Bouteflika, Abdelaziz (1937–)

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Bouteflika, Abdelaziz

Abdelaziz Bouteflika ('Abd al-Aziz Butafliqa, Boutaflika) is one of the most prominent statesmen in the history of postcolonial Algeria. During the War of Liberation from French rule (1954–1962), he joined the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN; National Liberation Front) and served in the Armée de Libération Nationale (ALN; National Liberation Army). After Algeria attained independence, Bouteflika distinguished himself as his country's foreign minister from 1963 to 1979. Subsequently accused of corruption, he endured a self-imposed exile from 1982 to 1987. Eventually charges were dropped and Bouteflika resumed a political career. He was elected president in 1999 and reelected in 2004.


Bouteflika was born in Oujda, Morocco, on 2 March 1937. His family had migrated from Tlemcen, Algeria. Bouteflika received a secondary education in Morocco before joining the FLN, which had initiated Algeria's War of Liberation against France in November 1954. Enlisting in the ALN in western Algeria, he rose to the rank of major and served on the general staff under the command of Colonel Houari Boumédienne. As a confidant of Boumédienne's, Bouteflika was entrusted in 1961 with gauging the support of imprisoned FLN leaders in Aulnoy, France, as a power struggle loomed between the general staff and the civilian Gouvernement Provisoire de la République Algérienne (GPRA; Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic). After Algeria attained independence in July 1962, Bouteflika sided with the Bureau Politique (Political Bureau) led by Ahmed Ben Bella, one of the ex-Aulnoy detainees, and Boumédienne. The General Staff supported the Bureau Politique rather than the GPRA, although some units of the ALN continued to serve and defend the GPRA. The Bureau Politique overpowered the GPRA after a brief conflict. Bouteflika was subsequently elected a representative from Tlemcen to the National Constituent Assembly.

Ben Bella became prime minister in September 1962 and selected Bouteflika to be his minister of youth, sports, and tourism. After the assassination of Mohamed Khemisti in 1963, Bouteflika accepted the foreign affairs portfolio. As foreign minister, he dealt with the repercussions of the nationalization of abandoned French lands and properties. In 1964 Bouteflika began difficult negotiations regarding the future of French oil concessions in the Sahara. In addition, he was also involved in another pressing issue, the disputed border with Morocco, which provoked the brief "War of the Sands" in late 1963. The Organization of African Unity (OAU; today's African Union or AU) mediated a cease-fire, but the frontier's demarcation remained unresolved.

Concurrently, relations worsened between President Ben Bella (elected in 1963) and Vice President and Minister of Defense Boumédienne. Apprehensive of his rival's mounting ambitions, Ben Bella decided to purge Boumédienne's allies in his government. The president's attempt to remove Bouteflika contributed to inciting Boumédienne's coup in June 1965 that deposed Ben Bella. Bouteflika retained his position as foreign minister and sat as a civilian on the military-dominated Council of the Revolution chaired by Boumédienne.

After the Coup

The coup occurred on the eve of a scheduled African-Asian conference (Bandung II) in Algiers, which consequently did not take place. In July 1965, however, the innovative Algiers Accords regarding hydrocarbons were signed with France. Although the stipulations preserved French concessions, Algeria received significantly higher royalties than other oil producers. In addition, France pledged joint cooperation in the hydrocarbons sector as well as investment in Algeria's industrialization.

From 1965 to 1971, Bouteflika dealt with a variety of international issues including the severing of relations with Washington as a result of the Arab-Israeli War of 1967 (relations were restored in 1974). Algeria also championed and identified with liberation movements such as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In particular, Algeria asserted itself in the anticolonial and anti-imperialist Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). In October 1967, Bouteflika welcomed the first ministerial conference of the Group of 77, an organization of developing countries, in Algiers. Boumédienne hosted a summit of leaders of developing nations in September 1973. This meeting led to the convening of the Sixth Special Session of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in April 1974 and the framing of the Declaration on a New International Economic Order (NIEO). Given Bouteflika's significant involvement in these proceedings, he was elected president of the General Assembly for 1974–1975. In addition, he presided over the Seventh Special Session of the General Assembly in September 1975.

Bouteflika again engaged the French in hydrocarbons negotiations from 1969 to 1971, which inevitably encompassed the entire postcolonial relationship. When President Boumédienne nationalized the French concessions in the Sahara in February 1971, Bouteflika feared that the whole relationship would be jeopardized. However, after his cordial discussions in Paris in July 1973, relations improved significantly, as highlighted by President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's visit to Algeria in April 1975. Nevertheless, continuing trade imbalances, emigrant worker issues, and France's support of Morocco and Mauritania regarding Spanish (Western) Sahara extinguished the hope of reinstating a privileged relationship.


Name: Abdelaziz Bouteflika ('Abd al-Aziz Butafliqa, Boutaflika)

Birth: 1937, Oujda, Morocco

Family: Wife, Amal Triki wife (m. 1990); no children

Nationality: Algerian

Education: Secondary school


  • 1960: Promoted to general staff of the ALN
  • 1962–1963: Minister of Youth, Sports, and Tourism
  • 1963–1979: Minister of foreign affairs
  • 1965–1979: Member of Council of the Revolution
  • 1974: President of the 29th United Nations General Assembly
  • 1975: President, Seventh Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly
  • 1979: Counselor to the president
  • 1981: Removed from Political Bureau and Central Committee of the FLN
  • 1982–1987: Self-imposed exile
  • 1994: Refuses to be considered for president
  • 1999: Elected president of Algeria
  • 2004: Reelected president
  • 2005: Algerians approve Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation

The decolonization, or more accurately, the "deadministration" of Spanish Sahara caught Algeria unprepared. The tripartite Madrid Accords of November 1975 excluded Algeria as Spain agreed to the partition of Spanish Sahara between Morocco and Mauritania. In turn, Algeria supported and supplied the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el Hamra y Río de Oro (POLISARIO; Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Río de Oro), the Saharawi nationalist organization. When Algeria recognized the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976, Morocco broke relations (they were restored in 1988).

In December 1978, President Boumédienne died from a rare blood disease. Observers assumed that Bouteflika would succeed his political mentor, but the FLN was rife with rivalry. The party and the military finally agreed on a compromise candidate and successor, Chadli Benjedid. Bouteflika was awarded the title of "counselor to the president," but he exercised little power or influence. In 1981 a government accounting office contended that Bouteflika had mismanaged foreign ministry allocations, eventually estimated to be 60 million dinars (US$12 million). By the end of the year, Bouteflika was expelled from the FLN's Political Bureau and Central Committee. He left Algeria in 1982 for a self-imposed exile. During his exile in Paris, Geneva, and Abu Dhabi, Bouteflika reputedly became very wealthy as a political and economic consultant brokering transactions between European and United Arab Emirates enterprises.

Return from Exile

Notwithstanding his success in the business world, Bouteflika persuaded President Benjedid to permit him to return to Algeria in 1987. The charges against Bouteflika eventually were dropped. His gradual political rehabilitation was marked by his reinstatement to the FLN's Central Committee. However, the party was discredited by the violent October 1988 riots. Bouteflika signed the "Motion of 18," a document condemning the severe suppression of the riots and signaling the fragmentation of the FLN. The destabilization of the government led to the liberalization of the Algerian political system. Bouteflika campaigned for FLN candidates, although the party fared poorly in local (June 1990) and national (December 1991) elections. Instead, the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS; Islamic Salvation Front) emerged victorious. Before the second round of national elections, which would have brought the FIS to power, alarmed military and civilian elites (members of the "Pouvoir" or power establishment) overthrew President Benjedid's government in January 1992. Subsequently, Islamists were arrested, while others took up arms. Algeria began its dark decade of insurgency and civil strife (fitna) that cost approximately 150,000 to 200,000 lives.

As the violence escalated, Bouteflika did not play a public political role, but he remained a presence. The interim ruling Haut Comité d'Etat (HCE; High Committee [Council] of State) considered Bouteflika as a presidential candidate in 1994, but he declined. The HCE then appointed Liamine Zeroual as president. After impressively winning the elections of November 1995, Zeroual began a "redemocratization" of Algeria and inaugurated new political institutions such as a bicameral legislature. Nevertheless, the Pouvoir was divided between the conciliators, those who wanted to open discussions with the insurgent Islamists, and the eradicators, those who wanted the rebels eliminated. Furthermore, the raging brutality alienated the world community. In September 1998 Zeroual announced that for reasons of health he would leave the presidency before the end of his five-year term.

The Pouvoir (principally the army) approached Bouteflika and persuaded him to run for president. He accepted and was immediately considered the power establishment's candidate. A day before the April 1999 elections, Bouteflika's six opponents withdrew, citing voting fraud within the military (traditionally allowed to vote earlier). Although Bouteflika won by default (officially receiving 73.79 percent of the vote), the elections tarnished his image and that of his government. He worked quickly to alter this public impression by offering a "Civil Concord" initiative, which offered amnesty to Islamic insurgents willing to turn in their weapons. A national referendum was held in September that asked: "Do you agree with the president's approach to restoring peace and civil concord?" With 85 percent of the voters participating, the referendum received a 98 percent affirmative vote. Although Islamists remained in the field, the FIS's Armée Islamique du Salut (AIS; Islamic Salvation Army) dissolved itself. Furthermore, unlike the April elections, the referendum served to legitimize Bouteflika's presidency. The referendum was an important step toward national reconciliation as violence waned in the tormented country.

Bouteflika as President

Bouteflika especially exploited his knowledge of foreign affairs to strengthen his presidency and his independence from the military. As interim president of the OAU, he hosted a summit of African leaders. Then in December 2000, he helped negotiate the end of the border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Along with presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Bouteflika inaugurated the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). He was the first Algerian president to attend a Franco-African summit, held in Yaoundé, Cameroon, in 2001; traditionally, Algerian leaders had refused to participate in such affairs.

The relationship with France improved rapidly. President Jacques Chirac accorded Bouteflika a state visit to France in June 2000. The Algerian president spoke before the National Assembly and at the World War I battlefield in Verdun, where many Algerians had lost their lives. In March 2003, Bouteflika reciprocated and Chirac received a very warm welcome in Algeria. Once again the relationship was again seemingly headed toward a privileged level. Indeed, 2003 was celebrated throughout France as the "Year of Algeria" and featured numerous cultural events. Nevertheless, in February 2005, the French Parliament passed legislation that urged educators to teach the "positive" aspects of colonialism. This act provoked a sharp Algerian response. As Algeria commemorated the sixtieth anniversary of the Sétif Revolt of 1945, an incident in which thousands of Algerians were killed by colonial forces after a nationalist demonstration, Bouteflika demanded a French apology for colonial abuses and atrocities in Algeria. Despite these recent problems, the two governments share a pragmatic understanding of the practical importance of the bilateral relationship.

Under Bouteflika, the United States became an important political, military, and economic partner. Algeria was among the first nations to express sympathy and solidarity after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., and emerged as an increasingly strategic partner in the War on Terror. The American and Algerian military have also participated in joint maneuvers. In 2004 the United States became Algeria's principal trading partner, importing large volumes of hydrocarbons.

Not surprisingly, Bouteflika also addressed Mediterranean and Maghrebi affairs. An Association Agreement was signed with the European Union in 2001. Bouteflika cemented strong relations with Italy and Spain, two important natural gas importers, the latter especially politically important regarding Western Sahara. Bouteflika hosted the Arab League summit meeting in March 2005 and met briefly with Morocco's King Muhammad VI. Their conversations were not enough to break the bilateral deadlock over Western Sahara, as Algeria remains a supporter of the SADR. It is generally understood that the Algerian government pressured the Sahrawis to agree to the UN-sponsored "Baker Plan" proposal in 2003. Morocco adamantly refused to subscribe to it.

The greatest threat to Bouteflika's presidency occurred in the spring of 2001 when a Kabyle (Berber) youth died in April while in police custody. The Kabyle are the most numerous Berber tribe in Algeria and have been especially resistant to postcolonial Algerian policies of Arabization. This death led to violent protests leaving over one hundred dead. News reports claimed that Bouteflika considered resigning. The Berbers presented the Kseur Platform, which called for economic development and increased political and civil rights, demands that resonated throughout Algeria. Bouteflika's government met with Kabyle leaders and in 2002 recognized Tamazight, the Berber language, as a national, though not official, language.

Bouteflika also promoted the resurgence of the FLN as a dominant political party. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Ali Benflis, the FLN won local and parliamentary elections in 2002. Benflis also had presidential aspirations, which eventually split the party between his supporters and Bouteflika's. However, the April 2004 elections resulted in a landslide victory for Bouteflika over Benflis and four other candidates. The size of the mandate (85 percent with 58 percent of eligible voters participating) was unexpected and impressive.

In October 2004 Bouteflika proposed another step toward reconciliation. He presented the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation in August 2005. Like the Civil Concord initiative, the charter hoped to draw remaining Islamic insurgents from the field, especially those belonging to the Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (GSPC; the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat), which is ideologically aligned with al-Qa0027;ida and is now called "al-Qa'ida in the Maghreb." In September 2005, with 79.76 percent of the voters participating, the charter achieved a 97.35 percent endorsement. Its effect has been mixed, although Islamists have been released from prison and others have given up their arms.

In November 2005 Bouteflika was hospitalized for surgery in France. He resumed his schedule about five weeks later, but his illness raised questions about his health and succession. A planned revision of the constitution of 1996, designed to increase presidential power, was to have been put to a national vote in 2006, but the referendum was postponed.


Bouteflika was profoundly influenced by Algeria's decolonization struggle. During the War of Liberation, he became protégé of Boumédienne, the major influence of his political career. Under Ben Bella, but especially under Boumédienne and Bouteflika, Algeria pursued "postcolonial decolonization," the removal of neocolonial interests from Algeria (one step toward this goal was the nationalization of French oil concerns in February 1971) and developing nations as well as support for liberation movements. The French legislation of February 2005 and the struggle in Western Sahara exemplify, from Bouteflika's perspective, incomplete decolonization.

Critics claim that during Bouteflika's tenure as foreign minister, Boumédienne, not he, was the true architect of Algerian foreign policy. Nevertheless, that policy's implementation intimately involved Bouteflika, as evinced by his negotiations with the French and leadership in the NAM and NIEO movements. As foreign minister, Bouteflika personified Algeria's international engagement as he effectively represented his country in numerous international meetings. Furthermore, he developed an impressive corps of diplomats, including future prime ministers Redha Malek and Ahmed Ouyahia as well as prominent UN negotiators Ahmed Sahnoun and Lakhdar Brahimi.

As president, Bouteflika has restored Algeria's international presence. He has participated in G8 meetings and has tried to ameliorate differences within the Arab League. He has also attempted to develop a cordial relationship with Morocco. Furthermore, because of his success in foreign affairs, Bouteflika has reduced the army's political influence, a major achievement. He also moderated the patriarchal Family Code of 1984, although not to the extent desired by feminists. In contrast, as indicated by the proposed constitutional amendment, Bouteflika aims to further strengthen the presidency at the expense of other branches of government. He believes that "security and order" must first be established before democracy can flourish.

Bouteflika's presidency has elevated Algeria's international profile, but national reconciliation remains unachieved. The decline of violence can be attributed, in part, to Bouteflika's Civil Concord and Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation referenda and legislation. Despite his conciliatory endeavors, it is unlikely that Bouteflika will allow transparency regarding the causes, course, and consequences of the civil strife, since it risks repoliticizing the military while raising expectations that are unlikely to be allowed to be met. Nevertheless, national reconciliation needs to be openly addressed as a means to enhance the development of a democratic civil society. An exclusive rather than inclusive reconciliation also poses political perils.

Under Bouteflika, the Algerian economy has benefited from rising hydrocarbon prices. He has offered an ambitious program to address multiple issues such as chronic unemployment, services, and infrastructure. In part, his presidency will be judged upon his efforts to improve the social condition of the Algerian people as well as in reforming and diversifying an overwhelmingly hydrocarbons-based economy.


Civil and human rights organizations have criticized Bouteflika's antidemocratic tendencies, as illustrated by the planned referendum to amend the constitution. In addition, his government has targeted the press and jailed journalists. There were few opportunities for public debate regarding the Civil Concord and Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation. In general, however, Bouteflika's statesmanship is highly regarded, and he is given credit internationally for securing internal stability, despite occasional outbreaks of violence (e.g., the shocking bombings in Algiers on 11 April 2007 perpetrated by al-Qa'ida in the Maghreb (ex-GSPC), which killed thirty-three and wounded fifty-four.


Ali Benflis (1945–) was minister of justice from 1989 to 1991. He managed Bouteflika's presidential campaign in 1999 and was appointed prime minister in 2000. Benflis became secretary general of the FLN in 2001 and led that party's remarkable political resurgence. His political ambitions rivaled Bouteflika's, who dismissed him as prime minister. Benflis ran for president but received only 6.4 percent of the vote in the presidential elections of 2004. Consequently, Benflis resigned as the FLN's secretary general.

Abdelaziz Belkhadem (1945–) served as foreign minister under Bouteflika from 2000 to 2005. He organized opposition to Benflis within the FLN and succeeded him as secretary general. In May 2006 Belkhadem was appointed prime minister. A devout Muslim, Belkhadem has the respect of Islamists and seems strategically positioned within the Pouvoir to succeed Bouteflika.


The text of the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation stated that the civil strife, or fitna, was a "pseudo-jihad." It praised government forces against the Islamic insurgents. Alternatively, it offered amnesty to insurgents still in the field and to Islamists in exile. Critics contend that the charter is too conciliatory toward Islamists, or that the charter offers a blanket amnesty to state forces. The families of the many "disappeared" are unsatisfied. The lack of transparency, such as could be provided by a "truth and reconciliation" process akin to that in South Africa, is also a common criticism. To many observers, the charter proposes that Algerians forgive and forget rather than conscientiously investigate culpability, which would be a more effective means of realizing national reconciliation.


Bouteflika's legacy will be identified with his activism as foreign minister and his efforts as president to restore Algeria's international image and promote national reconciliation. He will also be credited with asserting civilian government. In contrast, his growing authoritarianism risks his positive achievements as an effective and enterprising postcolonial leader. The efficacy of his social and economic policies will also measure the success of his presidency.


Benchicou, Mohamed. Bouteflika: une imposture algérienne. Paris: Jean Picollec, 2004.

Grimaud, Nicole. La politique extérieure de l'Algérie. Paris: Karthala, 1984.

Mortimer, Robert. "State and Army in Algeria: The 'Bouteflika Effect.'" Journal of North African Studies 22, no. 2 (June 2006): 155-172.

Naylor, Phillip C. The Historical Dictionary of Algeria. 3rd ed. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2006.

                                                  Phillip Naylor

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Bouteflika, Abdelaziz (1937–)

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