The ‘authority disease’ in the Middle East

Abdelaziz Bouteflika, running for a fifth term as Algeria’s president, promises reforms if he wins.

March 6, 2019 03:11
2 minute read.

Algeria’s wheelchair-bound President Abdelaziz Bouteflika casts his ballot during the presidential election in Algiers, April 17. (photo credit: ZOHRA BENSEMRA/REUTERS)


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Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the Algerian president running for a fifth term despite outrage that has led thousands to take to the streets in anger over his age and poor health, says it will be the last time he runs.  

Bouteflika, who turned 82 on March 2 and suffered a serious stroke in 2013, also promised in a letter read Sunday by his campaign manager, Abdul Ghani Zaalan, that if re-elected on April 18 he would hold the next presidential election within a year and introduce political reforms.

In the letter, he stated that a “national conference will determine the date” of the vote and that it would be “held in calm, free and transparent conditions.”
Nizar al-Mkani, a Tunisian political analyst, told The Media Line that Bouteflika’s decision to run was due to internal conflicts.

“We have the army and general staff command on one side, which supports him,” Mkani said, “and the intelligence agency on the other, which is against him.”

He explained that throughout his presidency, Bouteflika, in office since 1999 and largely out of sight in recent years due to his health, at one point forced the head of the intelligence agency to resign.

“The conflict between these powers has resulted in Bouteflika running again for elections until they ‘agree’ on a successor,” Makan said, explaining further that the Algerian political system has relied completely on the military establishment for stability since the country’s independence in 1962.

On the subject of the current protests, Makan pointed out that if the president is reelected, many might believe that the results were manipulated.

“Bouteflika is trying to gain the people’s support” through Sunday’s letter, he said.

Ali al-Hamad, an Egyptian political analyst, told The Media Line that Arab leaders often come to believe that their judgment is supreme.

“There is a disease in the Middle East that is called ‘authority,’ where leaders don’t let go of their ruling positions at any price,” Hamad noted, adding that “in all Arab nations, once they have a ruler, that person is unchangeable.”

He said that “once [these people] become presidents, they edit and change the constitution to ensure that they remain in power.”

Hamad stressed that Algeria has potentially great candidates, but they simply don’t get a chance to run.

“Bouteflika is sick in bed for years,” he continued. “His determination triggers questions: Who is he protecting by remaining president?”

Sunday was the last day people could register to run in the April 18 presidential vote. A number of declared candidates have withdrawn from the race in protest of Bouteflika’s decision to run, including Ali Benflis, a respected human rights advocate and former prime minister.

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