As Algeria Politics & Security has said in recent weeks, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is going to be haunted by Algeria’s unsuccessful application to join the BRICS group for some time to come, and it might even sink his re-election plans.
This and other mounting problems demonstrate the regime’s incompetence but a scandal involving the start of the country’s first low-cost airline is more likely to be a slow-burner which could impact Tebboune’s popularity.
In 2021 an Algerian investor and several foreign partners responded to the authorities’ promise to open up the air sector to private investment to strengthen competition and offer Algerians the possibility of low-cost overseas air travel.
Led by Chakib Ziani Cherif — an Algerian pilot with 16 years overseas experience — the FlyWestaf Algeria project is modelled on Europe’s Ryanair and EasyJet. Supported by a British, American and South African investment funds, it plans to acquire five Boeing 737s. It will initially offer flights linking Oran and/or Algiers to Marseille, Perpignan, Montpellier, Alicante and other French or Spanish destinations for ticket prices starting at €49.
In August 2021 the Ministry of Transport granted FlyWestaf Algeria a pre-authorisation agreement to enable it to continue with its plans and meet regulatory requirements. It obtained its commercial registration in January 2022 and began acquiring its aircraft with plans to start operations in April 2023. This did not happen, however, because FlyWestaf Algeria had to comply with the famous 51/49 rule which still governs foreign investment in key or sensitive sectors such as air transport. To begin operations and ensure its development plan it needed US$19.5 million.
The state-owned Fonds National d’Investissement (FNI) expressed its interest in funding 33%-34% of the national capital. In February 2023 the putative airline began negotiations with the public Management et Développement des Actifs et des Ressources (Groupe MADAR) financial holding group which is run by Amara Charaf-Eddine. The famous former Algerian Football Federation (FAF) president is a protégé of Boualem Boualem who is Tebboune’s most powerful advisor and one of the leading lights of the Tebboune clan.
Charaf-Eddine agreed to finance the balance of US$7 million but never sent any official confirmation of this deal to FlyWestaf Algeria. In May 2023, however, two businessmen representing Charaf-Eddine contacted Chakib Ziani Cherif to demand a bribe of US$700,000. The latter categorically refused to be involved in such corruption and the project is now officially blocked and seriously compromised. Whether the overseas investors will want to stay on board in such circumstances is currently unclear but it appears that FlyWestaf Algeria will now have difficulty in getting off the ground.
When Algerians begin to learn what happened to their promised budget airline — rather like the president’s promise that Algeria would obtain BRICS membership this year — Tebboune’s popularity could fall even further and make him virtually unelectable, irrespective of the usual vote-rigging.This excerpt is taken from our Algeria Politics & Security weekly intelligence report. Click here to receive a free sample copy. Contact email@example.com for subscription details.