Algeria’s Bouteflika languishes at home a year after his fall

Bouteflika's isolation has not stopped some public figures demanding he face justice for the corruption that infected the country during his 20 years in power. (File/AFP)
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Updated 01 April 2020

Algeria’s Bouteflika languishes at home a year after his fall

  • Bouteflika assumed the presidency in 1999, reigning omnipresent over Algeria's political life until a stroke rendered him largely invisible in 2013
  • Since he resigned under pressure from protesters and the military in April 2019, the public has heard nothing from him

ALGIERS: A year after the unexpected downfall of Algeria's longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the ailing octogenarian remains holed up in his plush and medically adapted home, with his detractors still demanding justice.
Bouteflika assumed the presidency in 1999, reigning omnipresent over Algeria's political life until a stroke rendered him largely invisible in 2013.
Since he resigned under pressure from protesters and the military in April 2019, the public has heard nothing from him.
His last appearance was on April 2 last year, when he spoke on television to announce the end of his rule.
His downfall had become inevitable after weeks of massive protests that followed his declaration early last year that he would run for a fifth term. Eventually the army, then led by Ahmed Gaid Salah, cut him loose.
Since then the former leader, who turned 83 in March, has only rarely left his coastal home in the capital.
"He lives surrounded by his sister and a medical team," a source close to his entourage told AFP.
Bouteflika continues to "enjoy all the privileges" befitting his rank as a former leader, according to Mohamed Hennad, a former political science professor at the University of Algiers.
But virtually nothing is known about his daily life.
"He receives few visits. He is confined to his wheelchair and remains virtually speechless," said Algerian journalist Farid Alilat in an interview last month with Le Point newspaper.
"However he is aware of everything that is happening in Algeria," Alilat added.
Bouteflika's isolation has not stopped some public figures demanding he face justice for the corruption that infected the country during his 20 years in power.
Algerians can never turn the page on the Bouteflika years unless he is tried for the painful damage inflicted by his rule, said Hennad, who is now an analyst close to the "Hirak" protest movement that forced Bouteflika from power.
Algeria's judiciary has since Bouteflika's fall prosecuted and in some cases imprisoned a slew of former politicians and influential businessmen for abusing their privileges and links to the ex-president's clan.
Nacer Djabi, a prominent sociologist, argues the former head of state should appear in court -- "even symbolically" -- as recent cases have portrayed him as "the godfather of corruption".
"He shouldn't escape punishment. That's a demand of Algerians who have discovered with horror the extent of the damage caused by this man and his family," Djabi told AFP.
Abdelaziz Rahabi, a former diplomat and one-time minister in the first Bouteflika government who went on to become an opponent, also called for his prosecution.
The former president "has a responsibility for the corruption. He covered it up," Rahabi said in a television interview.
"A judgement would be symbolic," he said, stopping short of calling for Bouteflika's imprisonment in light of his poor health.
On the other hand, the ex-president's brother Said Bouteflika -- an influential adviser considered the real holder of power in the country during his tenure -- is languishing in prison.
Said Bouteflika was in September last year sentenced to 15 years in jail for plotting against the army and the state, a sentence that was confirmed on appeal in February.
Algerians have clearly moved on from Bouteflika's rule, according to political scientist Hasni Abidi.
But "they have the sentiment that while the man is gone, the bad practices persist and the system that made Bouteflika what he was remains in place," he said.
The same followers and cronies "are ready to cluster around a new patron, reproducing the same network in an undemocratic system," Abidi added.
A reinforcement of the status quo is the Hirak movement's main fear.
Protests have been suspended in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, but Hirak supporters vow to continue their struggle, in order to overhaul the entire ruling system that has been in place since Algeria's independence in 1962.


Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

Updated 29 May 2020

Lebanese MPs fail to reach agreement on draft amnesty law

  • The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Parliament on Thursday failed to approve a draft law on general amnesty, after tensions rose during a vote and the Future Movement, led by former prime minister Saad Hariri, walked out of the legislative session.

“They want to bring us back to square one,” he said. “Every party has its own arguments, as if they want to score points.”

The Free Patriotic Movement tried to amend the law by excluding “perpetrators of crimes against public funds and terrorist crimes” from the amnesty. Minister of Justice Marie Claude Najm, who is affiliated with the FPM, asked for “amendments to the draft law so that it does not include those accused of tax evasion and violating maritime property.”

The draft law was referred to the parliament despite disagreements between parliamentary committees over the basic issue of who should and should not be included in the amnesty. The former government, led by Hariri, proposed a general amnesty law before it resigned last October in the face of mounting pressure resulting from public protests.

There were a number of protests during the legislative session, some opposing the adoption of the law entirely, while others were directed at specific provisions within it.

The draft law includes an amnesty for about 1,200 Sunni convicts, 700 of whom are Lebanese. Some are accused of killing soldiers in the Lebanese Army, possessing, transporting or using explosives, kidnap and participating in bombings.

It was also covers about 6,000 Lebanese Christians, most of whom fled to Israel following the withdrawal of occupying Israeli soldiers from southern Lebanon in 2000, as well as nearly 30,000 people from the Bekaa region, the majority of whom are from the Shiite community and wanted for drug trafficking, drug abuse, murder, kidnap, robbery and other crimes.

Hezbollah appeared to agree to a pardon for entering Israel, but object to a pardon for anyone who worked or communicated with the enemy or acquired Israeli citizenship.

Before the session, the Lebanese Order of Physicians highlighted overcrowding in Lebanese prisons, and this health risk this poses during COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are 20 prisons for men, four for women and one juvenile prison holding a total of 8,300 inmates, 57 percent of whom are in the Roumieh Central Prison,” the LOP said. It added that 57 percent of prisoners are Lebanese and 23 percent are Syrian, one third have been convicted while the rest are awaiting trial, and the overcrowding is so bad each prisoner has the equivalent of only one square meter of space. The organization described the situation as “a time bomb that must be avoided.”

In other business during the session, as part of anticorruption reforms required as a condition for receiving international economic aid, the Parliament approved a law to increase transparency in the banking sector, with responsibility for this resting with the Investigation Authority of the Lebanese Central Bank and the Anti-Corruption Commission.

It also endorsed a draft law to create a mechanism for top-level appointments in public administrations, centers and institutions. An amendment was added to prevent ministers from changing or adding candidates for the position of director general. The FPM opposed this, while Hezbollah and the Lebanese Forces voted in favor. Hariri accused the FPM of having a “desire to possess the entire country.”

MPs rejected a draft law to allow Lebanon to join the International Organization for Migration because, said MP Gebran Bassil, “it’s unconstitutional and facilitates the accession, integration and settlement process.” Lebanon hosts about 200,000 Palestinian and a million Syrian refugees.

The session sparked a wave of street protests. Some of them, led by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Lebanese Communist Party, opposed the approval of a general amnesty that includes those who fled to Israel.

Protesters burned the Israeli flag in Sidon in protest against a law that “affects Israeli agents who sold their land, fought their people, and plotted against them.” They set up a symbolic gallows on which they wrote: “This is the fate of Zionist agents who fled execution.”

Others, including the families of Muslim detainees, staged demonstrations in support of the amnesty.