Former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is dead. Bouteflika breathed his last on Friday at the age of 84, after suffering a crippling stroke since 2013.
The deceased was nicknamed “the phantom president” when he was elected for a fourth consecutive term, without even appearing in person on the campaign trail.
He stepped down in April 2019 after two decades in power following street protests against his plan to seek a fifth term.
Bouteflika, a protege of former Algerian leader Houari Boumediene, belonged to a generation of leaders that ruled Algeria since it gained independence.
He served in Algeria’s first post-colonial government as the minister of youth and sports in 1962. After a year he was made minister of foreign affairs at the age of 26, becoming the youngest person in the world to hold such a position.
Bouteflika, during his years in office, emerged as a towering figure, both in Arab politics and in the Non-Aligned Movement. He hosted the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), in Algiers in 1974. That same year, he ordered the expulsion of South African officials from Algeria in protest against its apartheid system.
When then-President Boumediene died of a rare blood disease in 1978, he left behind a power vacuum that Bouteflika wanted to fill. But Chadli Bendjedid, former minister of defence seized power with strong military backing in 1979, forcing Bouteflika out of the political arena.
Two years later, Bouteflika was convicted of pocketing over $23m from Algeria’s embassies and in his defence, he claimed the money had been merely “reserved” to build a new building for his ministry. Although he was granted amnesty, Bouteflika spent the next two decades in luxurious exile between Switzerland and the Gulf states, allegedly becoming a multimillionaire during this time.
He returned to Algeria’s political stage in 1999, with the military’s support. At the time, Algerians were still traumatised by the atrocities committed during the so-called “black decade”, in which nearly 150,000 Algerians were killed in a civil war between rebels and the government.
According to Aljazeera News, Amel Boubekeur, a visiting fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said: “Bouteflika was invited into the inner circle again by a group of generals, who introduced him as the providential leader who could put an end to Algeria’s lingering civil conflict that erupted in the aftermath of the Islamists’ electoral victory in 1992.”
Bouteflika, the sole candidate up for the presidency (six other candidates withdrew, claiming the election would be rigged even though their names remained on the ballot), was elected president in 1999 with 74 percent of the vote.