Bouteflika, Algeria’s veteran leader, was finally deposed.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria’s longest-serving president and a veteran of the independence fight, died on Friday at the age of 84. He clung to power despite ill health before being forced out in 2019.
His leadership withstood the Arab Spring upheavals that toppled other regional leaders, as well as a mini-stroke that hampered his movement and speech in 2013.
However, his ambition for a fifth term in 2019 caused public outrage, prompting hundreds of thousands to go to the streets, compelling him to retire after over two decades in power.
The extraordinary protest movement shook Algeria’s ruling elite even after he was deposed, with anti-regime demonstrations lasting a year after he was deposed before being halted due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Algerians dubbed him “Boutef” for his role in bringing peace to the country following a decade-long civil war in the 1990s.
“I am Algeria as a whole. In 1999, the year he became president, he remarked, “I am the incarnation of the Algerian people.”
Bouteflika was known for his three-piece suit, which he wore even in the sweltering heat, and was much admired for his role in ending the civil war, which according to official numbers killed about 200,000 people.
However, he was chastised by human rights organizations and opponents who accused him of being authoritarian.
Nobody expected Bouteflika, who came to power with the help of an army fighting Islamist rebels, to stay in power for so long.
“I’m not three-quarters of a president,” he said after his victory, addressing critics who regarded him as another military stooge.
Surprisingly, Bouteflika was only able to solidify power after his stroke in a country where the clandestine intelligence service has long been seen as a “state inside a state.”
He disbanded the all-powerful DRS intelligence agency in early 2016, after firing its hitherto unmovable chief, General Mohamed Mediene, also known as Toufik, after a quarter-century in office.
On March 2, 1937, Bouteflika was born in Morocco to a family from western Algeria.
He joined the National Liberation Front (FLN) in its fight against the French colonial overlords when he was 19 years old.
At the age of 25, he was appointed minister of sport and tourism by Algeria’s first president, Ahmed Ben Bella, after the country gained independence in 1962.
He was appointed foreign minister the next year, a position he maintained for more than a decade, but was forced to resign after President Houari Boumediene died in 1978, and he withdrew into self-imposed exile.
The military-backed administration cancelled his passport while he was away. Brief News from Washington Newsday.