Observations From An Expat: Bouteflika and the future for Algeria

February 17, 2016 OPINION/NEWS


Tom Arms

In September 1919 President Woodrow Wilson collapsed. He was exhausted from a whirlwind national tour to win support for his political baby — the League of Nations. Shortly afterwards he suffered a series of strokes.

The day to day affairs  of the Administration were taken over by his wife Edith who was later labelled ‘the Presidentress’. She and Wilson’s Private Secretary Joe Tumulty conspired to keep secret the president’s sickness. They succeeded for six months before it leaked out. Even then, Wilson and his wife clung to power until the end of his term in 1920.

Wilson, his wife and Tumulty were determined to remain put because they thought the only way the League of Nations Treaty could win Senate ratification was if its creator was in the White House.

A similar problem now faces the political establishment in Algeria. And — like the vote on the League of Nations — its resolution could have far-ranging repercussions.

78-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika suffered a stroke over two years ago and has not appeared in public since. He is reported to be unable to speak, but communicates with his ministers in writing and is compos mentis. At least that is what is reported. He could be dead. He could be completely ga ga. Only a handful of people know.

At the moment that handful of people includes his brother Said who is 20 years younger than the president, and the Army Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah. Until a few months ago it also included the shadowy presence of Mohamed Mediène who is better known by his nom de guerre—Toufik. He was head of the feared intelligence service the DRS which last month was disbanded. His removal has led to speculation that the different factions are preparing for the president’s inevitable demise by removing a top contender for the succession.

But at the same time, they continue to cling to the obvious myth that President Bouteflika is running the country. This is because Bouteflika—like Wilson—is a symbol of his policies. This policy is quite simply secular unity. And for the time being, it is important that that symbol is kept alive to protect the interests of Algeria and the Western world.

In 1991 Algeria erupted into an eight year civil war after the military seized power following an Islamist election victory. It was a dirty war and something like 200,000 people died. In 1999 Bouteflika was elected president and started to bring the war to an end with pardons and amnesties. There was still some sporadic fighting for several more years, but the return to normalcy is said to have started on the day Bouteflika took office.

Many thought that when the Arab Spring arrived in 2011, Algeria would slip again into violence. It didn’t. Mainly because the president bought peace with handouts and promises of constitutional reform. With oil prices slipping to under $27 a barrel, this policy is clearly unsustainable. Consumer prices are starting to rise and youth unemployment is at 25%. Surprise, surprise, the promised constitutional reforms have yet to materialise.

And then of course, the radical Islamists have never gone away. They have just gone underground. Now ISIS is threatening to bang on Algeria’s Eastern door. The Caliphate has gained a major foothold in the failed state of neighbouring Libya. It has firm control of more than a 100 miles of Mediterranean coastline on either side of the city of Sirte and more Jihadists are said to be arriving daily. British and American special forces have been reported on the ground trying to organise resistance.

Algeria would be a rich prize for ISIS. It sits on enormous gas and oil reserves and with a population of nearly 40 million is one of the largest countries in the Arab world. A new Algerian civil war would make the Syrian conflict look like a marital spat in Brooklyn. Long Live Bouteflika.




Tom Arms broadcasts on world affairs for a number of US radio stations including WTKF at http://www.wtkf107.com/. His Weekly Viewpoints discussion programme can be heard at 1830 EST on Wednesdays and his LookAhead at the next week’s main events on Fridays at 1800.





Tom Arms

I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, www.fensinformation.com) which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.


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