After 20 years of reign, and at a time when he may be preparing for a fifth term, time has come for a balance sheet of Bouteflika.
Naturally, an objective analysis of Bouteflika’s reign leads us to identify positive as well as negative points.
As far as the former are concerned, it is on the social level that we will locate them.
Indeed, in this respect, after more than two decades of frantic Arabization, Bouteflika broke the taboo on the use of French by Algerian officials. His uninhibited speech in French has undoubtedly contributed to dispassionate the debate surrounding it and to considerably curb an Arabization policy based on pure ideological considerations.
In addition, although the path to officiality remains long and despite his initial opposition, Bouteflika will also stand out as the president under whose reign Tamazight was recognized as a national and official language.
During his presidency, hundreds of thousands of young Algerian men were able to regularize their position vis-à-vis military service and rid themselves of a burden that has long been a nightmare.
Furthermore, women’s rights have made considerable progress. Starting from 2005 and the revision of the Family Code, although still considered very unequal by many feminist activists, new laws have been passed allowing women a better representation in elected assemblies (2012), as well as gaining the right to be protected against physical and psychological violence (2015), to name just two aspects.
On the political front, the record is much less rosy. Coming with the firm desire to “bring back peace” after a decade of intense security crisis, Bouteflika had been the architect of a national reconciliation that has rehabilitated blood-stained Islamists by ignoring a work of memory and forgiveness indispensable after such a national tragedy. Thousands of families of victims of armed violence and missing persons are forced to silence and indignity.
He is also the president of the disastrous management of the Kabylie (2001) crisis, when 130 civilians were killed by the local police with the utter impunity.
Under his rule, civil society and political parties had been considerably weakened by increasingly restrictive laws to the point where they no longer have a significant part to play on the political scene.
Bouteflika was especially the president who dared touch the Constitution in 2008, allowing himself to run for a third term, thus ushering in an era of constitutional illegitimacy.
On the economic level, despite a period of great improvement in hydrocarbon prices, Algeria has not been put on the track of development. Even worse, the Bouteflika period is definitely marked by major corruption scandals involving personalities very close to him. It has also been a period of pharaonic projects the usefulness of which had been widely contested. One thinks in particular of the big Mosque of Algiers.
Today, Bouteflika is a very sick person whose image of a president hanging on his chair did not fail to belittle the image of Algeria on an international scale. Thus, despite the positive points on the social level, it is clear that the overall record is disastrous.