Anti-Bouteflika protests shake Algeria’s business c’nity

One of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s few remaining allies in the face of mass protests, tycoon Ali Haddad, is facing pressure to quit as head of Algeria’s main business association, a move that would further weaken the embattled head of state.

Bouteflika’s long-time strategic partners, from members of the governing FLN party to trade unionists, have abandoned the president, peeling away layers of his ruling elite.

The 82-year-old president also relied on influential figures like Ali Haddad, who has made billions through public works projects awarded by the government and investments in the media.

He also funded Bouteflika’s election campaigns and heads the FCE, a top business association whose leaders have been long-time supporters of the president.

But since the protests began on February 22, the forum for entrepreneurs has been hit by a series of resignations from members who have turned their backs on Bouteflika.

“Voices inside the FCE exist and they have publicly called for an extraordinary General Assembly to replace Ali Haddad,” said Laid Benamor, former vice president of the organisation, who resigned from it after the demonstrations began.

“He is today associated with cronyism and favours. The union must return to its original purpose, an apolitical economic space, to regain credibility.”

Haddad was not immediately available for comment.

A second businessman, Ourahmoune Nabil, described Haddad as one of the symbols of Bouteflika’s system of rule and added that he must go, echoing public sentiment.

“There won’t be a real change if Bouteflika leaves and Haddad stays,” he said.

The FCE was not immediately available for comment.

Bouteflika, 82, rarely seen in public since suffering a stroke five years ago, bowed to the protesters last week by reversing plans to stand for a fifth term. But he stopped short of quitting and said he would stay on until a new constitution is adopted, effectively extending his present term.

His move failed to appease Algerians, who want veterans of the 1954-62 independence war against France dominating the establishment to quit so a new generation of leaders can take over and begin to create jobs, fight corruption and introduce greater freedoms.

Hundreds of thousands of Algerians have taken to the streets since peaceful protests erupted a month ago. –Reuters

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