Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algerian Leader and Longtime U.S. Ally, Dead at 84

Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algerian Leader and Longtime U.S. Ally, Dead at 84

Bouteflika, Algeria’s longest-serving ruler has died, leaving behind a complicated legacy of political triumphs and failures. 

Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algeria’s president from 1999 until 2019, has died at 84, according to the country’s presidency.

Bouteflika, Algeria’s longest-serving ruler, was elected in a landslide in 1999, promising to end the country’s dirty war against Islamist militant groups, and was re-elected in 2004, 2009, and 2014, with margins ranging from eighty to ninety percent, although the last two elections were widely alleged to be fraudulent and required successive amendments to the country’s constitution to remove its term limits.

Popular discontent built against Bouteflika’s rule in its second decade, following years of economic stagnation and the protests of the Arab Spring. Bouteflika also experienced a debilitating stroke in 2013, sharply limiting his public appearances and leading to rumors that the government was secretly being run by a circle of other officials.

After Bouteflika announced that he would run for an unprecedented fifth term, mass protests erupted across the country, eventually driving him to resign in April 2019. In an effort to quell the protests, the Algerian government launched a sweeping anti-corruption campaign and made dozens of high-profile arrests. One of the primary targets of the campaign was Bouteflika’s influential but unpopular brother, Said Bouteflika, who was arrested and sentenced to fifteen years in prison in September 2019.

In his youth, Bouteflika fought against the French during Algeria’s war of independence from 1954 until 1962. After the country’s independence, he served as its first foreign minister, developing its links with the emerging Non-Aligned Movement. From 1974 to 1975, he served a one-year term as President of the United Nations General Assembly and was instrumental in the rise to prominence of Palestinian political leader Yasser Arafat after inviting him to address the body in 1974. He also moved forward China’s accession to Taiwan’s UN seat and used his position to criticize the apartheid government of South Africa.

Bouteflika went into self-imposed exile during the 1980s after he was accused of corruption, but returned to campaign for president. After his election, he negotiated a truce with the country’s main Islamist factions, ending the ten-year war, and presided over an early period of economic growth. He also led the country through the tumultuous Arab Spring, helping to partially defuse protests through job-creation programs.

Bouteflika also gained favor in the West by committing Algeria to counter-terrorism efforts against jihadist movements in North Africa and the Sahel, including combating Al-Qaeda and ISIS’s regional affiliates.

His successor, Abdelmajid Tebboune, is Algeria’s current president.

Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.

Image: Reuters