World Bank report sparks political controversy in Algeria

Algeria's Finance Minister has accused the government news agency (APS) of "exaggerating" the financial body's data

 -   The President of Algeria Abdelmadjid Tebboune

Algeria ended 2021 in economic controversy over a World Bank report on the country's fragile financial situation.  "Public spending stagnated, non-hydrocarbon sectors slowed and average annual GDP growth fell by 1.1 % between 2017-2019, causing GDP per capita to decline," the international body explained. The report also highlighted the slow implementation of reforms by the Algerian government. In response, the state news agency, APS, accused the World Bank of "manipulation and propaganda" and of "elaborating a conspiracy to damage the country's stability". On the other hand, the financial institution's data was branded as "biased and malicious information on the economic situation in Algeria".

However, this report has not only highlighted Algeria's critical economic outlook, but has also provoked a political crisis. Some Algerian authorities have criticised the state media for 'exaggerating' the report's data. Ayman bin Abdel Rahman, the Finance Minister, claimed that the data was exaggerated by the national press, turning the report into a "purely negative" document. On the contrary, the minister pointed out that "even if we disagree with him on some of the data, the report is full of positive indicators". This is not the first time Abdel Rahman has lashed out at the press. Last November the minister claimed that the media and "propaganda tools" have become an internal threat, according to Algerian media Algerie7. 

PHOTO/AFP  -   Aymen Ben Abdel Rahamane, ministro de Finanzas de Argelia y ahora nombrado primer ministro
PHOTO/AFP - Aymen Ben Abdel Rahamane, Minister of Finance of Algeria

As for the negative aspects of the document, the Finance Minister announced that "they will respond in their own way" and that "there are mechanisms and procedures in place". Algeria has started the year with an increase in the price of two basic foodstuffs: bread and cooking oil. This increase has caused long queues of citizens to buy the goods, reports The North Africa Post. 

The minister's statements in connection with the World Bank report, "confirm the existence of another party that holds the decision, not only in giving orders to the media, but in all aspects of military, security, political and economic affairs," the Al-Arab newspaper notes. The Arab daily also reports that Abdel Rahman's reproach of the national media, especially the state media, has caused confusion within the country's press as "it seems that there is more than one power" seeking to control public opinion. Al-Arab also notes that the state news agency's attack on the World Bank was carried out without the involvement of analysts from the Central Bank of Algeria or economic sector officials, led by Minister Abdel Rahman, which could leave the government and its experts "embarrassed in front of their counterparts at the World Bank".  

AP/TOUFIK DOUDOU - Manifestantes argelinos toman las calles de la capital Argel para rechazar las elecciones presidenciales, en Argel, Argelia, el viernes 13 de diciembre de 2019
AP/TOUFIK DOUDOU - Algerian protesters take to the streets in the capital Algiers in December 2019.

Algiers is focusing on mobilising the country's media, both governmental and private, in order to 'mobilise public opinion to realise the real dangers and regional conspiracies against its security and stability', explains Al-Arab. To achieve this goal, the Algerian government is investing large amounts of money in the national media.  

Algerian state agency accuses Morocco of writing the World Bank report 

The Algeria Press Service's (APS) arguments against the World Bank are based on alleged conspiracies coming from 'certain countries and hostile forces'. The news agency has even accused Morocco of being behind the report. APS claims that Ferid Belhaj, the author of the document and the World Bank's vice president for the Middle East and North Africa, is a close friend of Moroccan political authorities. Belhaj, a Tunisian national, joined the agency in 1996 and has since worked on programmes in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Iran. He was also the World Bank's special representative to the United Nations from 2007 to 2010, where he focused his work on climate issues, the Millennium Development Goals, fragile and post-conflict states, and the global financial and food crisis. 

AFP/FADEL SENNA  -   Banderas de Marruecos y Argelia en Saidia, en la frontera entre ambos países
AFP/FADEL SENNA - Moroccan and Algerian flags in Saidia, on the border between the two countries.

Despite his extensive experience, APS calls Belhaj a "dubious and unhealthy character".  It also takes the opportunity to attack neighbouring Morocco, which it describes as "the kingdom of evil and misery". Algeria's accusations and criticisms of Rabat coincide with the definitive rupture of relations between the two countries. After Algeria suspended diplomatic ties with Morocco in August, the Kingdom has decided to end the work of its diplomatic delegation in Algiers