Abdelaziz Bouteflika, President of Algeria, 1937-2021

Update on Abdelaziz Bouteflika

Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the former president of Algeria who died at the age of 84, ruled the North African country for 20 years until protests won power in 2019.

A veteran of Algeria’s war of independence from France, he has been credited by many of his fellow citizens with helping restore peace after his accession to the presidency in 1999, following what has been called the black decade, during which some 100,000 people were killed in political violence between Islamists and the military.

His reign, however, ended in ignominy, after Algerians, tired of decades of corruption and economic mismanagement, rose up and forced the army, which controls politics, to oust him.

Incapacitated due to a stroke, he had been rarely seen in public since 2013, as rumors circulated about the influence exerted by Said, his brother and guardian, and a coterie of corrupt business figures around him .

In 1992, the military intervened to prevent the Islamists from winning the elections, triggering a bloodshed with large-scale assassinations, bombings and massacres in villages.

The military and Islamic activists have been accused of committing atrocities and serious human rights violations.

A regime insider who had served as foreign minister, Bouteflika was propelled to the presidency in 1999 by the Algerian opaque to be able to, the influential decision-makers at the top of the military and intelligence institutions that have shaped politics since independence in 1962. To appearances, an election was held, but its six opponents withdrew on the eve of the poll, casting a shadow over its the victory.

Bouteflika was well known at home and abroad before becoming president. Born in 1937, he joined the war of independence against France in 1956 and joined the ranks of the National Liberation Army in western Algeria. In 1963, at the age of 26, he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, a post he held until 1978.

At a time when Algeria was considered a beacon of the anti-colonial struggle, Bouteflika played a leading role on the world stage. An influential figure in the non-aligned movement, he welcomed Che Guevara and a young Nelson Mandela to Algeria.

Fidel Castro welcomes Abdelaziz Bouteflika during a visit to Cuba in 2000 © AP

As president, Bouteflika’s law on civil concord, approved by referendum in 1999, has succeeded in reducing insecurity considerably as the Islamic Salvation Army, the largest armed movement, and other groups have ended their insurgency and dissolved following an amnesty in 2000.

Although calm has largely returned to the country, a crucial supplier of natural gas to Europe, critics say that under Bouteflika, the horrors of the civil war were simply swept under a carpet with no one being held responsible for it. atrocities committed during the conflict. A constitutional amendment criminalized criticism of the conduct of the military during the insurgency.

Aided by soaring oil prices, Bouteflika has invested billions in large-scale infrastructure projects, housing, subsidized goods and public sector wages. But the economy has remained heavily dependent on hydrocarbon exports and job creation has failed to meet the demands of a young population. When oil prices fell in 2014, public sentiment deteriorated against the invisible president and his corrupt entourage.

Bouteflika has spent much of his reign battling for power with senior officers behind the scenes. He once said he didn’t want to be the “decoration on the cake,” a front for factions vying for control.

He forged alliances to expand his influence at the expense of those who had sought to block him, but he was not a Democrat and never concealed his contempt for elected bodies. Parliament was just a buffer, and the country’s multi-party system was little more than a facade, with major decisions being made by the president and senior officials, depending on the balance of power that prevailed at one point. given.

Despite increasingly fragile health, Bouteflika won four terms as president, after successfully convincing his military supporters to agree to amend the constitution in 2008 to repeal the two-term limit.

When he ran for President for the fourth time after suffering a stroke, he left it to his allies to campaign on his behalf. But, as his absences from the public eye continued, Algeria seemed adrift, with people often wondering who was really in charge, Bouteflika or his brother.

His foreclosure in 2019 did not change the dynamics of power in Algeria. The protest movement has lost momentum under the impact of the coronavirus and the repression of the authorities. The army remains the dominant power in the country which is now ruled by Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a regime insider seen as the army’s candidate.

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