Algeria: “The death of Abdelaziz Bouteflika does not mark the end of an era”

After 20 years in power, weakened by illness, and in the face of massive protest in the country, his fall in April 2019 seemed inevitable, against his will to run for a fifth five-year term. Former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, omnipresent for decades before becoming almost invisible, died on Friday at the age of 84.

The authorities, who remained silent, finally announced this Saturday that the flags would be half-masted “for three days”. This was decided by President Abdelmajid Tebboune, after “the death of the former president the Moudjahid (independence fighter, editor’s note) Abdelaziz Bouteflika”, according to a press release from the presidency. According to Algerian specialist Dalia Ghanem, researcher at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut (Lebanon), he will remain associated with both a strong Algeria and numerous corruption scandals, without his death marking the end of it. ‘an era in the country.

L’Express: How do you analyze the reaction of the authorities? What can we expect for the next few days?

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Dalia Ghanem: The authorities announced his death on national television during a report on nature in Algeria, there was a red banner in Arabic: “Death of ex-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika”. It set the tone. There was no programming stop, no special flash, no breaking news. He was entitled to a simple blindfold.

There was a dilemma for the authorities: is there a day of national mourning at the risk of annoying a large part of the population, especially the Hirak (popular protest movement, Editor’s note)? Or we keep a low profile and we do not reserve the honors, as during the death of Houari Boumediene, Chadli Bendjedid or Mohamed Boudiaf …

I think there was a reflection phase, weighing the pros and cons. Eventually the flags are half mast for three days and there will be a righteous burial with his family at Ben Aknoun cemetery. So no funeral with great fanfare.

How do Algerians react? What memories will they keep of Abdelaziz Bouteflika?

It is not all white, not all black. Many people will remember him as the architect of peace in Algeria. The one who set up national reconciliation – although that is not entirely true. Many will remember him as the president who gave hope to the people in 1999, at the end of the black decade. A new voice, lively, carrying, with a strong character. He knew how to talk to the people, at least until the third term. Many will also remember him as the one who revived Algerian diplomacy.

Unfortunately for him and Algeria, many Algerians will keep the image of this frail president, very tired in his traditional outfit, the day before April 2, in front of the president of the Constitutional Council, and who gently holds out his sheet of resignation. Rise and fall in a way. He held onto power until the last minute and walked out the back door.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika remet sa lettre de démission au président du conseil constitutionnel Tayeb Belaïz, le 2 avril 2019 à Alger

Abdelaziz Bouteflika submits his resignation letter to the President of the Constitutional Council Tayeb Belaïz, April 2, 2019 in Algiers

What mark will this former president leave with the record for longevity in power? What are we going to associate it with?

We will associate it with a strong Algeria, which has returned, which is reborn from its ashes at the end of the black decade. A regime that we thought was on the verge of collapse but which has remained, an Algeria that is returning to the African, international level.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika was lucky, he benefited at the time of the boom in the price of a barrel of oil which flirted with 130 dollars, and he managed to inject this financial windfall into fairly large infrastructure projects, highways , the great mosque … And the paradox: the great mosque is the symbol of his reign, he spent billions of dollars to make it the largest mosque in Africa, the third in the world, but he did not was able to organize its inauguration with great fanfare. He left, ousted. And “his” mosque was inaugurated almost anonymously. It represents his reign.

It will be associated with development projects, of course, but accompanied by major corruption scandals. We will not forget that it was during his reign that there were the biggest scandals like that of the East-West highway. Nepotism and corruption will therefore also accompany all this, which will tarnish his reign, his reputation.

With his death, can we speak of the end of an era, of a rupture in Algeria?

No, there is no rupture in Algeria. This will be the case when biologically, all these post-independence leaders die, it will be at least a generational renewal. It’s not the end of an era here, there is continuity.

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But there is a small change, the Hirak marked this will of the people to start a new page. We are not yet in the radical change, we are very far from it. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune is proof of this: he is an apparatchik of the regime, someone who has been in the arcana of power since the 1970s. It is therefore not yet the rupture.



Frédéric Filloux is a columnist for L'Express and editor of the Monday Note.By Frédéric Filloux


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