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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Agei
X
Elizabeth Lee
July 20, 2014 2:36 AM
Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.
Video

Video Diplomatic Crisis Grows Over MH17 Plane Crash

The Malaysia Airlines crash in eastern Ukraine is drawing reaction from leaders around the world. With suspicions growing that a surface-to-air missile shot down the aircraft, there are increasing tensions in the international community over who is to blame. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Undocumented Immigrants Face Perilous Journey to US, No Guarantees

Every day, hundreds of undocumented immigrants from Central America attempt the arduous journey through Mexico and turn themselves over to U.S. border patrol -- with the hope that they will not be turned away. But the dangers they face along the way are many, and as Ramon Taylor reports from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, their fate rests on more than just the reception they get at the US border.
Video

Video Scientists Create Blackest Material Ever

Of all the black things in the universe only the infamous "black holes" are so black that not even a tiny amount of light can bounce back. But scientists have managed to create material almost as black, and it has enormous potential use. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Fog Collector Transforming Maasai Water Harvesting in Kenya

The Maasai people of Kenya are known for their cattle-herding, nomadic lifestyle. But it's an existence that depends on access to adequate water for their herds and flocks. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA, on a "fog collector."

AppleAndroid