As he celebrates (or not) his seventy seventh birthday today, Bouteflika will have to wait a few more days before he receives his most longed for present: the confirmation of his presidential candidacy for a fourth term. All potential candidates must indeed submit their application files before March 4 and the Constitutional Council is expected to validate them and publish the full list of eligible candidates on March 13.
It was PM Sellal who, disregarding Bouteflika’s call for the administration neutrality, annouced that the president will run for a fourth term. The announcement led some parties such as the MPS, RCD and Ennahda to call for a boycott of the presidential elections and some potential candidates such as Kamel Benkoussa and Soufiane Djilali to withdraw theirs. It is fair to say that some other candidates also withdrew but only to back the president’s candidacy. All this happens in the midst of a total indifference of the majority of the people that even the turbulent Saidani and other circus entertainers couldn’t stir up.
The Algerian online community has reacted in several manners to Bouteflika’s candidacy, but as we know, the digital divide is a reality in Algeria as only a few among the young generation have a regular access to the internet. Don’t expect a Facebook, Twitter or Youtube-led change in the country (did it ever happen elsewhere?) Mobilization on the ground would be the only way and some opponents to the fourth mandate have organised sit-ins yesterday in some cities (Algiers, Constantine, Bouira, etc.) before being dispersed by the police forces (read an account here). At the same time, minister Amara Benyounes gathered his party’s members to shout their support for the president.
There is no doubt that Bouteflika had and still has genuine supporters among the Algerian people. A friend told me that so long as the people in the West and in the South and the elders vote, Bouteflika will always win. This is of course an over simplification; Bouteflika has supporters and opponents everywhere. And anyway, some old trends are changing and Bouteflika’s fans number is probably decreasing.
The thing is this doesn’t matter at all for the people’s opinion is not what makes a president in Algeria. Despite the real and fake disagreements within the regime, it is the regime’s decision as a whole to push for Bouteflika’s candidacy and whether he will win or not will also be the regime’s decision.
Our friend Chatnoir spoke here of the indecency which is displayed by Bouteflika’s fourth term, but as much as it has reached unprecedented limits, this indecency has always been characteristic of the regime. An indecency which comes from the power/money-corrupted regime’s contempt, despisal and disrespect for the Algerian people and increased by its foolish feeling of safety. And this is what explains the irrational move from “djili tab jnanou” to “mazalni 3la didani“.
The regime has disrespected the Algerians since the very start, and Bouteflika’s past terms are but an episode of this disrespectful relationship between the people and the regime. The system has selected Bouteflika because it thinks the people are not mature enough to make their decisions alone. And as if this wasn’t enough, Bouteflika goes on a foreign TV channel and claims a massive vote lest, he threatens, he would leave the Algerians to their mediocrity. Bouteflika disrespected the whole country when he brought most of Tlemcen to Algiers. He disrespected the Algerians again when he amended the constitution so that he could satisfy his thirst for power and his ego. He disrespected the Algerians when he declared that he preferred foreign expertise over the local one and when he went to France for medical care and even held a meeting with Algerian officials right below the French president’s portrait. The regime disrespects the Algerians when it shows the president on TV meeting foreign officials who therefore know his health conditions better than us. And today, the regime disrespects the people when it decides that a “wheelchair-bound 77 year old’s military-backed candidate” can rule them.
Foolish feeling of safety
Amar Benyounes’ yesterday’s speech stressed on the many foreign political and economic players who visited Algeria since 1999. He of course said it was positive and it was thanks to Bouteflika’s action. We can discuss both assertions but there is no doubt that the regime feels safe because the West supports it. As a relatively stable country with oil and gas reserves, an interesting military power and big money reserves, today’s Algeria is seen by countries such as France, the US and the UK as an important asset in the region which would help meet their economic and security goals. Any regime change is therefore seen as a threat. The foreign hand comes in… handy and adds up to its original usage as a scarecrow.
Another scarecrow is the so-called Arab Spring and its dramatic consequences in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria. This added to the 90s dark decade are two arguments used to turn the Algerians from protesting. The money reserves built upon export of the country’s energy reserves serve to buy the social peace: a new salary increase is promised, aided jobs, police and military hirings, etc. You name it. And let’s admit it, this strategy has worked fine so far. The people have lost interest in politics and are not concerned with what would become of their country. Money rules and solidarity and organization are non-existent. Algeria witnesses many protests everywhere but they are too small, too isolated and too “individualized” to be effective. They are also disunited and do not look at the big picture.
Add this to the poor education that is now given in our schools and the opium that is football and the petty nationalism travesty and you won’t wonder that the regime feels safe.
Except that today’s twenty something year olds were too young in the 90s to remember the horror. And those who were old enough to remember will not be paralyzed for ever. The Algerian society has changed throughout the 52 years of independence and the regime cannot act towards it in the same old way and expect it to keep silent and obedient. I never thought the regime was cunning. It has some skills but the fact it keeps using the same strategy and its refusal to bring some change just proves it’s stupid and foolish. At this rate and without change in the short-term, the question is not if the people will revolt but when. I say watch out for oil price.
Tab jnani to Mazalni 3la didani or 3/4 x 4 = 0
In 1999, Bouteflika declared to French radio Europe1 that he wasn’t a three-quarter president. He was 62 yo, he looked strong and fit and he had been elected with an official 73.5%. Then, the changes he made in the administration and the army increased his influence and changed the balance between Elmouradia and the DRS. He made public appearances all over the country and internationally. But, as life is constant in its changing nature, three-quarters or more or less started losing its original value.
In 2008, it is a strong and young Nicolas Sarkozy who announces that the ageing Bouteflika will attend the Paris Summit for the Mediterranean which meant that Algeria would accept a union which it refused during so many years. No explanation was given to the people.
The Sonatrach scandal and Bouteflika’s friend Chakib Khelil’s involvement and dismissal only increased the president’s weakness. Now many people believe it is the other Bouteflika (Said) who’s actually ruling. And today with the prospect of a fourth term, several theories are suggested: Bouteflika would withdraw before the elections are held, Bouteflika would have agreed to stay in office for a few more months or years before the regime finds a substitution solution, Bouteflika would be no more than a hare for Benflis, Bouteflika’s brother and sister would be fighting over the president’s candidacy, and some Algerians think that Bouteflika doesn’t even know he’s a candidate.
All of the above only show that Bouteflika’s went from not a three-quarter president down to zero president. And given that we lived just fine without a government, do we really need a president?