News / Middle East

Algeria Contemplates Future Without Ailing Bouteflika

FILE - Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seen gesturing in Algiers, Jan. 14, 2013.
FILE - Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seen gesturing in Algiers, Jan. 14, 2013.
Reuters
Ill-health may force veteran Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, now in hospital in Paris, to hasten his departure from power, plunging a youthful, restless nation into an uncertain political transition.

Algeria, led by Bouteflika since 1999, has for decades drawn its presidents from an ageing cohort of men who won their spurs in the bitter 1954-62 independence war with France.

Bouteflika, 76, was flown to the French capital on Saturday for treatment in a military hospital after suffering what state media said was a minor stroke that caused no permanent damage.

Algerians have long speculated about the health of their president, who had been widely tipped to seek a fourth term in 2014. When Bouteflika had surgery in France in 2005, they were told it was for a stomach ulcer. U.S. embassy cables leaked last year suggested he had in fact survived a bout of cancer.

Bouteflika eased Algeria out of the horrors of its civil war in the 1990s when an estimated 200,000 people were killed in a struggle between the security forces and armed Islamists.

The secular generals no longer openly call the shots, but few know where real power resides in an opaque system where an elected president cohabits with a shadowy security elite.

Few of Algeria's 36 million people, over 70 percent of whom are aged under 30, can remember the independence struggle from which their leaders draw legitimacy and many thirst for change.

"We must pass the torch to a new generation of leaders, the [era of] revolutionary legitimacy is over," said Hichem Aboud, a political writer and editor of Mon Journal.  "I have no doubt that Bouteflika will not go for another term, he simply cannot do the job because he is too tired."

Avoiding upheaval

Algeria's cautious powerbrokers may accept that younger faces are needed, but they are unlikely to allow any swift or dramatic political reform that might risk their own interests or reopen wounds in a country traumatized by its violent past.

Despite persistent social unrest, Algeria has so far avoided the kind of revolt that has ousted Arab rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya since 2011. Syria's bitter conflict only reinforces the aversion of many Algerians to going down that path.

Geoff Porter, head of North Africa Risk Consulting, said Algerians mostly wanted a smooth, transparent transition.

"Yes, they want a candidate who has the vitality and energy to address Algeria's difficult problems ... but they also want someone who will incrementally transform the political system rather than entirely disrupt it," he said.

Algerians were aware, Porter said, that only an established insider would have the political capital, as well as the alliances and networks, to bring about change within the system.

Yet discontent is rife in Algeria, which supplies a fifth of Europe's natural gas imports and is a valued U.S. ally in countering Islamist militancy in North Africa and the Sahel region - a threat highlighted by January's bloody attack on the In Amenas gas facility in the southern Algerian desert.

In 2011, Bouteflika responded to a wave of riots over jobs, pay, housing and living conditions by opening the spending taps, allocating $23 billion in public grants and retroactive salary and benefit increases, which temporarily calmed the unrest.

But a second wave of protests has shaken southern provinces in recent months with youngsters demanding housing and jobs - youth unemployment is about 21 percent, according to the IMF.

Again Bouteflika sought to placate them with free loans, and police offered 6,000 new jobs to young southerners.

Algeria has deep pockets, with foreign reserves exceeding $200 billion and a large budget stabilization fund, but ultimately such handouts may not be sustainable. The government needs an oil price of $120 a barrel to balance its budget, the IMF says. Algerian crude is now trading at about $103 a barrel.

Internal power struggle

If and when Bouteflika departs, competition for his job could upset a delicate balance of power within the ruling elite.

Former Prime Minister Ahmed Benbitour, 67, is the only declared candidate in the presidential election due in less than a year. Others may throw their hats in the ring only when Bouteflika, who took power in 1999, makes his intentions clear.

Among potential candidates is technocrat Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, 65, seen as a man of consensus, and another former premier, Mouloud Hamrouche, 70, a reformist whose parents were killed during the independence war. He might get the support of Hocine Ait Ahmed, an icon of Algeria's revolution.

Algeria, dominated for decades by the National Liberation Front (FLN) that led the independence struggle, now has more than 100 smaller political parties, but their leaders are seen as too weak to stand a chance in the presidential race.

If Bouteflika proves too incapacitated to finish his term, Senate chairman Abdelkader Bensalah will replace him until elections are held within 60 days, under constitutional rules.

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More