Former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika died Friday (September 17th) at the age of 84, state television reported. “Death of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika”, indicated a banner unfolding on national television, which quotes a press release from the Presidency of the Republic.
Since his spectacular fall in April 2019 under pressure from the army and the street, Abdelaziz Bouteflika had remained holed up in solitude in his nursing home in Zeralda, west of Algiers. His downfall had become inevitable after weeks of massive protests against his desire to run for a fifth five-year term. Never has an Algerian president reigned for so long. But Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who died on Friday at the age of 84, will remain as the only leader of independent Algeria who, clinging to power despite the disease, will have been driven out by the street.
More than 35 years after his first ministerial post, Bouteflika became head of Algeria in 1999, crowned with the image of a savior in a country torn by civil war. Twenty years later, he was driven out without consideration by the army, pillar of the regime, under the pressure of a movement (“Hirak”) of unprecedented protest. Summoned to leave power by the General Staff, “Boutef”, as his compatriots familiarly call him, threw in the towel on April 2, 2019, after an improbable attempt to run for a fifth term despite the stroke that took him down. had stuck in a wheelchair, almost inert, six years earlier. This candidacy was seen as too much humiliation by millions of Algerians, often young and wrongly described as resigned.
Elected for the first time in 1999, constantly re-elected in the first round with more than 80% of the votes in 2004, 2009 and 2014, this fifth term seemed acquired in the eyes of the regime. But six weeks of massive mobilization of the “Hirak” – never seen in Algeria – push the boss of the army, General Ahmed Gaid Salah, one of his faithful, to obtain his resignation. Until the end, Abdelaziz Bouteflika will have wanted to hang on, defying the obvious: the one who was at 26 years the youngest Minister of Foreign Affairs in the world only returned the image of a dumb old man and recluse in his palace .
A striking contrast to the beginning of his presidency, when this handsome speaker with clear eyes and in a three-piece suit, cigar lover, displayed himself as a hyperactive leader. “I am the whole of Algeria”, launches on coming to power the one whose destiny merges with the contemporary history of his country. Born March 2, 1937 in Oujda (Morocco), to a family from the Tlemcen region (north-west), Bouteflika joined the National Liberation Army (ALN) at the age of 19, which fought against the French colonial power.
At independence in 1962, he was, at 25, Minister of Sports and Tourism, before inheriting a year later the coveted portfolio of diplomacy, which he retained until 1979, a time when the Algeria is displayed as the leader of the “third world”. In 1965, he supported the coup d’état of Houari Boumédiène, then Minister of Defense, who seized power by deposing President Ahmed Ben Bella. Asserting himself as the dolphin of Boumedienne – “the father he did not have”, said the latter – who died in 1978, he was however excluded from the succession by the army and then from the political scene on the background. accusations of embezzlement. He went into exile in Dubai and Geneva.
However, it was the army which imposed him in 1999 as a presidential candidate: he won after the withdrawal of his opponents who denounced fraud. Its priority: to restore peace in Algeria, plunged into civil war since 1992 against an Islamist guerrilla (some 200,000 dead in ten years, officially). Two amnesty laws, in 1999 and 2005, convinced many Islamists to lay down their arms. Accused by his detractors of being a puppet of the army, Bouteflika is working to loosen the grip of the powerful institution. Promising that he won’t be one “Three quarters of a president”, he becomes all-powerful.
“Bouteflika does not like to consult files, neither reads the notes nor the files that advisers, ministers or diplomats prepare for him. However, he has a phenomenal memorization capacity ”, tells the Algerian journalist Farid Alilat in a biography (Bouteflika, the secret story, editions du Rocher). With France, the relationship remains sharp, even if the Algerian head of state, who knows how to forge close, sometimes friendly relations, is appreciated by French leaders, in particular Jacques Chirac. He also made numerous stays at the Val-de-Grâce military hospital in Paris, in the greatest discretion, before going to Geneva for treatment.
On the domestic scene, Abdelaziz Bouteflika requires Parliament to remove the limit on the number of terms in order to conquer a third in 2009, then braves the opposition displayed even within the security apparatus to win a fourth, a year after his Stroke. Very weakened physically, he nonetheless strengthened his powers by dissolving the Department of Intelligence and Security (DRS, secret services) in early 2016, after dismissing its leader, General Mohamed Médiène, once considered indebted.
But this fourth term is taking place against a backdrop of plummeting oil prices for an economy very dependent on hydrocarbons. The coffers are empty and it is no longer possible to buy social peace, as in 2011 when the Arab Spring swept through the region. Beyond the economic difficulties swells especially the frustration of a population outraged by the symbol represented by this mutic and paralyzed president. Until the spectacular advent of Hirak, a plural movement, non-violent and without leadership.