Algeria’s former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned in 2019 after his bid for a fifth term in office led to massive street protests against his rule, died Friday at 84 years of age.
Bouteflika became president of Algeria in 1999, as it emerged from a decade of civil war, and was elected again in 2004, 2009 and 2014.
Then in 1999, as Algeria emerged from a brutal civil war that killed almost 200,000 people, he became president at the urging of the military.
His political career began early: After Algeria’s independence from France in 1962, he became the world’s youngest minister of foreign affairs in his mid-twenties, a record that still stands and was an active member of the UN.
As president of the general assembly in 1974, he invited Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to address the UN governing body – an unprecedented and ground-breaking move.
He also insisted China should have a UN seat, and stood against apartheid in South Africa. He is credited with giving a young Nelson Mandela his first military training.
Bouteflika passed part of the 1980s in exile, avoiding corruption charges that were ultimately dropped.
He returned home in the 1990s and took office in 1999 – Algeria’s first civilian leader in more than three decades.
In 2008, he initiated a change in Algeria’s constitution which removed the two-term limit for presidents and was duly re-elected twice, despite circling fraud charges.
When the 2011 Arab Spring protests broke out across North Africa, Bouteflika swiftly increased public subsidies and ended Algeria’s long-standing state of emergency.
When it was announced that the ailing president would run for a fifth term in 2019, protests spread across the country
They snowballed into full-blown nationwide weekly demonstrations, unlike any Algeria had seen before.
But his bid in 2019 for a fifth term, despite his age and ill health, sparked angry protests that soon grew into a mass movement against his regime and when he lost the backing of the army, he was forced to step down.
He had stayed out of the public eye at a residence in western Algiers after his resignation until his death.
The Hirak mass protests continued into the rule of Bouteflika’s successor Abdelmadjid Tebboune, also seen as a regime insider, but the movement was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic