Algiers – The Algerian president Abdul Aziz Bouteflika celebrates his 80th birthday on Thursday, amid new questions about his health and his ability to run the country especially that it has been months since his last public appearance.
Bouteflika was scheduled to host German Chancellor Angela Merkel on February 20 for a two-day visit centered on curbing North African migration to Europe, but that visit was canceled at the last minute.
Merkel’s plane was set to take off from Berlinand and the airport in Algiers was prepared to receive a foreign head of state when the abrupt notice came that Bouteflika had severe bronchitis.
Political analyst and political science professor at University of Algiers Ahmed Othaimi said that the president hadn’t delivered any speeches since 2012. He wondered if any one still believes that this position is empty.
Othaimi was referring to the speech Bouteflika gave before Algerian youths in May 2012 during which he said he will leave office at the end of his third term in 2014.
Bouteflika stated then that his generation’s time is over, and said it repeatedly. He did however surprise everyone when he ran again for presidency for a fourth term, which he won without even campaigning due to his illness.
After he won, Bouteflika was so ill he couldn’t say the full presidential oath and resorted to reciting few paragraphs.
Since then, the president’s appearances were very rare and limited to national occasions or when receiving foreign officials. Yet, the state television continues to mention the president in its daily news through messages and speeches attributed to him.
Bouteflika health issues span over ten years where he was forced to stay in hospital for long periods of time.
In 2005, he traveled to France for medical care and in 2013 he suffered from a stroke where he traveled outside of Algeria for 88 days. He returned after that on a wheel chair unable to walk and with a difficulty to deliver a speech. The opposition then declared the presidential post empty and called for elections.
But, the elections occurred on time and the results came responding to all those who had their doubts regarding the president’s health. He made major changes in several intelligence and military positions.
On February 20, the presidential palace announced that Bouteflika suffered from severe bronchitis, thus he wasn’t able to receive Merkel. A week later, Sec-Gen of National Liberation Front declared that the president is fine and doing well now.
Media professor at University of Algiers, Radwan Bou Jomaa said that Bouteflika’s sickness is not an issue as he is part of an ailing system. He stated that the real issue is not changing the president, but changing the whole system.
This brings up the issue of the reality of the president’s health and how the government is functioning especially that all executive authorities are within his jurisdictions.
Othaimi believes that there are certain groups of which each monopolizes a sector.
Algerian press mentioned a crisis between the president’s brother and advisor Said Bouteflika and chief of staff Qayed Saleh. Military institution denied those rumors saying they are fabricated stories.
Bou Jomaa believes that the solution should only come from within the regime. He said that the army is the only power that managed to remain united amid a rotting and mysterious political atmosphere.
Public worker Jamal, 44, denies those allegations saying that the president has done a lot of achievements and given the country so much. He said it doesn’t matter whether he can talk or walk as long as he can do his job and everyone can see the results.