Former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika Dies at 84

Published September 18th, 2021 - 08:49 GMT
Algeria's ex-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika
Algeria's ex-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika (Twitter)
Mass public protests by the Hirak movement led to his departure.

Former Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who fought for independence from France, reconciled his conflict-ravaged nation and was then ousted amid pro-democracy protests in 2019 after two decades in power, has died at age 84, state television announced.

The report on ENTV, citing a statement from the office of current President Abdelmadjid Tebboune late on Friday, did not provide the cause of death or information about funeral arrangements.

Bouteflika had suffered a stroke in 2013 that badly weakened him. Concerns about his state of health, kept secret from the Algerian public, helped feed public frustration with his 20-year, corruption-tarnished rule. Mass public protests by the Hirak movement led to his departure.

First civilian leader

Bouteflika took office in 1999, Algeria’s first civilian leader in more than three decades. He managed to bring stability to a country nearly brought to its knees by the violence, unveiling a bold program in 2005 to reconcile the fractured nation by persuading Muslim radicals to lay down their arms. 

Bouteflika and the armed forces neutralised Algeria’s insurgency, but then watched it metastasise into a Saharan-wide movement linked to smuggling and kidnapping — and to Al Qaeda. 

Bouteflika stood with the United States in the fight against terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, particularly on intelligence-sharing and military cooperation. 

It marked a turnaround from the militantly anti-American, Soviet-armed Algeria of years past when figures like Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver took refuge there. 

Bouteflika’s powerful political machine had the constitution changed to cancel the presidency’s two-term limit. He was then re-elected in 2009 and 2013, amid charges of fraud and a lack of powerful challengers.

Corruption scandals?

His firebrand past dissolved as age and illness took its toll on the once-charismatic figure. Corruption scandals over infrastructure and hydrocarbon projects dogged him for years and tarnished many of his closest associates. 

His brother, two former prime ministers and other top officials are now in prison over corruption. 

Bouteflika balked at the region-wide calls for change embodied by the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions that overthrew three dictators to his east. Bouteflika tamped down unrest through salary and subsidy increases, a vigilant security force and a lack of unity in the country’s opposition. 

He also failed to restore civic trust or create an economy that could offer the jobs needed for Algeria’s growing youth population despite the nation’s vast oil and gas wealth. 

Bouteflika was increasingly absent from view during his third and fourth presidential terms after suffering a stroke. The extent to which Bouteflika was controlled by the army remained unclear. 

He once told the AP that he turned down the job of president in 1994 because he was unable to accept conditions set by the military.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

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