Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s Algeria
In April 2018, about a year ago, the NLF (National Liberation Front) unanimously called Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run for a fifth term, for the 2019 elections. This seemed quite surprising, as the physical health of the president worries and leaves doubt about his ability to govern the largest African country.
Bouteflika’s public appearances are now very rare. The one that occurred last year on April 9th 2018, was the first one in months. He was in front of a euphoric and cheering crowd blocked by barriers that put the public in distance from the president by more than a hundred meters. The Algerian president inaugurated on that day two new metro stations and visited the Grand Mosque of Algiers, a gigantic project costing more than 2 billion dollars.
But this event was the opportunity to realize that Abdelaziz Bouteflika was very severely handicapped and that even expressing himself and do the smallest gestures, such as pulling the rope that revealed the sign of inauguration of the new mosque of Algiers, were very difficult.
A paralysis weakened him in 2013 when he suffered his first stroke.
Even before, for the previous election, during the presidential campaign, he did not make any public appearance (except to vote) or didn’t talk publicly.
For Mohamed Benchicou, an Algerian journalist and author of “The Bouteflika Mystery”, it is difficult to know who really governs “We do not know. What is certain is that his younger brother, said Bouteflika, plays a decisive role, but I cannot tell you exactly what. There are people in power behind Bouteflika whose names are not known.”
20 Years of Reign
Since 1999, Abdelaziz Bouteflika holds power. Four presidential terms. For comparison, France meanwhile had Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande and today Emmanuel Macron as presidents. Not to mention that the current Algerian president was also a member of the first government in 1962, after the independence, as Minister of Youth, Sports and Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1963 to 1979.
To be able to successively serve for 4 mandates, and presumably a fifth, the Algerian president amended the constitution in 2008 to remove the law that blocked the number of presidential term that were of a maximum of two, then in 2016 he reinstated this law. His goal was just to make sure that he would be the only politician to have governed for such a long period.
The strangest aspect in this situation is the silence from the international community. However, for Mohamed Benchicou, Abdelaziz Bouteflika is comparable to Robert Mugabe or Bashar al-Assad in terms of concentration of power.
“If we look at the Western criteria, about what a dictator is, Bouteflika fills all the boxes. He is the only one to decide for everything, he admits no contestation, and leaves no freedom of speech. Yet these same Westerners are silent when it comes to Algeria and Bouteflika,” points out the journalist. “This silence is interesting, because Bouteflika is malleable as long as Western states ensure his reelection. That’s what allowed him to overcome the army in terms of power. ”
For example, in 2011, at the beginning of the famous Arab Spring, Algeria also faced a beginning of uprising from a part of the population, who did not hesitate to scream: “Bouteflika out!”. But with repression and buying social peace, by lowering especially the price of basic products (flour, milk, oil, bread and sugar), the uprising quickly came to a halt.
The US ambassador to Algeria, Henry Ensher, goes so far as to say: “The demonstrations in Algeria are based more on economic, social and political aspirations in a framework that does not require a particular leader to step down from power. This is a huge difference from other situations in the region. ”
Almost twenty years in power, and certainly more, for Abdelaziz Bouteflika. At the time of his election in 1999, the Algerian economy was relying on oil and gas for 97% of its revenue. In 2018, nothing has changed, it is still the same figure. There is absolutely no chance for Algeria to prosper with the current regime which is also denying any possible democracy in the country.