ALGIERS: Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s first appearance since being hospitalized in Germany with COVID-19 in October was intended to reassure a country where big political decisions are long overdue.
But on the streets of Algiers, people voiced growing impatience after the five-minute video message he gave on Sunday saying he would still be away for up to three weeks.
“Most of our demands are still awaiting a response,” said Ahmed Abbachi, a member of the leaderless protest movement known as Hirak.
The major energy producer has been in turmoil since early last year when mass protests pushed the old president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, from power along with many of his clique, but left much of the ruling elite at the helm.
The period of unrest, and this year’s pandemic, have delayed Algeria’s efforts to address systemic frailties looming over the economy as declining oil and gas revenue threaten lavish social spending.
The 75-year-old, a heavy smoker, appeared gaunt in his video message, the first sight that Algerians had had of their president since he went to Germany.
The absence of any photographs or videos spurred rumors that his condition was worse than the official news bulletins proclaiming his good health were letting on.
It reminded many Algerians of the long years when Bouteflika was incapacitated by illness, leaving the government largely rudderless while rival power blocs in the ruling elite jostled for influence.
“Bouteflika was completely unable to speak, to walk, and we were told over and over again that he was capable of leading the country,” said plumber Antar Aissaoui, before Tebboune’s video appearance.