Monday, March 19, 2012

Abdelaziz Bouteflika

Abdelaziz Bouteflika was born in 1937 in Oujda, Morocco, into a family that originated in western Algeria. Following completion of his secondary studies in 1956, Bouteflika joined the National Liberation Army (ALN), part of the National Liberation Front (FLN), an armed group organized in the mid-1950s to fight against French colonial power.

Bouteflika, who was nicknamed "Si Abelkader" and "The Moroccan" during his early military career, was stationed in Oujda, Morocco beginning in 1957. His unit was posted outside of Algeria, out of reach of the French military, so it could provide reinforcement as necessary. In 1960, he was stationed in southern Algeria as commander of the Mali Front after the French put electrified fences along the borders with Morocco and Tunisia to impede ALN forces stationed in those countries.

In 1961, Bouteflika went to France as part of a secret delegation formed to negotiate an end to the conflict and the future of his country's independence. These negotiations led to a ceasefire and a 1962 referendum in which Algerians chose independence by a huge margin.

French settlers began to evacuate Algeria immediately, leaving behind a country ravaged by a war that had claimed an estimated half-million lives.

Bouteflika was an essential player in newly-independent Algeria. In 1962, he became the youth and sports minister, and the following year he became foreign minister and a deputy in the legislative assembly for Tlemcen, the city from which his family originated. As foreign minister he gained a high international profile and held office until 1979.

One of his main goals in this role was to steer Algeria away from alignment with either the United States or the Soviet Union in international affairs. He also promoted pan-Arab cooperation, economic amelioration in third world countries, and the smooth transfer of power from colonial to post-colonial administrations. Other foreign affairs issues included international recognition of Algeria's borders, improved relations with bordering countries, and fuller control over Algeria's natural resources.

The first post-colonial president of Algeria was one of the FLN's founders, Ahmed Ben Bella. In office from 1963 until 1965, he became dictatorial and self-serving and was deposed by the military, which had initially supported him. Colonel Houari Boumedienne left his post as defense minister and assumed the presidency. It would not be the military's last intervention in Algeria's checkered political affairs. Rather, under Boumedienne, the military establishment first assumed its power as guarantor of the country's socialist direction under the FLN.

Bouteflika's role in the coup has not been fully established, but it is thought that he was instrumental in its execution. He maintained his position as foreign minister and enjoyed an extraordinarily close working relationship with the president. Though this government worked much more for the benefit of Algeria than its predecessor, it remained thoroughly autocratic.

When Boumedienne died in 1979, Bouteflika resigned as foreign minister and attempted to succeed him as president. The military instead chose Chadli Bendjedid for the position, leaving Bouteflika to become minister of state. However, his political powers were increasingly proscribed and he retired from politics in 1981. He was eventually forced into exile because of a corruption charge and lived in the United Arab Emirates, France, and Switzerland. The case against him was later dismissed.

He returned to Algeria in 1987 and was soon politically involved again. Protests wracked the country in the late 1980s, and Bouteflika criticized the military for its brutal treatment of the protesters. In 1989, he was elected to the Central Committee of the FLN.

In 1998, Bouteflika announced his candidacy for presidential office. The following year, with the backing of the military, he won by a large margin after the other candidates resigned in protest. Charges that the election was unfair were widespread, but criticism diminished to a significant degree once Bouteflika vowed to resign from office if a referendum on his policies was not positive. However, the referendum also resulted in a sizable victory.

Bouteflika used his country's newly burnished image and his experience as a diplomat to reestablish ties with the international community and seek foreign investment, particularly in Algeria's natural resources sector. He also sought to tackle the large unemployment problem and foreign debt, improve infrastructure, and encourage privatization of state-held companies. Other African leaders coordinated with him to integrate the continent into the global economy.

In the 2004 presidential race, Bouteflika won reelection by a huge margin. Opposition candidates once again accused him of rigging the election and of crowding out rival political messages through his domination of state-owned television.

In November of 2005, Bouteflika was hospitalized for three weeks. Although it was officially reported that he was enduring problems with a stomach ulcer, rumors circulated that the he was afflicted with stomach cancer.

Bouteflika caused widespread controversy in Algeria in 2006, when he announced that he would propose a constitutional amendment that would allow him to seek a third term as president. The proposal was announced after the appointment of Abdelaziz Belkhadem as prime minister on June 4. The 2007 US annual report on Human Rights was critical of the proposal.

The constitutional amendment regarding presidential term limits was made official in November 2008. Bouteflika was elected to another five-year term on April 10, 2009.

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