two ministerial portfolios but declined Bouteflika's offer to be part of the new government.

So did the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), the Movement for a Peaceful Society (MSP) and the Workers' Party (PT).

As a result, half of the old government was reappointed. Key ministers kept their jobs in the new 34-member cabinet, which includes seven women and is dominated by technocrats.

Ramtane Lamamra, a career diplomat, is still foreign minister. Tayeb Belaiz remains interior minister, Tayeb Louh still heads up the justice portfolio, Youcef Yousfi goes back to the energy ministry and General Ahmed Gaid Salah is deputy defence minister, with the president occupying the post of minister.

Twelve new ministers have joined the cabinet, however. Some replaced figures who set records for longevity in government, like Khalida Toumi. She lost her job as culture minister to another woman, Nadia Labidi, who is a film-maker and teaches at the University of Algiers. Toumi will replace the writer Yasmina Khadra at the Algerian Cultural Centre in Paris.

Karim Djoudi lost his job as finance minister, officially for health reasons. He was replaced by Mohamed Djellab, the former minister-delegate for the budget.

Other departures include Cherif Abbas, who was the veterans' minister; Bouabdallah Ghlamallah, who was religious affairs minister; and Mohamed Khodri from the FLN, who served as minister for relations with parliament.

New arrivals include Education Minister Nouria Benghebrit, an academic who previously headed an anthropology research centre. The appointment of 35-year-old Aicha Tagabou to the post of minister-delegate for tourism symbolises a move towards a younger team.

That shift was welcomed news to many Algerians interviewed by Magharebia.

"The promise to include young people in the decision-making system has been kept in relative terms, because the new ministers are in their fifties," said pharmacist Nouria Belabdi.

Academic Mustapha Naili said that it was the presence of seven women that was attracting attention.

"In these times of growing intolerance, it is educational to see women in these important positions of responsibility after a significant proportion of them entered parliament," he said.

But Rachid Tlemcani, a political analyst, believes the new government is not as fresh as it may appear. "The positions of power and the key posts are still held by the president's clan," he told the media.

FLN Secretary-General Amar Saadani, whose party held onto just three cabinet posts, said that the predominance of technocrats was due to the opposition's refusal to form a national unity government.

For his part, MSP head Abderrezak Mokri said that the new team was "part of a system that has reached its limits".

"Our opinion on this government is the same as the one we have about the whole system, which has to change. And our plan for reform and change is the one we are working on within the Committee for Freedoms and Democratic Transition," he added.

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