Protests that erupted six weeks ago in Algeria have now transformed into a million-strong force against aging Algerian strongman President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, with Exxon having already called the political unrest endgame when it stalled talks over a major Algerian shale deal just over a week ago.
For investors in this oil- and gas-rich venue that is critical most immediately to Europe, the uncertainty is high enough to put everything on hold.
Mass protests across Algeria erupted when Bouteflika announced he would run for a fifth term as president. Those protest forced him to rescind that decision, but the momentum against him failed to subside. Instead, it has increased and intends to do so until he steps down entirely.
On Friday, news wires around the world reported that a million had gathered to protest against the president’s rule, with fighting a losing battle using tear gas.
But what signals Bouteflika’s doom more than anything is the fact that the million-strong protests were covered live on three state TV channels. Traditionally, there would have been a local media blackout.
In other words, Bouteflika is losing support—quickly—and now everyone is watching the military kingmakers to see where this ends.
In large part, the kingmakers have already spoken, which has given further impetus to the protests. Earlier this week, the army chief called for a constitutional process to declare the aging and ill Bouteflika unfit for office.
But for investors, what happens next is a tricky transition process, for which opposition leaders have agreed to a roadmap, but for which uncertainty is the ruling element.
The current presidential appointment ends on April 28, and the opposition is suggesting the creation of a presidential authority body that would be in power for less than six months and whose representatives would not be allowed to run for office or back any candidates after the transition period.