Former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was initially regarded as the savior of his country, but when he died Friday at the age of 84, he had been completely discredited in the eyes of many Algerians. A man whose name had become synonymous with the corruption of The power, the powerful elite of senior military and wealthy businessmen who have ruled the country for decades.
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Current President Tebboune and the government struggled with what tribute should accompany the funeral of the man who led Algeria for twenty years. By no means did they want a revival of the protest that led to Bouteflika’s resignation in 2019. So the flag hangs at half-mast in public buildings for only three days, shorter than at deceased predecessors
Bouteflika’s last years in particular had an almost absurd character. In 2013, he suffered a stroke, after which he was unable to speak properly and ended up in a wheelchair. Nevertheless, the following year he was nominated for a new term and – thanks to fraudulent practices – re-elected.
In 2019, his entourage, led by Bouteflika’s powerful younger brother Said, wanted to repeat this trick, although the Algerians hardly ever saw their president in public again. Mass protests broke out. The powerful army top, which has had a decisive voice in the government since Algerian independence in 1962, finally decided to sacrifice Bouteflika.
Many Algerians were grateful to Bouteflika for the peace he gave the country after 1999
Bouteflika belonged to the generation that had fought in the war of independence against France. At the age of twenty he had joined the FLN liberation front. In 1962, barely 25 years old, he became minister of youth and sports. A year later he became Minister of Foreign Affairs. He remained so under President Houari Boumédienne, who came to power in a coup in 1965, until his death in 1978.
After being convicted of corruption, Bouteflika fled abroad. At the end of the 1980s, he returned to the top of the FLN in Algeria. The next ‘black decade’ was marked by a bloody battle between Islamic fundamentalists, who seemed to seize power in Algeria through elections, and the military. More than a hundred thousand people were killed. The army won and it was Bouteflika who calmed Algeria as president after 1999, through an amnesty for the fundamentalist leaders. “I am the incarnation of the Algerian people,” Bouteflika stated with satisfaction at the time. Many Algerians were grateful to him for the peace he provided the country.
He ensured that the population had sufficient income, but a large part of the oil and gas revenues went to the army and elite. Bouteflika failed to build a sound economic and social base. When energy prices fell, Algeria still got into trouble. Louisa Dris Aït Hamadouche, a political scientist from the University of Algiers, therefore described Bouteflika’s two-decade leadership to the AFP news agency as “an accumulation of missed opportunities”.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on 20 September 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of September 20, 2021