It was April 2, 2019. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika left power after thirty-five years as head of the country. A year after his fall as spectacular as unexpected, the former head of state remains entrenched, in solitude, in his medical residence in Zéralda, near Algiers, but very far from the power to which he has so long hooked.
Omnipresent in Algerian political life for decades, but become almost invisible since a stroke in 2013, Mr. Bouteflika has given no sign of life since the street and the army forced him to resignation, April 2, 2019. That day, he appears for the last time on television to announce that he is throwing in the towel, after trying to hang on whatever the cost, against all the evidence.
His fall had become inevitable after weeks of massive demonstrations against his will to run for a fifth five-year term. The army, through the voice of the former chief of staff, General Ahmed Gaïd Salah, who died on December 23, 2019, had finally let go.
“Suffering from almost total aphasia”
The deposed president, who turned 83 on March 2, has in fact rarely left his medical residence in Zeralda, some 15 km west of Algiers on the Mediterranean coast, since 2013. “He lives there surrounded by his sister and a medical team”, a source close to his entourage told AFP.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika continues to “Enjoy all privileges” as befits his rank, says Mohamed Hennad, a former professor of political science at the University of Algiers. But almost nothing details filter his daily life. The last time he made official mention of him was when his brother Nacer voted by proxy on his behalf for the presidential election of December 12, 2019.
“He receives few visits. He is still confined to his wheelchair, suffering from almost total aphasia ”, Algerian journalist Farid Alilat, author of a recent biography, says in an interview published in March by the French weekly Point. “However, he is aware of everything that is happening in Algeria”he added. This does not prevent certain intellectuals and academics from demanding justice for the corruption which has plagued Algeria under its twenty years of presidency.
Algerians “Will never” turn the page on the Bouteflika era as long as this one “Will not have been tried”, said Mr. Hennad, an analyst close to Hirak, an anti-regime protest movement that emerged in February 2019, chasing Mr. Bouteflika from power in a few weeks.
Deemed “even symbolically”
Since his forced retirement, Algerian justice has opened a slew of investigations for acts of corruption and convicted and / or imprisoned former politicians and influential businessmen accused of having taken advantage of their privileged links with the Bouteflika clan.
Nacer Djabi, a well-listened sociologist, also pleads for a court appearance for the ex-head of state – “Even symbolically” – because recent trials have revealed that he was “The godfather of corruption”. “He cannot escape a sanction. It is a claim of the Algerians who discovered with horror the extent of the damage caused by man and his family environment “, Djabi told AFP.
A former diplomat and short-lived minister in the first Bouteflika government in 1999, Abdelaziz Rahabi, who has become a fierce opponent, also calls for a trial. The former president “Has a responsibility in corruption. He covered it. A judgment would be symbolic “, said Rahabi in an interview with a private TV channel, even though there is no question of incarcerating him because of his state of health.
His brother Said languishes in prison
On the other hand, his brother Saïd Bouteflika, influential adviser, considered to be the “President bis” as Abdelaziz’s health declined, languishes in prison. He was arrested in May 2019 and sentenced to fifteen years in prison in September 2019 for plots against the army and the state. A sentence confirmed on appeal in February. Said Bouteflika was accused by General Salah of having conspired with the powerful former intelligence boss Mohamed Mediene (says “Toufik”) and his successor Athmane Tartag to dismiss him from his post at the head of the army in order to protect his brother.
For Algerians, Abdelaziz Bouteflika is now a thing of the past, says political scientist Hasni Abidi. However, they have “The feeling that (…) bad practices persist ” and “The system that made Bouteflika what it has become is still in place”, he notes. “Courtiers and nostalgics are ready to pile up under another boss who will reproduce the same functioning in an undemocratic system”, according to him.
Opposite, despite the pandemic of the new coronavirus, which suspended their mobilization, supporters of Hirak continue to demand the change of the whole “System” in place since the independence of Algeria in 1962.