Algeria’s President Bouteflika says he will not stand for fifth term and postpones election

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika withdrew from a bid to win another term in office and postponed an April 18 election. (AP file photo)
Updated 12 March 2019

Algeria’s President Bouteflika says he will not stand for fifth term and postpones election

  • Algerians take to the streets in celebration
  • Former colonial power France on Monday welcomed the president’s decision

ALGIERS: Algeria’s ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced Monday he is dropping his bid for a fifth term in office, scrapping the upcoming elections altogether after weeks of protests against his candidacy.
“Peacefully, we have overthrown the puppet!” people sang in Algiers following the president’s decision.
Celebratory honking of car horns rang out in the city center, as Algerians waved their national flags on streets deserted by police.
“There will not be a fifth term” and “there will be no presidential election on April 18,” Bouteflika announced in a message carried by the official APS news agency.
The veteran leader said he was responding to “a pressing demand that you have been numerous in making to me.”
Demonstrations against Bouteflika’s bid for another term have brought tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets for each of the last three Fridays, with smaller demonstrations taking place on other days.
The president vowed “to hand over the duties and prerogatives of the president of the republic to the successor freely chosen by the Algerian people,” but gave no date for new elections.
In a broader political shake-up, interior minister Noureddine Bedoui replaced the unpopular Ahmed Ouyahia as prime minister and has been tasked with forming a new government, according to APS.
Bouteflika, whose rare public appearances since he suffered a stroke in 2013 have been in a wheelchair, returned to Algeria on Sunday after spending two weeks at a hospital in Switzerland.
Former colonial power France on Monday welcomed the president’s decision to not stand for a fifth term.
“France expresses its hope that a new dynamic that can answer the deep aspirations of the Algerian people will rapidly take hold,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
Although credited with helping foster peace after Algeria’s decade-long civil war, Bouteflika has faced criticism for alleged authoritarianism.
Fatiha Benabou, a constitutional rights expert at the University of Algiers, said there was “no legal basis to postpone the elections.”
“In the case of a political crisis, the Algerian constitution is partially ineffective,” she said.
Journalists, lawyers and students had taken part in protests against Bouteflika’s re-election bid, and on Monday barristers across the country joined the strike action.
They demanded the Constitutional Council reject the 82-year-old’s candidacy on grounds of his “incapacity” to carry out the role.
Bouteflika’s return from hospital in Geneva came as protest strikes Sunday shut down the capital’s public transport system and many schools across Algeria.
The president had left Algeria on February 24 for what the presidency described as “routine medical checks.”

Since the breakout of protests last month, Algeria’s army chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah, has pledged to guarantee national security and criticized those he said want to return to the “painful years” of the civil war of the 1990s.
Bouteflika became president in 1999, and he has clung on to power despite his ill health.
When the Arab Spring uprisings erupted across the Middle East and North Africa, Bouteflika’s regime smothered dissent and played on fears of a repeat of Algeria’s civil war.
His government lifted a 19-year state of emergency, granted pay rises and announced piecemeal political reforms.
But those reforms, announced in “a climate of fear,” were shelved once the situation was brought under control, a European diplomat said.
Little by little, Bouteflika returned the regime to its authoritarian ways.
He was elected for a fourth term in April 2014 with 81.5 percent of the vote, despite not campaigning.
Bouteflika has a history of medical problems and has often flown to France or Switzerland for treatment.


COVID-19 crisis puts regional health-care occupations in the limelight

Updated 21 min 48 sec ago

COVID-19 crisis puts regional health-care occupations in the limelight

  • Health care takes center stage as COVID-19 pandemic underscores importance of the sector
  • Middle East wakes up to the indispensability of doctors, nurses and other health professionals

DUBAI: With the coronavirus pandemic showing no sign of ebbing in the absence of a proven vaccine, the importance of medicine and related sciences to humankind’s continued existence and well-being has been underscored in dramatic fashion.

As the crisis pummels economies and upends the lives of millions of people by taking away their jobs, restricting their lifestyles and compromising their safety, the world is waking up to the indispensability of doctors, nurses, medical assistants and other health professionals.

For a relatively long period of time, the appeal of these professions had suffered as careers in finance, technology and management exerted a powerful grip on the popular imagination, including in the Arab world. Not anymore.

The pandemic has made unprecedented demands on health-care systems around the world and proved that some sectors of the economic system, namely health care, are essential in every sense of the word.

The increased requirements are not just for surviving the current health crisis, say economists and career counsellors, but also to prepare for a more secure future for humanity.

A strong indication of this realization was found in the mass tributes paid to doctors and other health-care providers during the early stages of lockdowns. From Rome to Dubai, people cheered and clapped from their balconies to express their gratitude and admiration.

Many front-line medical personnel in the Arab region have lost their lives in the line of duty. And more will probably contract the infection if a COVID-19 cure continues to elude researchers around the world.

A health worker prepares to perform nose swab tests during a drive through coronavirus test campaign held in Diriyah hospital in the Saudi capital Riyadh on May 7, 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AFP)

Referring to the global outpouring of appreciation for the medical fraternity, Hussein Shobokshi, Saudi businessman and commentator, said he was taken by surprise.

“For a while now, the field of medicine has not been in vogue. The glamor had moved to people on Wall Street, in accounting, finance, to bankers, lawyers and, to some degree, to engineers as well,” he told Arab News.

“Medicine was perceived as a tedious, expensive and taxing profession that stole your social life and made you pay a heavy price for it.”

Many people were not ready “to sacrifice all that for a tiny amount of returns. People didn’t look at it from a moral point of view,” he said. “They were looking at it from a financial perspective.”


In the future, Shobokshi believes, there will be a “revolution in terms of the demand for jobs in the medical field across the world” — the demand will be “massive.”

“The medical field is going to expand, and its definition, from a traditional, classical concept, is going to be reinvented, restructured and re-engineered,” he said.

Priya Babel, a career and education consultant, agrees, saying that the coronavirus crisis has brought about a new understanding both of the many job roles in medicine and health, and their importance in keeping society healthy.

THENUMBERS

Physicians to every 1,000 patients in population

- 2.6 in Saudi Arabia (2018)

- 0.5 in Egypt (2018)

- 2.3 in Jordan (2017)

(* World Bank)

People were reluctant to take up certain medical professions because they believed that “they were secondary to (the role of) a doctor, and not equally important,” but the pandemic has forced them to question their assumptions, said Babel, director of Dubai-based Uni Crest, an education and admissions consultancy.

“I feel that the shift in (careers in) medicine will be from treating the disease to a lifestyle-based approach. I am not saying there won’t be a demand for doctors, but there is also a great demand for physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and dietitians,” she told Arab News.

“A chest physiotherapist, for example, can teach people breathing techniques while they are being treated for COVID-19. When I say occupational therapists, I am also saying microbiologists because there is a lot of focus on treating the person, not just the disease. There are all these parallel science majors which have become as important, and I think people respect those equally.”


Biochemists, biologists and viral specialists will also be in demand, Babel said.

However, even if these professions find a place in the sun in the post-pandemic era, they have little chance of lessening doctors’ indispensability.

In the pre-pandemic era, the ratio of doctors to the population in the Arab region varied remarkably. According to World Bank data, the ratio of physicians to every 1,000 patients in the population was 2.6 in Saudi Arabia (2018), 0.5 in Egypt (2018), 2.5 in the UAE (2018), 2.3 in Jordan (2017) and 0.7 in Iraq (2018).

The challenges faced by health-care systems in the Arab world during the pandemic are mostly to do with the medical infrastructure’s capacity, measures to contain the spread of the infection and the timing of those measures.

A sharp imbalance between need and capacity developed as a result of a sudden increase in patient numbers, shortage of medical doctors and the lack of “the right equipment to treat patients,” said Babel.

Nurses and doctors pose at the temporary COVID-19 hospital built in downtown Dubai in the United Arabic Emirates after it was deactivated, on July 7, 2020. (AFP)

On an individual level, the pandemic has reinforced the importance of self-development in individuals, say experts. The extended lockdown has prompted many people to review their career choices, looking at what they need to do to support themselves in a future that will be very different from what they thought.

According to the experts, the increasing appeal in recent months of online courses in life-coaching, nutrition, meditation and well-being, to name a few, points to a shift in people’s thinking triggered by the pandemic.

The need to stay relevant in a post-COVID-19 job market is as popular a theme these days as is self-preservation through better management of stress and higher immunity levels.

“We will see more marriages between technology and medicine to ensure access to knowledge through apps, websites and webinars, simplifying the messages for the masses,” said Shobokshi.


In his view, the fight with COVID-19 has taught every nation that medicine is the new defense industry.

“For a long time, the Middle East in general — and I don’t discount any country in this statement — has been pouring money into arms and defense-related industries as a priority to secure their borders and skies, which were essential requirements,” said Shobokshi.

“However, the concept of the medical field as a defense mechanism, as we have seen in the COVID-19 experience, will lead to further investments in this sector.”  

Apart from channeling more investment into hospitals and medical centers, governments in the Arab world can “encourage recruitment of national and international talent to help fill the gaps,” he said.

Only time will tell if any of these post-COVID-19 scenarios will come to pass. What is certain, however, is that life after the pandemic will be different from before.

Even if a vaccine becomes available to combat COVID-19 in the coming months, the future is likely to be characterized by adaptability, fresh thinking and a renewed respect for the role of health-care professionals in keeping societies safe.

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@jumanaaltamimi