Abdelaziz Bouteflika ( pronunciation ; Arabic: عبد العزيز بوتفليقة ‘Abd al-‘Azīz Būtaflīka [ʕaːbd lʕziz butfliqa]; born 2 March 1937) is an Algerian politician who has been the fifth President of Algeria since 1999. He was Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1963 to 1979. As President, he presided over the end of the bloody Algerian Civil War in 2002, and he ended emergency rule in February 2011 amidst regional unrest. He has also served as president of the United Nations General Assembly.
In November 2012, he surpassed Houari Boumediene as the longest-serving president of Algeria.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika was born on 2 March 1937 in Oujda, French protectorate in Morocco. He was the first child of his mother and the second child of his father (Fatima, his half-sister, preceded him). His father (Ahmed Bouteflika) and mother (Mansouria Ghezlaoui) originated from Tlemcen, Algeria. Bouteflika has three half-sisters (Fatima, Yamina, and Aïcha), as well as four brothers (Abdelghani, Mustapha, Abderahim and Saïd) and one sister (Latifa). Saïd serves as Abdelaziz Bouteflika's personal physician, and is said by some to be an important figure in Bouteflika's inner circle of advisers. A son of a zaouia sheikh, Abdelaziz Bouteflika memorized the Qur'an at young age. He continued his education in Oujda until high school. Later, he joined the Algerian Liberation Army (ALN), soon getting a promotion. In 1960, he was assigned with leading the Malian Front in the Algerian south, when he became known with his revolutionary name of Abdelkader al-Mali, which has survived until today.
Early years and War of Independence
Bouteflika was raised in Oujda, where his father had emigrated as a youngster. He successively attended three schools there: "Sidi Ziane", "El Hoceinia" and the "Abdel Moumen" high-school, where he reportedly excelled academically. He was also affiliated with Qadiriyya Zaouia in Oujda.
In 1956, Bouteflika went to the village of Ouled Amer near Tlemcen and subsequently joined—at the age of 19—the Army of National Liberation which was a military branch of the National Liberation Front (FLN). He was militarily instructed at the "Ecole des Cadres" in Dar El Kebdani, Morocco. In 1957–1958, he was designated a controller of the Wilaya V, making reports on the conditions at the Moroccan border and in west Algeria, but later became the administrative secretary of Houari Boumediene. He emerged as one of the closest collaborators of the influential Boumédienne, and a core member of his Oujda group. In 1962, at the arrival of independence, he aligned with Boumédienne and the border armies in support of Ahmed Ben Bella against the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic.
Post-independence political career
After independence in 1962, Bouteflika became deputy for Tlemcen in the Constituent Assembly and Minister for Youth and Sport in the government led by Ahmed Ben Bella; the following year, he was appointed as Minister for Foreign Affairs. He was later a prime mover in the military coup led by Houari Boumediene that overthrew Ben Bella on 19 June 1965. Bouteflika continued as Minister for Foreign Affairs until the death of President Boumédienne in 1978.
He was also President of the 29th UN General Assembly in 1974 and the seventh special session in 1975. While in these posts he came in for severe criticism from the United States for what it regarded as politically partisan decisions. Algeria at this time was a leader of the Non-Aligned nations movement.
In 1981, he was sued for having stolen Algerian embassies' money between 1965 and 1979. On 8 August 1983, Bouteflika was convicted by the Court of Financial Auditors and found guilty of having fraudulently taken 60 million dinars during his diplomatic career. In his defence Bouteflika said that he "reserved" that money to build a new building for the foreign affairs ministry, but the court judged his argument as "fallacious". In 1979, just after the death of Boumédiène, Bouteflika reimbursed 12,212,875.81 dinars out of the 70 million dinars that was deposited in a Swiss bank. Although Bouteflika was granted amnesty by President Chadli Bendjedid, his colleagues Senouci and Boudjakdji were jailed. After the amnesty, Bouteflika was given back his diplomatic passport, a villa where he used to live but did not own and all his debt was erased. He never paid back the money "he reserved for a new foreign affairs ministry's building".
Succession struggle and exile
Following Boumédienne's unexpected death in 1978, Bouteflika was seen as one of the two main candidates to succeed the powerful president. Bouteflika was thought to represent the party's "right wing" that was more open to economic reform and rapprochement with the West. Colonel Mohamed Salah Yahiaoui represented the "boumédiennist" left wing. In the end, the military opted for a compromise candidate, the senior army colonel Chadli Bendjedid. Bouteflika was reassigned the role of Minister of State, but successively lost power as Bendjedid's policies of "de-Boumédiennisation" marginalised the old guard.
After six years abroad, the army brought him back to the Central Committee of the FLN in 1989, after the country had entered a troubled period of unrest and disorganised attempts at reform, with power-struggles between Bendjedid and a group of army generals paralysing decision-making. In 1992, the reform process ended abruptly when the army took power and scrapped elections that were about to bring the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front to power. This triggered a civil war that would last throughout the 1990s. During this period, Bouteflika stayed on the sidelines, with little presence in the media and no political role. In January 1994, Bouteflika is said to have refused the Army's proposal to succeed the assassinated president, Mohamed Boudiaf; he claimed later that this was because the army would not grant him full control over the armed forces. Instead, General Liamine Zéroual became President.
First term as President, 1999–2004
In 1999, Zéroual unexpectedly stepped down and announced early elections. The reasons behind his decision remain unclear, but it is widely claimed that his pro-reconciliation policies towards the Islamist insurgency had incurred the wrath of a hard-line faction in the armed forces; or that some other disagreement with the military, which still dominated politics, lay behind the schism. Bouteflika ran for president as an independent candidate, supported by the military. He was elected with 74% of the votes, according to the official count. All other candidates withdrew from the election immediately prior to the vote, citing fraud concerns. Bouteflika subsequently organised a referendum on his policies to restore peace and security to Algeria (involving amnesties for Islamist guerrillas) and to test his support among his countrymen after the contested election. He won with 81% of the vote, but this figure was also disputed by opponents.
Bouteflika was also active on the international scene, presiding over what many have characterised as Algeria's return to international affairs, after almost a decade of international isolation. He presided over the African Union in 2000, secured the Algiers Peace Treaty between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and supported peace efforts in the African Great Lakes region. He also secured a friendship treaty with neighbouring Spain in 2002, and welcomed president Chirac of France on a state visit to Algiers in 2003. This was intended as a prelude to the signature of a friendship treaty.
Algeria has been particularly active in African relations, and in mending ties with the West, as well as trying to some extent to resurrect its role in the declining non-Aligned movement. However, it has played a more limited role in Arab politics, its other traditional sphere of interest. Relations with the Kingdom of Morocco remained quite tense, with diplomatic clashes on the issue of the Western Sahara, despite some expectations of a thaw in 1999, which was also the year of King Mohamed VI's accession to the throne in Morocco.
Second term as President, 2004–09
On 8 April 2004, he was re-elected by an unexpectedly high 85% of the vote in an election that was accepted by OSCE observers as a free and fair election, despite minor irregularities. This was contested by his rival and former Chief of Staff Ali Benflis. Several opponents alleged that the election had not been fair, and pointed to extensive state control over the broadcast media. The electoral victory was widely seen as a confirmation of Bouteflika's strengthened control over the state apparatus, and many saw the following retirement of longtime armed forces commander Gen. Mohammed Lamari in the light of this. He and military commanders allied to him were thought to have opposed Bouteflika's bid for a second term and backed Benflis. Other major military power-brokers would be reassigned to minor posts or withdraw from politics in the years that followed, underlining Bouteflika's gradual monopolising of decision-making.
The Kabyle people boycotted the election; participation did not exceed 11%.
During the first year of his second term, Bouteflika held a referendum on his "Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation", inspired by the 1995 "Sant'Egidio Platform" document. Bouteflika's plan aims at concluding his efforts of ending the civil war, from a political and judicial point of view. He obtained large popular support with this referendum and has since instructed the government and Parliament to work on the technical details of its implementation. Critics claimed that the plan will only grant immunity to members of the armed forces responsible for crimes, as well as to terrorists and have argued for a plan similar to South Africa's "truth and reconciliation commission" to be adopted instead. Bouteflika dismissed the calls, claiming that each country needs to find its own solutions to ending painful chapters of its history. He has received large political support on this issue, from both the Islamist and the nationalist camps, and from parts of the Democratic opposition.
The amnesty plan was rejected by the main remaining insurgent group, the GSPC, although perhaps as many as several hundred fighters still left their hideouts to claim amnesty. The group's warfare against the Algerian state continues despite reconciliation plan, although Bouteflika's government claims it has had an impact in removing support for the group. In 2006, the GSPC was officially accepted as a branch of al-Qaida in a video message by Ayman al-Zawahiri; soon thereafter, it changed its name to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Bouteflika has kept the amnesty option open – apparently open-ended despite the end of the deadline stipulated by the reconciliation law – while simultaneously pursuing the rebel group militarily. Algerian forces have scored several major captures of GSPC/AQIM commanders, but the groups top leadership remains at large, and armed activity is frequent in Kabylie, with AQIM-connected smuggling networks active in parts of the desert south. Unlike in previous years, AQIM have begun using suicide attack tactics and in 2007–2008 launched several major attacks in Algiers and other big cities.
The first year of Bouteflika's second term also featured a new five-year plan, much larger this time drafted. The Complementary Plan for Economic Growth Support (PCSC: Plan Complementaire de la Croissance Économique) aims for the construction of 1 million housing units, the creation of 2 million jobs, the completion of the East-West highway, the completion of the Algiers subway project, the delivery of the new Algiers airport, and other similar large scale infrastructure projects. The PCSC totals $60 billion of spending over the five-year period. Bouteflika also aims to bring down the external debt from $21 billion to $12 billion in the same time. He has also obtained from Parliament the reform of the law governing the oil and gas industries, despite initial opposition from the workers unions. However, Bouteflika has since stepped back from this position, supporting amendments to the hydrocarbon law in 2006, which propose watering down some of the clauses of the 2005 legislation relating to the role of Sonatrach, the state owned oil & gas company, in new developments. It also proposes new provisions enabling the country to benefit from windfall taxes on foreign investors in times of high prices. Bouteflika has also put up for sale 1300 public sector companies, and has already achieved privatisation of about 150 of them, mainly in the tourism, food processing, cement, construction material and chemical industries.
On the international scene, Bouteflika's second term has seen diplomatic tensions rise with France due to the controversial voting by the French Parliament of a law ordering French history school books to teach that French colonisation had positive effects abroad, especially in North Africa. The diplomatic crisis which ensued has put on hold the signing of a friendship treaty with France (23 February 2004, re-endorsed in December 2005). Ties to Russia have been strengthened by large imports of Russian military hardware – about 7 billion USD were spent in one single purchase – although relations entered a rocky phase, at least temporarily, when Algeria refused to accept some MiG fighter jets due to their allegedly poor quality. Rumours of the two countries negotiating a form of cartel for natural gas, similar to OPEC's role in oil affairs, with Iran and Qatar also involved, have appeared repeatedly, and Bouteflika has confirmed an interest in the idea. (Russia is the no. 1 gas supplier to the EU, and Algeria the no. 2 supplier.) Bouteflika has also carefully cultivated a relationship with China, with exchanges of state visits between the two countries.
Algeria has remained involved in Arab affairs, and seen a somewhat growing role there. In 2004 Bouteflika also organised the Arab League Summit and became President of the Arab League for one year. His calls for reform of the League did not gain sufficient support to pass in during the Algiers summit however. Like in previous years since the late 1980s, Algeria has kept a relatively low profile in the Palestine and Iraq issues. Algeria has remained preoccupied with the Western Sahara issue, counter-lobbying Moroccan attempts to gain international acceptance for Moroccan-ruled autonomy in the disputed territory, at the expense of Polisario's (and Algeria's) calls for the long-since decided self-determination referendum to finally be held. Relations with Morocco therefore remain poor, and Algeria in 2008 repeatedly refused to answer Moroccan demands to open the common land border, which has been closed since 1994. Both Morocco and Algeria have since approximately 2005 spent several billion dollars in what could be described as an arms race between them, mainly on modernizing and expanding their air forces.
In sub-Saharan Africa, a major concern of Bouteflika's Algeria has been on-and-off Tuareg rebellions in northern Mali. Algeria has asserted itself forcefully as mediator in the conflict, perhaps underlining its growing regional influence. Algerian interest is driven by its extensive interests in the region: smuggling routes as well as legal economic activity crosses these virtually unguarded borderlands, and refugees from the conflict have entered southern Algeria to mix with the Tuareg populations there. Also, the area is known as a hideout of a southern branch of AQIM, further heightening Algeria's interest in the area. Compromise peace agreements were reached in 2007 and 2008, both mediated by Algiers. The related Touareg revolt in neighbouring Niger has not seen the same Algerian involvement, even if the anti-government MNJ movement has on at least one occasion called for Algerian mediation similar to in Mali. Algeria's involvement in Africa has otherwise been concerned with supporting the African Union, and been marked by a rapidly strengthening coordination with South Africa, which, among other things, has emerged as Algeria's main ally on the Western Sahara issue.
All in all, Algeria's foreign policy under Bouteflika remains hinged on same axis as under earlier governments, emphasizing South–South ties, especially with growing Third World powers (China, South Africa, Brazil, etc.) and guarding the country's independence in decision-making vis-a-vis the West, although simultaneously striving for good trade relations and non-confrontational political relations with the EU and USA.
President of Vietnam Nguyễn Minh Triết, on 16 July 2009, met with Bouteflika on the sidelines of the 15th Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Egypt. President Triet and Bouteflika agreed that the two countries still have great potential for development of political and trade relations. Triet thanked the Algerian government for creating favourable conditions for the Vietnam Oil and Gas Group to invest in oil and gas exploration and exploitation in Algeria.
Hospitalization in 2005 and later
Bouteflika was admitted to a hospital in France on 26 November 2005, reportedly suffering from a gastric ulcer hemorrhage, and discharged three weeks later. However, the length of time for which Bouteflika remained virtually incommunicado led to rumours that he was critically ill with stomach cancer. He checked into the hospital again in April 2006.
A leaked diplomatic cable revealed that by the end of 2008, Bouteflika had developed stomach cancer.
In spring and summer 2013, Boutflika stayed nearly four months in a hospital in Paris dealing with health problems.
Bouteflika was admitted to a clinic at Grenoble in France in November 2014.
As of early 2016, Bouteflika has not been seen in public for more than two years, and several of his close associates have not seen him for more than one year. It is alleged he "can hardly speak and is said to communicate by letter with his ministers".
In November 2016, he was hospitalized in France for medical checks.
Constitutional amendment for a third term
Bouteflika appointed a new Prime Minister, Abdelaziz Belkhadem, in 2006. Belkhadem then announced plans to amend the Algerian Constitution to allow the President to run for office indefinitely and increase his powers. This was widely regarded as aimed to let Bouteflika run for president a third term. A referendum was originally scheduled for 2007, but cancelled for reasons never explained. In 2008, Belkhadem was again shifted out of the premiership and his predecessor Ahmed Ouyahia brought in, having also come out in favor of the constitutional amendment.
The Council of Ministers announced on 3 November 2008 that the planned constitutional revision proposal would remove the presidential term limit previously included in Article 74. The People's National Assembly endorsed the removal of the term limit on 12 November 2008; only the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) voted against its removal.
Third term as President, 2009–14
Following the constitutional amendment allowing him to run for a third term, on 12 February 2009, Bouteflika announced his independent candidacy in the 2009 presidential election. On 10 April 2009, it was announced that Bouteflika had won the election with 90.24% of the vote, on a turnout of 74%, thereby obtaining a new five-year term. Several opposition parties had boycotted the election, with the opposition Socialist Forces Front citing a "tsunami of massive fraud."
2010–12 Algerian protests
Fourth term as President, 2014–present
Following yet another constitutional amendment, allowing him to run for a fourth term, Bouteflika announced that he would. He very seldom appeared in person on the campaign trail. On 18 April 2014, he was re-elected with 81% of the vote, while Benflis was second placed with 12.18%. The turnout was 51.7%, down from the 75% turnout in 2009. Several opposition parties boycotted the election again, resulting in allegations of fraud.