Challenges ahead for Algeria’s caretaker government

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Algeria’s caretaker government faces unrelenting popular demand for the removal of a sclerotic ruling elite and wholesale reforms after ailing 82-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika quit following mass protests.

“We want a president who understands what we want,” 25-year old Bouzid Abdoun, an engineer at state-owned energy concern Sonelgaz told Reuters. “We want to live here, not migrate to Europe.”

Bouteflika resigned on Tuesday after a final nudge by the military following six weeks of street marches calling for democratic reforms after almost 60 years of monolithic rule by veterans of the 1954-62 independence war against France.

That leaves the major oil and natural gas exporter in the hands of a caretaker government until elections in three months with no natural successor in sight.

Protesters quickly made it clear they would not accept a new president from “le pouvoir”, the popular nickname for the entrenched establishment of elderly veterans, business tycoons and National Liberation Front (FLN) party functionaries.

“What is important to us is we do not accept the caretaker government,” Mustapha Bouchachi, a lawyer and protest leader, told Reuters before Bouteflika stepped down. “Peaceful protests will continue.”

Algeria’s streets were quiet on Wednesday with the next test for the interim rulers looming on Friday, the day of weekly mass marches since February 22.

Bouteflika’s exit is seen as a first indication for young Algerians demanding jobs in a country where one in four under 30 is unemployed in a highly statist, undiversified economy dependent on fossil fuel exports.

The dissent is also over systemic cronyism that has seen Algeria effectively run by Bouteflika’s brothers, tycoons and ex-military intelligence officers since he suffered a stroke in 2013 and largely vanished from view, analysts say.

Earlier this week, in a sign of Bouteflika’s pending political demise authorities seized the passports of a dozen politically connected businessmen under investigation for alleged corruption. One of them, Bouteflika loyalist Ali Haddad, was taken into custody, Ennahar TV reported on Wednesday.

“Bouteflika’s group captured the state, so the top priority for whoever replaces him is really to reconnect with the protesters because they no longer trust the pouvoir,” said independent analyst Farid Ferrahi.