2021-09-18 04:20:30 Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria’s Longest-Serving President, Dies at 84

Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria’s Longest-Serving President, Dies at 84

ALGIERS, France — Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who joined his country’s fight against French colonial rule in the 1950s, rose to foreign minister at the age of 26, went into exile over corruption charges, and then returned to help lead the country out of civil war, died on Friday, according to state television. He was 84 years old.

Mr. Bouteflika, who was ousted from the presidency in 2019, presided over Algeria for 20 years, the longest period of any of his predecessors.

He spent two and a half months in a French military hospital after suffering a stroke in early 2013, and many more months recovering.

Mr. Bouteflika was rarely seen in public or on television after his stroke, giving many the impression that the country was being governed by his inner circle, which was implicated in numerous corruption scandals.

Despite his health issues, he insisted on running for a fourth term in April 2014 elections, dividing the ruling elite, the military, and the country’s intelligence apparatus. Algeria’s main opposition parties refused to participate in the election, and when he was re-elected with an unlikely 81 percent of the vote, they refused to recognize the outcome.

Mr. Bouteflika remained in power despite this, ruling by written directive and occasionally receiving foreign dignitaries.

Protests erupted in late February 2019, when it was announced that Mr. Bouteflika would run for a fifth term in April elections. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marched peacefully through central Algiers on March 1, chanting “Bye, Bye, Bouteflika!” and “No Fifth Term!” in response to news reports that he had left the country for medical tests in Geneva.

By April of that year, he had been forced to resign due to popular unrest.

On March 2, 1937, he was born to Algerian parents in Oudja, Morocco, then a French protectorate, where he grew up and attended school. (His Moroccan origins were usually left out of his official Algerian biography.)

At the age of 20, he joined the National Liberation Army’s insurgency against Algeria’s French colonial administration, serving in the Borders Army, which operated from Moroccan territory. He worked closely with revolutionary leader Houari Boumediene.

Mr. Bouteflika was appointed minister of youth and sports in the government of Algeria’s first elected president, Ahmed Ben Bella, after the country’s independence in 1962. In 1963, he led Algerian delegations to negotiations with the French and was appointed foreign minister the following year.

In 1965, he played a key role in a bloodless coup led by Mr. Boumedienne that deposed President Ben Bella. Mr. Bouteflika oversaw the Foreign Ministry until Mr. Boumediene died in December 1978. He was a talented and daring foreign minister who led an anti-colonial and non-interference policy that elevated Algeria to prominence as a nonaligned movement leader and founding member of the African Union.

For a time, Mr. Bouteflika was mentioned as a possible successor to Mr. Boumedienne, until he was arrested and tried by the Court of Auditors on charges of misappropriating millions of dollars from the foreign ministry’s budget over several years. He chose — or was forced — to live in exile in another country for six years.

When he returned to Algeria in 1987, he joined the Central Committee of the National Liberation Front, the country’s political arm. However, he remained a backstage figure for the majority of the 1990s, when military and intelligence figures dominated the government in the midst of Algeria’s war with Islamist insurgents.

The uprising began when the government called off elections in order to prevent the Islamist party, the Islamic Salvation Front, also known by its French abbreviation, F.I.S., from winning a landslide victory.

As the civil war came to an end, Mr. Bouteflika rose to prominence once more. When he ran for president in 1999, he was the only candidate left standing after six rivals dropped out in protest, claiming that the election conditions were unfair.

As president, he promoted the concept of “national reconciliation,” imposing a de facto amnesty on all war opponents, whether Islamists or military personnel. Human rights organizations accused both sides of committing atrocities during the war, which killed an estimated 200,000 Algerians.

Mr. Bouteflika went on to win three more elections, the most recent in April 2014, after the Constitution was changed to allow him to run without term limits. His supporters credited him with restoring peace and security to the country after a decade of devastation from the war, and they suggested that he was the only person capable of uniting the country in its aftermath. Opponents blamed him for economic stagnation and increased corruption and cronyism as his rule dragged on, and by the end, they criticized his refusal to relinquish power when his health was failing as selfish.

Nonetheless, he ensured that Algeria remained a major player in North African regional affairs, working quietly with France and the US on counterterrorism strategy in the region and assisting in the mediation of conflicts and political instability in neighboring Mali, Libya, and Tunisia.

Carlotta Gall reported from Istanbul, and Amir Jalal Zerdoumi from Algiers, Algeria.

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Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria’s Longest-Serving President, Dies at 84