Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a dictator who has been in power for two decades, has stepped down.
The monumental announcement, reported by Algeria’s state-run media on Tuesday, comes just one day after he vowed to abdicate by the end of April.
It’s a massive victory for the many Algerians who have spent weeks protesting his rule — and they had every reason to want him gone.
The 82-year-old Bouteflika has led Algeria since
1999 despite suffering a stroke in 2013 that left him paralyzed and basically mute. He’s in such bad shape that he hasn’t made a public speech in
seven years. But he remained in power — even if in name only — because Algeria’s military, business, and political elites wanted to keep their privileged positions.
Those same elites announced earlier this year that Bouteflika would run for a fifth term . More than 1 million Algerians since February took to the streets to call for his ouster, a development that shocked Bouteflika loyalists. After initially making smaller concessions, including that he would cancel this year’s elections (which in Algeria are neither free nor fair), it seems he has finally caved to the people’s will.
Bouteflika now joins the former heads of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen to become the fifth Arab leader removed from office by public anger since 2011.
Why Algerians wanted Bouteflika out
Public demonstrations against the government are extremely rare in Algeria, partly because of the regime’s brutal rule that, among other indignities, suppresses freedom of speech. But there are two main reasons why they spoke up so dramatically against Bouteflika, experts say.
First, the economy is in trouble. Algeria has relied greatly on high oil prices to fill the country’s coffers. But now that prices are sinking, the nation is potentially on course for an economic disaster . Some 70 percent of Algeria’s population is 30 years old or younger — which means their job prospects rise and fall with the price of oil.
Second, and more important, the population was angry that the country’s elites wanted an incapacitated Bouteflika to lead them again. “Putting Bouteflika in charge is insulting to everyday Algerians,” George Joffe, an Algeria expert who retired from the University of Cambridge, told me in March. Protesters feel “simple disgust with the way in which the political system has been manipulated.”
Protesters are also tired of having unknown and unseen forces run the country behind the scenes while using Bouteflika as a puppet. “I can’t really know who’s ruling our country, and that’s the problem,” one told the BBC World Service in March.
That means something had to change for the situation to improve. Now it has, in the biggest way possible.