The announcement over the weekend that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will run for a fourth term despite suffering a stroke this year illustrates the bankruptcy of the Algerian political process. The president and the generals who run Algeria, the Arab world’s largest police state, apparently decided to prolong the status quo as long as possible, fearing that any moves toward opening the political process would usher in unpredictable and dangerous demands for democracy. But there are also hints of division at the top of the power elite which may suggest some changes are coming.
Bouteflika, 79, is the longest-serving president in Algerian history. He has run the country since election in 1999. He ended a brutal and bloody civil war that began after an army coup in 1991 that overturned free elections that had been won by an Islamist party. In the violence that followed, at least 160,000 died. In 1994, Algerian terrorists hijacked a jet bound for Paris with the intent of smashing it into the Eiffel Tower, the plot that inspired 9/11. The army reacted with brute force. Bouteflika offered amnesty and initiated reforms to win over an exhausted nation. He was re-elected in 2009 with 90% of the vote in a massive vote fraud.
Bouteflika had a stroke in April. He was hospitalized in Paris until July. His public appearances since his return to Algiers have been few and carefully scripted. He has reshuffled his Cabinet and made some changes in the military. All of this has been done with no transparency whatsoever. Rumors abound about what Bouteflika’s changes mean; he apparently is trying to clip the wings of some of the generals who run the country behind the scenes.
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