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Algeria: Who’s who in President Tebboune’s growing inner circle

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Wednesday, 23 September 2020 12:07

Algeria New President
Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune takes part in an inauguration ceremony in the presidential palace, in Algiers, Algeria, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Toufik Doudou)

Who has privileged access to Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune? At El Mouradia Palace, the president’s circle of loyalists who supported him during his “spell in the wilderness” has gradually widened.

When Abdelmadjid Tebboune arrived at El Mouradia Palace in Algiers in December 2019, he had to build everything from the ground up. According to one of his close associates, “it was no longer an institution, but merely a building, with neither archives nor documents”.

The first, most urgent order of business was to set up a team of staff members, advisers and presidential advisors. The task was made more difficult by the fact that the new head of state, on his own admission, didn’t feel especially prepared to lead the country.

He had withdrawn from politics after being ousted from his prime minister post in August 2017. During his two-year-long “spell in the wilderness”, Tebboune had the backing of just a handful of friends who remained loyal to him. They were the first to assist him with his presidential bid and, today, they hold key posts in the president’s administration.

READ MORE Algeria: How President Tebboune is dismantling Gaïd Salah’s military networks

The circle eventually grew to include other civilian and military officials as well as former bureaucrats under Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s regime and figures with senior civil service or diplomatic careers.

Mohand Oussaïd Belaïd

As presidential adviser and spokesperson, the 70-something Belaïd has been one of the president’s right-hand men ever since he came to power. With an office across from the El Mouradia headquarters, this journalist by trade is in charge of the president’s communications.

Belaïd, who previously served as ambassador to Bahrain, is close to former Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi, who Tebboune visited on the sly shortly after being elected president.

In addition, Belaïd founded the Freedom and Justice Party (PLJ). He was looking to run for president in 2009, but his political party was not yet authorised at the time and wouldn’t be until 2012.

That same year, he was appointed as communications minister in Abdelmalek Sellal’s government. Belaïd stayed in the post for just a year but it gave him the opportunity to expand his network of contacts with the press, a milieu in which he is deeply embedded.

Kamel Sidi Said

Another loyalist among loyalists, Said heads the Directorate of Communications and Documentation. Active in the media world, where he has many friends, he worked for a long time as a communications consultant for the privately-held company Cevital (agri-food industry) and was also a member of the think tank CARE. At El Mouradia Palace, he remains in permanent contact with the head of state.

Abdelaziz Medjahed

Appointed in February 2020 as security and military affairs adviser, this major general acts as the interface between the president’s office and the military establishment. His friendship with Army Chief of Staff Saïd Chengriha, who served under his command, allows him to facilitate relations between El Mouradia Palace and the Tagarins (the nickname for the Ministry of Defence headquarters).

Former director of Cherchell Military Academy, this intellectual led several army institutions (army general staff and military health services) prior to retiring in 2003 following a disagreement with the general staff [OR leadership] in place at that time.

Medjahed’s first-hand experience with terrorism, which he fought against in the 1990s alongside Chengriha, is recognised by experts and the media. He was appointed on 17 September as managing director of Algeria’s National Institute of Strategic Global Studies (NISGS).

Boualem Boualem

In his capacity as legal and judicial affairs adviser, this former judge is consulted on every appointment decided by El Mouradia. “Security clearance investigations”, which had in the past been assigned to various security agencies, were done away with during Bouteflika’s presidency.

A man of few words and highly discreet, Boualem headed Algeria’s National Agency for Combatting Information and Communications Technology Offences. In charge of wiretapping, the institution became part of the Ministry of Defence in 2019.

His job under the president is all the more crucial since many former ministers, officers and businessmen are involved in legal proceedings as part of alleged corruption or breach of the peace cases.

Mohamed Lagab

An old acquaintance of Tebboune, this university professor is one of just a few people who didn’t turn his back on him after he was sacked from his prime minister post in 2017. As soon as Lagab’s friend announced his 2019 presidential bid, he joined his team and became a linchpin of his campaign.

Later appointed as policy officer to the president, at times he is asked to step up to the plate to clarify the president’s words. For instance, he did so to defend the draft revision of the Algerian Constitution, which is to be put to a public referendum on 1 November.

Abdelhafid Allahoum

Allahoum is another loyal ally who didn’t abandon Tebboune when he fell out of favour. Serving as an MP from 1982 to 1987, this former tax collector was a member of Tebboune’s campaign staff and was eventually appointed last December as a presidential adviser.

Equal parts discreet and influential, he is responsible for managing societal and community issues. He was recently tasked with settling a thorny matter regarding retired army personnel who regularly protest to demand disability benefits for their service record in the war on terrorism.

READ MORE Algeria’s Hirak: Rachad movement at centre of major row among activists

The head of state can also trust two officials with previous experience in high-level civil service or diplomatic positions. Mohamed El Amine Messaid, Tebboune’s former chief of staff during his stint as minister of housing and urban development, is currently secretary general of the presidency. A former ambassador to various countries in Africa and Europe, Noureddine Baghdad Daidj serves as Tebboune’s chief of staff.

Mohamed Chafik Mesbah

A retired intelligence officer and colonel, Mesbah was appointed in April 2020 by executive order as head of the Algerian Agency for International Cooperation for Solidarity and Development. This intellectual, who possesses a solid network in the civilian and military spheres, has the rank of minister-counsellor to the president.

The new agency, which operates as a sort of super-ministry, was created to mitigate Algeria’s declining influence in its vital African space and beyond.

Mesbah also fulfils the role of adviser to the president, intervening on questions of national interest.

Mohamed Bouzit, AKA Youcef

To be sure, Bouzit isn’t part of Tebboune’s innermost orbit and his office is located north of Algiers in Dely Ibrahim, but this extremely discreet officer is a centrepiece of the new team leading Algeria.

Sidelined in March 2019 in the midst of the revolution by Saïd Bouteflika, Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s brother, Bouzit was brought back by Tebboune, who solicited his expertise on the Libya conflict. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed to work under the Directorate of Documentation and External Security (DDSE).

One of the body’s latest missions was Guermit Bounouira’s extradition from Turkey. Bounouira, the late Ahmed Gaïd Salah’s former personal secretary, is being sought by the Algerian authorities for allegedly attempting to sell military secrets to foreign actors.

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