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The rise and fall of president Bouteflika The rise and fall of president Bouteflika
by Joseph Gatt
2021-09-19 09:28:32
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Algeria's president Bouteflika was chosen to lead the country in 1999 specifically because he had been a government insider since 1963. Bouteflika was also chosen because, being an admirer of Castro, he could give lengthy speeches, and, more importantly, did not try to play the army or the intelligence services. Bouteflika also knew the value of money, and knew the best way to end the country's decade-old civil war was by bribing the terrorists.

Bouteflika started his first term by “reconciling” all four factions of Algerian politics: the Islamists, the Nationalists, the Marxists and the Secularists by using charm offensives on all fronts. One day, he would make a charming speech using hardcore Islamist rhetoric. In another speech, he would border on secularism. In appearance, he loved everyone, and one constant in his speeches is he would insist how much he loved the Algerian people.

butte01_400Using Castro's populist rhetoric, Bouteflika praised the Algerian people. One day he would glorify Islam, the next he would insist he was a hardcore convinced socialist, the next he would glorify the nation's revolutions, the next he would give speeches in French glorifying modernity.

Early in his first term, Bouteflika also played the journalists. Wanting to give the illusion of democracy, he would tease newspapers and journalists, causing newspapers to riot and a flood of articles criticizing him.

Once Bouteflika had delegitimized secularist parties by charming them and inviting them to the government, then turing his back on the secularists. After all secularists are mostly found in the Kabylie region, and Bouteflika invited riots in the Kabylie region only to violently repress the riots. Bouteflika had killed secularist political parties by first inviting them to his coalition, then shooting secularist rioters, leading secularist political parties to be delegitimized.

The secularists were the biggest threat to Bouteflika's reign. After all they were a very educated bunch, were organized around several newspapers, had a couple of political parties, and often gave clear coherent speeches in the French media. By 2002 Bouteflika had gotten rid of his biggest threat, the secularists.

Islamists were easier to get rid of. Islamists tend to be poorly educated and tend to like making money, and can also spiral down into violence. Bouteflika offered former terrorists and Islamists amnesty from prosecution, homes, credit-free loans to start businesses, and several conservative policy concessions, including control over the ministry of commerce (which regulates alcohol sales) and the ministry of education (which monitors the education curriculum) along with agencies that monitor book sales. Bouteflika killed two birds with one stone, as the secularists could no longer meet in pubs to discuss policy, could no longer find progressive books, and the new generation of secularists was brainwashed by an Islamist education system.

Bouteflika did not have a rough time with the Marxists as socialism is pretty much dead, but gave the Marxists concessions by maintaining state-owned corporations, despite those corporations losing vast sums of money. Bouteflika also gave employees at state-owned corporations full job security, worked with the national labor union by granting it vast sums of money, and organized a couple of socialist festivals before festivals could no longer find socialists to invite.

By 2004 Bouteflika had more or less formally joined the nationalist movement, forced the Islamist movement to reform, granted the Marxists a lifeline, and the secularists were very divided and weakened.

In 2006, Bouteflika, who had Castro's hyperactivity, working seven days a week, travelling vastly abroad, forging alliances with foreign governments, had his first health problems. Bouteflika had an operation in late 2005, and was forced by doctors to rest. Bouteflika gradually delegated his powers to his brother Said.

From 2006 on Algeria became a de-facto co-presidency with Said doing most of the work and Abdelaziz Bouteflika only weighing in the big decisions. Now you need to understand that in Algeria the president makes most government, army and intelligence service appointments with little consultation. Bouteflika was a man who made few appointments and few changes throughout his presidency, only dismissing those who were perceived as being a threat to replace him or otherwise wrecking havoc in political affairs.

Bouteflika imposed a status quo. Oil money would be used to finance development projects and import licenses, and Bouteflika turned a blind eye to commissions being made by political officials on those projects. When in 2008 oil prices went considerably up, several politicians struck it rich in Algeria, along with businessmen, army officers and intelligence officers.

By 2009 Bouteflika's health started declining and Said was doing most of the appointment work, Abdelaziz only seconding the appointments. By 2011, Abdelaziz was no longer really seconding the appointments.

By 2011 a status quo emerged. Politicians, army officers and intelligence officers had full job security, and if pushed out, would be allowed to keep a salary for life. That enabled several officials to either retire, or to be pushed out against a very hefty salary and farewell gifts, or to stay in place, and uhm, work.

This means that by 2011 only those with post-Bouteflika ambitions were still working, that is most political officials had some kind of ministerial or presidential ambition. Politicians started courting the media, taking token gestures, pushing the media to cover their work, and pulling strings behind closed doors.

Said Bouteflika was being blackmailed by the fact that if he succeeded Abdelaziz Algeria would be next on the Arab spring list. By 2013 Said Bouteflika was taking all the decisions, but a war of individuals started over who would succeed Abdelaziz. 200 or so politicians seriously thought that they had a shot at succeeding Bouteflika, and all 200 or so started campaigning behind the scenes.

Bouteflika had a stroke in 2013 and could no longer work. The 200 or so officials started parading and promising favors in case they won the presidency. It was too late to push them out as the damage had been done, and they were famous among political circles.

The status quo was that until 2019 all 200 or so (the list kept getting longer) potential candidates for the presidency would be allowed to pursue their campaign behind the scenes. Campaigning got rough and foul play was frequent. By 2019 Said Bouteflika had enough of the informal campaigning and said “a national conference will be held to designate a successor”.

All potential successors wanted the succession to be held behind closed doors, and were irritated by the idea of having the streets decide who the successor would be. The army brought people to the streets, Bouteflika resigned, and the army used slogans such as “system get out” which is an informal way of saying that neither of the 200 or so people who were ferociously campaigning will be designated as successors. Bouteflika resigned, and his successor will be a surprise, unknown, obscure candidate.

Now you need to understand that under the current state of affairs the Algerian president has one vast power: he makes the appointments, and no one really seconds the appointments. There are no confirmation hearings at the National Assembly or at any other institution, and the president decides alone. This vast power is common in the Middle East, and as long as presidents will decide who gets what job, appointing a president is a key appointment.

So in the end, Algeria needs to find someone who can play the Islamists, the Marxists, the Secularists and the Nationalists. Such men are hard to find. Either a coup d'Etat will be held and the army will impose some kind of General or Colonel to the presidency, or Algerians will keep arguing about who should be elected. An open election would favor the Islamists but would lead to a divided nation.

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