Former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika died on Friday at age 84 after enduring years of unwell well being.
After struggling a crippling stroke in 2013, Bouteflika retreated from the general public limelight. In 2014, he earned the nickname of “the phantom president” when he was elected for a fourth consecutive time period – with out even showing in particular person on the marketing campaign path.
Bouteflika’s birthplace stays unknown for sure, as his official biography didn’t title any location. According to historians, nonetheless, Bouteflika was born in Oujda, Morocco, in 1937 to a modest household.
Even his actual function in Algeria’s warfare of independence from France shouldn’t be identified for sure, though Bouteflika reportedly joined the National Liberation Army, the army department of the National Liberation Front (FLN), in 1956, on the age of 19.
His loss of life on the age of 84 marks the tip of an period for Algeria. After twenty years in energy, he resigned in April 2019 after avenue demonstrations erupted in opposition to his plan to hunt a fifth time period.
Bouteflika, a protege of former Algerian chief Houari Boumediene, belonged to a technology of leaders that dominated Algeria because it gained independence. In 1962, Bouteflika served in Algeria’s first post-colonial authorities because the minister of youth and sports activities. A yr later, on the age of 26, he was appointed minister of international affairs, turning into the youngest particular person on the planet to carry such a place.
During his years in workplace, Bouteflika emerged as a towering determine, each in Arab politics and within the Non-Aligned Movement. He hosted the late Palestinian chief Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), in Algiers in 1974. That identical yr, he ordered the expulsion of South African officers from Algeria in protest in opposition to its apartheid system.
Respected all through the newly unbiased states worldwide, Bouteflika was appreciated in Europe, too.
“Elegant and well-dressed, Abdelaziz Bouteflika was called the ‘dandy diplomat’ in the Western countries. He brilliantly held this position,” FLN MP Samira Bouras Kerkouche advised Al Jazeera.
When then-President Boumediene misplaced his life to a uncommon blood illness in 1978, he left behind an influence vacuum that Bouteflika needed to fill. But Chadli Bendjedid, former minister of defence with robust army backing, seized energy in 1979, forcing Bouteflika out of the political enviornment.
Two years later, Bouteflika was convicted of embezzling greater than $23m from Algeria’s embassies. In his defence, he claimed the cash had been merely “reserved” to construct a brand new constructing for his ministry. Although he was granted amnesty, Bouteflika spent the subsequent twenty years in luxurious exile between Switzerland and the Gulf states, allegedly turning into a multimillionaire throughout this time.
Bouteflika returned to Algeria’s political stage in 1999, with the army’s assist. At the time, Algerians have been nonetheless traumatised by the atrocities dedicated through the so-called “black decade”, during which nearly 150,000 Algerians have been killed in a civil warfare between rebels and the federal government.
“Bouteflika was invited into the inner circle again by a group of generals, who introduced him as the providential leader who could put an end to Algeria’s lingering civil conflict that erupted in the aftermath of the Islamists’ electoral victory in 1992,” stated Amel Boubekeur, a visiting fellow on the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
As the only candidate working for the presidency – the six different candidates withdrew, claiming the election could be rigged, though their names remained on the poll – Bouteflika was elected president in 1999 with 74 % of the vote, in accordance with official outcomes.
Five months later, Bouteflika held a referendum on the Law of Civil Concord, a peace settlement providing amnesty to rebels keen to put down their arms. The newly elected president gained widespread standard assist, with greater than 98 % voting in favour of the legislation. Most of the previous fighters agreed to take action, though some fled underground.
“Islamic terrorism has been almost entirely defeated in Algeria under President Bouteflika, but it [hasn’t been] completely eradicated with the growing presence of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [AQIM] and Jund al-Khilafa, a group affiliated with [ISIL],” stated Aomar Baghzouz, a professor of legislation on the University of Tizi Ouzou.
Speaking on the FIKRA convention in Algiers in 2015, former UN envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, who usually visited Algeria’s president, stated Bouteflika will probably be remembered for bringing much-needed stability to Algeria and turning the North African state right into a key participant within the area by his internet hosting of peace talks for conflicts, as he did in Mali and Libya.
Bouteflika’s authorities loved worldwide assist due to its assist for the so-called “war on terror”, and the nation’s immense oil and pure fuel reserves.
“Clearly, Western countries turned a blind eye [to] both Bouteflika’s fragile health and electoral fraud evidence because they have a vital stake in Algeria’s reliability and status quo,” stated Abdelaziz Rahabi, Algeria’s former minister of communication.
‘Scandal of the century’
As an oil-rich nation, Algeria noticed a modernisation of its infrastructure below President Bouteflika. However, improvement was accompanied by allegations of widespread corruption.
The development of the East-West Highway, which was launched in 2006 and dubbed the “project of the century” turned often called the “scandal of the century” as an alternative. The freeway connecting Algeria’s borders with Tunisia and Morocco was initially estimated to value $7bn, however the price ticket ballooned to $13bn, leaving many to suspect the funds had been distributed in bribes.
In 2015, an Algerian court docket sentenced 14 folks to jail and fined seven international corporations, condemning them for corruption, cash laundering, and embezzlement of public funds.
Bouteflika’s lengthy rule was marked by the explosion of corruption in Algeria. The nation was ranked 100th out of 175 international locations in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in 2014. Other high-profile corruption instances involving Algerian officers and international corporations additional rocked the nation throughout Bouteflika’s fourth time period.
However, with army and worldwide backing, Bouteflika simply gained landslide election victories in 2004 and 2009, going through comparatively unknown challengers. His third and fourth phrases in workplace have been made doable by a 2008 constitutional modification that eliminated presidential time period limits, a move which was slammed by the opposition as a setback to democracy.
“Bouteflika had always wanted to concentrate all the powers in his hand, refusing to be ‘three-quarters of a president’, as he said,” defined former Algerian Prime Minister Ali Benflis. “Bouteflika gave himself the option [of] remaining head of state for life.”
Indeed, Bouteflika maintained his grip on energy by repression, nepotism and vote-buying, consultants say. In 2011, below the strain of the Arab Spring protests sweeping throughout the area, Bouteflika lifted a state of emergency that had been in impact for 19 years. Nevertheless, Algerian police continued to disperse nearly all demonstrations that passed off within the nation.
Experts cite two predominant the explanation why Bouteflika survived the Arab Spring: First, his administration managed by propaganda to persuade the general public that it alone was capable of stop Algeria from sliding into chaos. “After the ‘black decade’, Algerians [were] reluctant to call for a dramatic change, placing high priority on stability and security,” Nacer Djabi, a sociology lecturer on the University of Algiers, advised Al Jazeera.
In addition, funded by oil income, Bouteflika’s authorities had been capable of purchase social peace by offering subsidies and help.
“Oil prices [had] soared during Bouteflika’s years in power. Instead of developing the country, oil wealth … both spread corruption and helped in keeping the political status quo,” stated Sofiane Djilali, the founding father of the opposition celebration, Jil Jadid, or “New Generation”.
“The longevity of Bouteflika in power shows the resilience of a system that intends to lead the ‘change’ it wants, whenever it wants. But the reduction of Algeria’s financial reserves raises questions over its capacity to resist such [a] crisis,” Baghzouz defined.
According to Boubekeur, Algeria’s longest-serving chief was all the time searching for his personal finest pursuits.
“At the beginning of his career, Bouteflika was considered as a socialist activist … The truth is that Bouteflika had never believed in any ideological and political project and had only been motivated by both money and power. He leaves no school of thought.”