Algerians celebrate Bouteflika departure but remain vigilant

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seen at a polling station, 23 November 2017.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seen at a polling station, 23 November 2017. AFP/RYAD KRAMDI

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is to resign before his mandate expires on 28 April, according to his office. The president will take "steps to ensure state institutions continue to function during the transition period," said the statement carried by the official APS news agency.


"It is a first victory, but it is not over," says Zoheir Rouis, secretary general of the liberal Jil Jadid (New Generation) opposition party.

"The voice of the people has been heard," he told RFI following weeks of mass protests. "Now we must go further."

On Monday night, Bouteflika's office announced that he would resign before the end of his term on 28 April after a succession of loyalists deserted him, ending his 20-year rule.

Last week, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah called for the ailing president to be declared unfit to rule.

The 82-year-old survived the Arab Spring uprisings that toppled other leaders in the region, but failed to quell public anger over his bid for a fifth term in office.

"For the first time, we saw hundreds of Algerian women leading the protests, something unheard of," comments Abdelali Rezzaki, a professor at the University of Algiers.

All must go

"Algerians are tired of the system and want new political figures," he told RFI.

A point of view shared by Rouis. "The end goal is to establish a country that protects the rule of law. To achieve that, we need a transition period," he said.

On Sunday night, Algerian national television announced that Bouteflika and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui had named a new government, and that it would keep General Ahmed Gaed Salah as the army chief of staff and vice defense minister.

"The risk is that we kick out Bouteflika but keep the old regime intact," warns Rouis.

"Algerians want the the system to be dismantled and for corruption to be tackled," says for his part professor Rezzaki.

Demise of a peacemaker

Dubbed Boutef by Algerians, Bouteflika had helped foster peace after a decade-long civil war in the North African country in the 1990s, which killed nearly 200,000 people.

"I am the whole of Algeria. I am the embodiment of the Algerian people," he said in 1999, the year he became president.

But in recent years, Bouteflika has had a history of medical problems. A stroke in 2013 affected his mobility and speech, and he has used a wheelchair ever since. He is rarely seen or heard in public.

He has also faced criticism from rights groups and opponents who accuse him of being authoritarian.

"The road ahead will be long, but this first victory has at least shown to Algerians and the whole world, that regime change is possible," said Rouis.

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