ALGIERS - The confusing communication strategy orchestrated by supporters of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika around his recent hospitalization in Paris -- and the mystery surrounding the actual state of his health -- have led the Algerian press and the opposition parties to denounce the lack of transparency and secrets that are so characteristic of Algerian politics.
Because of Bouteflika’s apparent inability to carry out his duties, many parties have called for Article 88 of the Algerian constitution to be enforced in order to hasten the transition process. Article 88 states that the president may be removed from office if he or she becomes unable to perform his duties because of a serious or long-term illness.
Right now, the Algerians do not have much empathy for their ailing leader. They mostly have the strange sensation of being kept in the dark and at a distance from an issue that is of utmost importance for the country.
By merely denying the rumors that Bouteflika is sicker than they say – perhaps in a coma or even dead – the government, which refuses to provide any evidence that the president is doing as well as official statements say he is, has revealed its inability to handle a situation that affects the future of the nation, and demonstrated its contempt for the population.
At a time when the country is without a leader, this contempt increases the climate of moral bankruptcy and severe crisis of confidence toward the government, which has been discredited.
As they are waiting for the end of a regime that has no democratic legitimacy left, and that has let corruption gangrene all the country’s institutions, Algerians are revolting against the inequalities that these elites built their power on.
Many have taken to the streets to denounce the dramatic failures of the health system, which cannot guarantee quality care to hundreds of thousands of patients or provide adequate treatment to thousands of cancer patients, as well as the outrageous privileges of the elites, who are able to benefit from the best medical treatment in France.
Growing social unrest
Former President Houari Boumediene (1932-1978), whose illness had been shrouded in secrecy and awkward communication, had chosen to get treatment in Moscow in 1978. But today it is in Paris that most of the regime cadres receive the care that the Algerian health system is still far from being able to provide, despite the recognized expertise of the medical profession.
As the end of Bouteflika's governance looms, Algeria is about to conclude a chapter of its own history. Since its independence from France in 1962, the same elites have held on to power, and so has a system of governance that has outlived its usefulness. The continuing unrest – strikes, protests, rebellion in the south – reveal the existence of a deep social malaise as well as the economic bankruptcy of one of the richest countries of the Maghreb, which is no longer safe from social instability.
The extent of poverty and unemployment is such that discontent is spreading like wildfire in a country where the wealth from oil revenues remains invisible to the eyes of the population. Anger is mounting against social inequality and high youth unemployment – especially among a whole generation of young Algerians with no prospects. There is also much disillusion toward these elites who had the means to ensure growth and development, social cohesion and security, but failed on all fronts.
For many, the end of Bouteflika’s reign marks the closing of an era. It could finally be the end of the stranglehold on Algeria’s wealth and institutions by the politicians and military strongmen who have been ruling the country since the 1960s.
This turning point could also herald the arrival in power of new generations that will take into account the cultural diversity of the country, focus on building an economy that can survive the post-oil era and build the Maghreb Union that we need so much. This could all happen in the context of a new republic.