body-container-line-1
19.09.2021 Algeria

Algeria prepares to bury ex-president Bouteflika

By Abdellah CHEBALLAH
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika waves to his supporters on March 26, 2009 during an election campaign rally in Oran.  By Fayez Nureldine (AFP/File)
LISTEN SEP 19, 2021
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika waves to his supporters on March 26, 2009 during an election campaign rally in Oran. By Fayez Nureldine (AFP/File)

Flags flew at half-mast in Algeria on Sunday ahead of the funeral of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the North African country's longest-serving president who clung to power before being forced out two years ago.

Bouteflika died on Friday aged 84.

The former strongman quit office in April 2019, having been abandoned by the military following weeks of street protests over his bid to run for a fifth presidential term.

He had risen to power in 1999 on a wave of popular support as his amnesty offer to Islamist militants helped bring an end to a decade-long civil war.

Without fanfare, in contrast with previous presidential deaths, state television announced that Bouteflika would be laid to rest Sunday at El-Alia cemetery, east of Algiers, where his predecessors and other independence fighters are buried.

Bouteflika is not being accorded the ceremony of Algerian presidents who died before him, and there will be no eight-day official mourning period.

The Algerian national flag flies at half mast in the capital Algiers on September 18, 2021 ahead of Bouteflika's funeral.  By RYAD KRAMDI (AFP) The Algerian national flag flies at half mast in the capital Algiers on September 18, 2021 ahead of Bouteflika's funeral. By RYAD KRAMDI (AFP)

His once-powerful brother Said, jailed on corruption charges, has been authorised to attend, his lawyer Salim Hadjouti told the Arabic website SabqPress.

The announcement of Bouteflika's death triggered muted reactions in the former French colony, reflecting his absence from public view.

A statement from his successor Abdelmadjid Tebboune noted Bouteflika's past as a fighter in the war for independence and said flags would be at half-mast for three days to honour him.

Muted reactions

King Mohammed VI of Morocco on Saturday sent a message of "condolences and compassion" to Tebboune, the MAP news agency reported.

Bouteflika came to power in 1999, and was elected for three more terms.  By - (AFP/File) Bouteflika came to power in 1999, and was elected for three more terms. By - (AFP/File)

Political scientist Mansour Kedidir said Bouteflika had marked the country's history since independence and his name "will remain engraved in the collective memory, despite his detractors."

Others saw his two decades of rule as a time of missed opportunities.

He wanted to surpass his mentor, the country's second president Houari Boumediene, with accomplishments including a boost to Algeria's regional influence and "to turn the page on the black decade (of civil war)" which killed around 200,000 people, University of Algiers politics lecturer Louisa Dris Ait Hamadouche said.

"But the outcome has been that in 2021, the institutions of the state have never been so weakened, so divided or so discredited."

On the streets of the capital Algiers, many residents told AFP the once-formidable president would not be missed.

"Bless his soul. But he doesn't deserve any tribute because he did nothing for the country," said Rabah, a greengrocer.

A retiree, Ali, said Bouteflika "served his country, but unfortunately he made a big mistake" with a fourth presidential term and then by seeking a fifth when he was ill.

Ill health and protests

Dubbed "Boutef" by Algerians, he was known for his three-piece suit even in the stifling heat, and won respect as a foreign minister in the 1970s as well as for helping foster post-civil war peace.

Algerian policemen surround protesters on February 22, 2019 during a demonstration against Bouteflika's candidacy for a fifth term.  By RYAD KRAMDI (AFP/File) Algerian policemen surround protesters on February 22, 2019 during a demonstration against Bouteflika's candidacy for a fifth term. By RYAD KRAMDI (AFP/File)

Algeria was largely spared the uprisings that swept the Arab world in 2011, something many credited to memories of the civil war and a boost in state handouts.

But Bouteflika's rule was marked by corruption, leaving many Algerians wondering how a country with vast oil wealth could end up with poor infrastructure and high unemployment that pushed many young people overseas.

Bouteflika faced criticism from rights groups and opponents who accused him of being authoritarian.

He suffered a mini-stroke in April 2013 that affected his speech, and he was forced to use a wheelchair. Yet he decided to seek a fourth mandate anyway.

His bid in 2019 for a fifth term sparked protests that soon grew into a pro-democracy movement known as "Hirak".

Some Bouteflika-era figures were eventually jailed but the old guard from his era still largely rules the country.

ModernGhana Links

Join our Newsletter

body-container-line