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

Multimedia Obama, Modi Break Nuclear Deal Deadlock

Impasse over liability issues had been stalling bilateral civilian nuclear cooperation; deal reached at start of US president's three-day visit to India More

WHO's Late Efforts in Tackling Ebola Highlight Need for Reform

Health experts debate measures to reform agency’s response to global public health emergencies in special one-day session on deadly outbreak More

One Tumultuous Year in Power for CAR's President

As sectarian violence raged across Central African Republic, interim President Catherine Samba-Panza has Herculean task: to end civil war and put country back on right track More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youthi
X
Julie Taboh
January 23, 2015 11:08 PM
Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.
Video

Video US Marching Bands Grow Into a Show of Their Own

The 2014 Super Bowl halftime show was the most-watched in history - attracting an estimated 115 million viewers. That event featured pop star Bruno Mars. But the halftime show tradition started with marching bands, which still dominate the entertainment at U.S. high school and college American football games. But as Enming Liu reports in this story narrated by Adrianna Zhang, marching bands have grown into a show of their own.
Video

Video Secular, Religious Kurds Face Off in Southeast Turkey

Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast has been rocked by violence between religious and secular Kurds. Dorian Jones reports on the reasons behind the stand-off from the region's main city of Diyarbakir, which suffered the bloodiest fighting.
Video

Video Kenya: Misuse of Antibiotics Leading to Resistance by Immune System

In Kenya, the rise of drug resistant bacteria could reverse the gains made by medical science over diseases that were once treatable. Kenyans could be at risk of fatalities as a result if the power in antibiotics is not preserved. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story from Nairobi.
Video

Video Solar-Powered Plane Getting Ready to Circumnavigate Globe

Pilots of the solar plane that already set records flying without a drop of fuel are close to making their first attempt to fly the craft around the globe. They plan to do it in 25 flying days over a five month period. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video How Experts Decide Ethiopia Has the Best Coffee

Ethiopia’s coffee has been ranked as the best in the world by an international group of coffee connoisseurs. Not surprisingly, coffee is a top export for the country. But at home it is a source of pride. Marthe van der Wolf in Addis Ababa decided to find out what makes the bean and brew so special and how experts make their determinations.
Video

Video Yazidi Refugees at Center of Political Fight Between Turkey, Kurds

The treatment of thousands of Yazidis refugees who fled to Turkey to escape attacks by Islamic State militants has become the center of a dispute between the Turkish government and the country's pro-Kurdish movement. VOA's Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video World’s Richest 1% Forecast to Own More Than Half of Global Wealth

The combined wealth of the world's richest 1 percent will overtake that of the remaining 99 percent at some point in 2016, according to the anti-poverty charity Oxfam. Campaigners are demanding that policymakers take action to address the widening gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

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

All About America

AppleAndroid