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Death Friday, September 17, the former Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika will not have had the right to a national mourning, which says a lot about the embarrassment of the power in place. What place should be given to this statesman who fell out of favor after twenty years at the head of the country and forced to resign on April 2, 2019 after weeks of a powerful popular protest movement, the Hirak?
However, the public life of Abdelaziz Bouteflika reads like an open book of the history of contemporary Algeria, before and after independence. As early as 1956, the former Algerian president fought in the ranks of the National Liberation Army (ALN), the armed wing of the National Liberation Front (FLN). He was Minister of Youth, Sports and Tourism, then Minister of Foreign Affairs in the first post-independence government.
A skilled diplomat, his rise to power was halted with the death of his mentor, Houari Boumediene. After six years of crossing the desert, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has never left power circles since his exile in France and Switzerland, is biding his time. She will arrive in 1999. He will become the fifth head of state since the country’s independence and will embody the post-“black decade” Algeria of the 1990s.
Return with Benjamin Stora, specialist in the history of Algeria and author of History returns. Algeria after Bouteflika (ed. Bayard, 2020), on the key moments in the life of the former Algerian president, before the irruption of Hirak.
The fate of Abdelaziz Bouteflika merges with that of Algeria. The former Oujda clan, the youngest foreign minister in the world, at 26, in 1963, who fell out of favor during the time of Chadli Bendjedid, is a relentless man. On his return from exile in 1987, he held himself in reserve, refusing the military’s proposal to bring him to power in 1994. He was finally elected president in 1999, at the age of 62.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika will have been able to intelligently manage the forces present, in particular through his policy of reconciliation with armed Islamists and by silencing any dispute. Throughout“A life close to power, device games, revolution”, as Benjamin Stora describes it, he excelled in the art of deciding everything for Algeria.
For Algerians, Abdelaziz Bouteflika embodied the peace found after the “black decade” of terrorism (1992-2002). Cantor of national reconciliation, he has, in order to impose his project, put the army in line and roll back the opposition. A peace with forceps which will not have allowed the Algerian population to know the truth about the atrocities committed during a civil war which killed more than 150,000 people.
The omnipresent diplomat
« Little Big Man » spent sixteen years at the head of Algerian diplomacy, where he acquired the reputation of a skilled and formidable negotiator. “Algerian policy will resolutely align itself with political Third Worldism. It is a revolutionary policy and Bouteflika is the architect ”, summarizes Benjamin Stora.
Unanimously elected president of the 29e session of the UN General Assembly in 1974, Abdelaziz Bouteflika obtains the banishment of the apartheid regime of South Africa and offers the possibility to Yasser Arafat, the president of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO ), to speak for the first time to the international community.
France’s best enemy
During the decades following independence, Abdelaziz Bouteflika showed France a double face. First as Minister of Foreign Affairs and then as President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika has become a regular at the Elysée, Matignon or the Quai d’Orsay. During his crossing of the desert (1979-1987), he notably chose France as a place of exile. None of his predecessors had such long and close ties with the former colonial power.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika will however not hesitate to face him regularly. In 2000, at the podium of the Hemicycle, he criticized France for having “Exploited” Algerians and “Murdered their identity”. In 2005, he castigates the French law on colonization which evokes the “Positive role” of France in North Africa by qualifying it as “Mental blindness bordering on negationism and revisionism”.
Paradoxically, the most famous man in Algeria remains a mystery. His life is strewn with gray areas. A ghost candidate during his last presidential campaign in 2014, several times dying after his stroke in 2013, Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been the subject of many rumors. This hardened bachelor, married for a short time, childless, was credited with a reputation as a don Juan.
Some even questioned his past as a liberation fighter. It was the hypothesis of his re-election in 2019, even though he had deserted public life, which kicked off the Hirak, the popular protest movement against power.
“Bouteflika’s personality is that of an actor who entered politics by clandestinity, into war”, recalls Benjamin Stora. Algerians will never have known which man was really hiding behind this hyperpresident, who played the leading roles for more than sixty years.