end of an era

Algeria: Bouteflika buried with fewer honours than his predecessors

By Jeune Afrique

Posted on September 20, 2021 09:31

FILE PHOTO: Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika looks on before addressing the plenary session of the 93rd .. © Algeria’s former and late president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Geneva, June 7, 2005. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
Algeria’s former and late president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Geneva, June 7, 2005. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

The former Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was buried Sunday 19 September in the square of martyrs of El Alia cemetery in Algiers, reserved for the heroes of the war of independence. But unlike his predecessors, he was laid to rest with fewer honours.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was ousted from power in 2019 after 20 years at the helm of Algeria, died on Friday at the age of 84 in his medical residence in Zeralda, west of Algiers.

An armoured vehicle towed his flag-draped coffin on a gun carriage adorned with flowers and escorted by lines of police on motorcycles after having travelled some 30 km from Zeralda.

Algeria Bouteflika © The convoy carrying the coffin of former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika drives on its way to the El Alia cemetery in Algiers, Sunday, Sept.19, 202. (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum)

Alongside family members, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who was Prime Minister under Bouteflika, ministers and foreign diplomats were present at the cemetery, according to media reports.

Only Algerian journalists from the national public media were granted access to the ceremony which was not broadcast live, in stark contrast to the usual fanfare of previous presidential deaths.

At the People’s Palace, the place where other presidents are laid in state, appeared to have been prepared to display the Bouteflika’s body before his burial, but this was cancelled.

The bodies of Bouteflika’s predecessors and even his former chief of staff Ahmed Gaïd Salah had all been exposed in this ceremonial building before being buried.

This funeral is a non-event. Around me, nobody talks about it in any case. It’s as if it were the death of a simple person who has never been president.

Laïd Rebigua, the Minister of Mujahedeen (Independence Fighters ), delivered the eulogy of the man who was also, in the 1970s, a flamboyant head of Algerian diplomacy for 14 years.

The remains of Bouteflika were then laid to rest in the Martyrs’ Square where his predecessors are buried, alongside the figures of Algeria’s war of independence (1954-1962).

‘The death of an ordinary person’?

Weakened and wheelchair-ridden since his stroke in 2013, the ex-president was forced to resign on 2 April 2019, following pressure from massive demonstrations of the pro-democracy Hirak movement against his intention to run for a 5th consecutive term.

After several hours of no official reaction, President Tebboune, in power since late 2019, finally ordered on Saturday lowering of the national flag and three days of mourning to honour the “Mujahideen Abdelaziz Bouteflika”.

These delays indicated, according to observers, fears of hostile demonstrations against the former president who acquired a tarnished image.

“Frankly, I have better things to do than to take an interest in the funeral of a president who left the country in a lamentable state. I prefer to take care of my birds,” said Fares, 62, a retired finance minister who lives in Algiers.

For Islam, 45, a postman in the capital, “this funeral is a non-event. Around me, nobody talks about it in any case. It’s as if it were the death of a simple person who has never been president. Algerians give the impression of having forgotten Bouteflika, of having turned the page on his reign.”

‘A lot of hatred’

“There is a lot of hatred around the figure of Bouteflika on social networks,” says Isabelle Werenfels, a Swiss researcher specialising in the Maghreb at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).

This has made current decision-makers “nervous” about the organisation of the funeral, she adds, because “among the political, economic and administrative elites, there is a fairly large number of people who are products or beneficiaries of the Bouteflika era”.

All former heads of state have had solemn funerals and eight days of national mourning, as did the first president of independent Algeria Ahmed Ben Bella (1963-1965) and the third head of state Chadli Bendjedid (1979-1992), both of whom died in 2012.

Not to mention the grandiose funeral of Bouteflika’s mentor, ex-president Houari Boumedienne (1965-1978), marked in 1978 by the firing of a hundred cannon shots, which brought together hundreds of thousands of people.

After the announcement of the death of the deposed president on Friday by a simple brief read on national television, Algeria’s official media gave it a simple treatment.

Algeria Bouteflika © A man walks past newspapers headlining on former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s death, in Algiers, Sunday, Sept.19, 2021. (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum)

The powerful head of Algerian diplomacy, Ramtane Lamamra, a former minister under Bouteflika, waited until Sunday to convey his condolences to the family.

Abroad, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI sent a message of “compassion” to Tebboune, despite high tensions between the two countries.

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