About Boumediene, Alistair Horne wrote in his “A savage war of peace: Algeria 1954-1962” book “in his secretiveness and retiring modesty [Boumediene] is most characteristically Algerian”. He added “in his rare interviews with writers and journalists [Boumediene] steadfastly declines to discuss the war, or his role in it”. We indeed do not know much about Algeria’s most important president’s role during the war. His real national appearance during the revolution was when he presided the jury that condemned the colonels (Lamouri and co.) who, encouraged by Nasser, had planned to kill the three Bs (Belkcem, Boussouf and Bentobal) and overthrow the GPRA. But we know little of Boumediene’s life when he was working with Boussouf.
We do not know much either about Boumediene’s life after Algeria’s independence. Taleb‘s book helps shed some light on the 1965 to 1978 period. I’ve already written about the first two parts of Volume II. Today I write some words on the third part of this book.
In this part, dedicated to the period during which Taleb was personal advisor to the president, Taleb doesn’t hide his admiration for Boumediene. We can guess through the pages that from 1965 onwards Boumediene learnt to trust Taleb and they eventually became very close friends. When in 1978 Boumediene decides to tell his close ones about his illness and seek their advice he chooses Taleb and Bouteflika. Though Taleb held this position in the government only in 1977, this part of the book stresses on the international role of Algeria during Boumediene’s rule. It can be divided into three sections: Arab affairs and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, Maghreb affairs and Western Sahara, and World affairs and West vs. East vs. non-aligned. Another domestic section could be added.
Arab affairs and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict:
Perhaps the only thing to retain in this section is the constant conflicts between the Arab countries and the many opportunities that were missed because of them. A thing which remains unfortunately true today. The Arab League was as useless as it is today. The Arab states had no serious institutions and their policies depended essentially on the heads of states. KSA under King Faysal rule became something else after Faysal was assassinated. The same thing could be said about Egypt, and probably Algeria too.
The Arabs seemed to like these conflicts. Syria’s and Iraqi’s Baath parties were almost always in opposition (remember Syria took part in the first Gulf War against Iraq). The Lebanese as divided as ever. The Jordanians always having problems with the Palestinians, etc. Then there were the unplanned unions such as the one between Egypt and Syria, and the funniest one between Libya and Tunisia which died before its birth after Algeria had refused to join it after our two neighbours had created it in secrecy.
The Palestinian conflict took a big share in the book. Taleb talks about Algeria’s role not only during the Arab/Israeli wars (the soldiers, the planes and the money it gave essentially to Egypt) but also all the diplomatic actions launched by Algeria in Africa and in the Non-Aligned world to support the Palestinians. He also relates how the Palestinian leaders had been disappointing sometimes (often if you ask me): When in Yugoslavia, Arafat praised Sadat after the Egyptian president had signed the Camp David Accords. A second disappointment happened during the 1973 Non-Aligned summit in Algiers with over a 100 heads of states present. Boumediene wanted Arafat to stand next to him so that all these leaders greet the PLO leader while greeting the Algerian President. But Arafat was late and almost missed the whole thing because he was angry that the villa Algeria gave him in Club des Pins was too small!! Boumediene had apparently told Taleb “I know Arafat, if they give him a tent and a flag, he will be very happy to accept them”. Now think of the Oslo Accords…
Maghreb affairs and Western Sahara:
According to Taleb, Boumediene did his best to build the Maghreb Union. But the different states’ interests diverged very often. Many things had been achieved but issues were apparently stronger. There was first Morocco which refused to recognise Mauritania (supported by Tunisia and also Algeria). Then This same Mauritania (under Ould Daddah) which sides with Morocco on the Western Sahara issue while playing a different role during the meetings with Algiers. Taleb shows in his book that Boumediene supported the Polisario only because it was Algeria’s principle to support the people’s rights for self-determination. This opposes the Moroccan message which says Algeria’s position is there only to harm the monarchy and makhzen. On this issue and seeing how Tunisia, Paris and Madrid had behaved, Boumediene believed that it was all a plan aiming to thwart Algeria’s role as one of the Non-Aligned leaders and declared “Pendant que je luttais pour le non-alignement, de tous côtés on essayait d’établir un cordon sanitaire autour de l’Algérie jugée ici trop musclée, là trop arrogante, ailleurs trop impérialiste, alors que nous pensions nous-mêmes que nous étions trop socialistes“. To finish with the Western Sahara issue, Taleb gives a detailed relation of the secret discussions he had with the Moroccans, and explains their failure: the Moroccans’ attitude and also Boumediene’s illness then death (he mentions the famous Cap Sigli affair as one of Hassan II’s actions in this regard, another version is here).
In this section, I would like to mention two interesting events which are somehow linked with what’s happening now in the Maghreb.
Bourguiba was holding an opponent, Ahmed Bensalah, in jail and the prisoner was in a very bad shape. So his family decided to organise his escape and asked Algeria for help. Bensalah had supported Algeria during the war and Taleb knew him personally. So Boumediene, Taleb and Draia agreed and gave shelter to the prisoner. When Bourguiba complained about this to Boumediene, the Algerian president and Taleb denied everything.
The second point was about the harsh welcome Boumediene and the Algerian delegation received in Libya from Gaddafi and his friends. It was apparently because the new revolutionaries were upset that Algeria hadn’t followed Nasser when he had signed the Rogers Plan. Boumediene, noting the cold welcome, told the Libyans that the Algerian delegation members and himself had been practising politics when these news revolutionaries were in primary school, and that while acknowledging Egypt’s role, Algeria would not accept any plan sacrificing the Palestinians for states’ personal interests.
France and the rest:
There is not much to say here. Algeria’s non-aligned position and role are well-known. Its coöperation with the Eastern block is no news either. I just remembered Bouteflika when he came back from wonderful Qatar and told us he’d get Algeria’s international status back. When he had organised his PANAF two years ago I thought God he thinks Algeria must act exactly like in the 70s… I wonder if Boumediene would have acted like Bouteflika on occasions such as the creation of the Union for the Mediterranean.
The relations with France were as complex as they are today. French president, Giscard, visited Algeria in 1975 and I remember I read somewhere that the man looked down at Muslims/Arabs alike and disliked even more the Algerians because he was one of those “Algérie Française” nostalgics. Taleb says the same thing in his book and even adds that the French president had named one of his dogs Jugurtha.
Boumediene declared in 1965 that he aimed at building a state with institutions which would outlast the men composing them. He worked towards this objective by adopting a new constitution and a national charter, and by holding presidential and legislative elections as well as the FLN congress. Only the latter took place after his death but he had already prepared it by holding conferences of all the party’s components (UGTA, UGEA, etc.).
I said in my previous post that Taleb didn’t openly criticise Bouteflika, but I cannot just ignore his statements. On the national charter and the constitution, Taleb mentioned the 17 million people who took part in the national debate which preceded them. He mentioned that Bouteflika wanted to create a vice-president position (for himself obviously) and write it down in the constitution but Boumediene said no. As to the legislatives, he explained how the candidates were selected (Taleb selected those representing Annaba) and affirmed that the resulting assembly (presided by Bitat) was top-notch, nothing comparable to
our bouteflika’s current assembly. He also mentions some of his disagreements with Bouteflika on international affairs, and how Boumediene had sided with him, which angered Algeria’s current president. When Taleb is sent to Chlef to supervise the APW elections, he feels it’s the Oujda clan’s mischief and asks Boumediene to let him retaliate. Boumediene replies, “la pierre est venue se plaindre à l’argile en lui disant: je suis mouillée“.
Boumediene is considered as the one behind the assassinations of Krim and Khider. Taleb says he mentioned the topic to him and he only replied that it was probably some “règlements de comptes” as if to say that he had nothing to do with them. Another running rumour is about Boumediene’s death. Taleb says he doesn’t know for sure but he tells us that the president was ill before visiting Syria on September 1978, that he felt better while in Moscow and then got worse before he died. He also thinks that the Soviet doctors hid the president’s real state to the Algerians…
Boumediene told Taleb “you will see, Si Ahmed, before 2000 Algeria will export manufactured products everywhere in Africa and these exports’ revenues will approach the hydrocarbons'”. We’re in 2011 and we are still stuck at the 98% of exports revenues coming from hydrocarbons. Something, or rather many things, obviously went wrong. It’s not easy to tell whose fault it is, and whether Boumediene’s rule had a major impact in this failure or not.
Taleb mentioned Chadli twice, once to say that Chadli had asked him to be tough on those stealing public money and the second to say that Boumediene had told him he liked Chadli. Perhaps is it a way for Taleb to introduce his third volume and explain why he accepted to be a minister under Chadli. I am sure the third volume is going to be as interesting as the second one.
Mr. Taleb, it’s been 3 years now. What are you waiting before releasing it?!
Title: Mémoires d’un Algérien, La passion de bâtir
Author: Ahmed Taleb-Ibrahimi
Publisher: Casbah Editions, 2008