After his disgrace, the protected solitude of Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers

The last public appearance of former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whose death, at the age of 84, was announced in Algiers on the evening of Friday, September 17, dates back to April 2, 2019. Wearing a gandoura in Moroccan fashion, Mr. Bouteflika, in power since April 1999, submitted with a laborious gesture his resignation to the President of the Constitutional Council, Tayeb Belaïz, in the presence of the President of the Senate, Abdelkader Bensalah, who would act as interim.

The scene, pathetic, marked the end of an era, one where power identified itself with the one who embodied the post-“black decade” Algeria of the 1990s. It came after weeks of a powerful movement. of peaceful popular protest, the Hirak, mobilized from February 22 around the refusal of a fifth term for a head of state in a wheelchair and suffering from serious speech difficulties. The disgrace had been precipitated by the release of the army, which demanded to record the state of incapacity of the president, thus burying the final attempts of the presidential circle to spare him a less abrupt exit.

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Avoid political complications

We will continue to talk about (and of) Bouteflika for a long time, but Algerians will no longer see him. Even if the president’s brother, Saïd Bouteflika, two former heads of government, Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, and a slew of ministers ended up in prison after trials against the “issaba” (the “gang”), formula which allowed the regime to discard on the presidential clan, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, him, will never be worried. Nor even invited to testify when lawyers for some jailed officials demanded it.

Politically, Bouteflika actually died on February 22, 2019 with the start of Hirak

Such a judicial choice avoided many political complications. It also had a certain coherence with the unofficial account distilled in the media, reducing the turpitudes of the regime and the endemic corruption to the fact that the presidential power would have been unduly, even clandestinely, taken in hand by the brother of the president, Saïd Bouteflika. With this trial of “bouteflikism” without Bouteflika, and reduced to the sole “issaba”, the former head of state has thus become almost a victim of his own brother, the latter seeing himself in charge of all the evils.

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Politically, Bouteflika actually died on February 22, 2019 with the start of the Hirak. The movement, which has mobilized hundreds of thousands of Algerians in Algiers and in the country’s major cities, has gradually moved from rejecting the fifth term to demanding regime change. The Covid-19 and an all-out repression, however, ended up reducing the Hirak’s balance sheet with the sole departure of Bouteflika, accompanied by the wave of imprisonment of his relatives.

Saïd Bouteflika and two former intelligence bosses were also acquitted on appeal against the accusation of “Conspiracy against the army and the state”. The “brother” has, however, been prosecuted – and convicted – in numerous corruption trials. Apart from the cartoons and jokes on social networks, the former president has completely disappeared from the media. If he was affected by the misfortunes of his brother, Saïd, he never mentioned it publicly. No more information was given on his state of health.

“A great intellectual mastery”

This discretion contrasts with the painful images of the period preceding his disgrace. The president was then unable to move and speak, but the official media staged him, welcoming passing foreign visitors. These images were meant to represent “proof” of his ability to take charge. Algerians still remember with great acrimony what they call “False testimony” by President François Hollande on Bouteflika’s state of health during his visit to Algiers in June 2015. “President Abdelaziz Bouteflika gave me the impression of great intellectual mastery; it is rare to meet a head of state who has this alacrity, this capacity for judgment ”, said the former French president.

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Contrary to “traditions”, Algerian televisions did not go into “mourning mode” after the announcement of his death.

For Algerians, Bouteflika’s departure from power put an end to these trips at great expense to French or Swiss clinics. He also eliminated the cohort of zealots who were working to compensate for the absence of a head of state diminished since his stroke in 2013 by an overabundance of portraits. With surreal scenes, like that of a horse offered by its supporters to a… portrait of Bouteflika.

If the head of state had renounced treatment abroad, he continued to live in the presidential residence of Zéralda, west of Algiers. The residence had been medicalized in 2013 and Bouteflika, watched over by her sister, continued to receive treatment there. Some observers note that, contrary to “traditions”, Algerian televisions did not automatically put themselves into “mourning mode” on Friday evening after the announcement of his death. As if to mark the fact that the ex-president’s journey ended with a protected but lonely end.

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