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Algerians believe the ailing President Bouteflika is not running the country

Algeria’s President Bouteflika is going, but that’s not enough for protesters

Weeks of protests in Algeria have pushed long-time leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika to drop his plans of running for a fifth term as president. However, he remains in office and protests have continued, with calls for him to resign immediately. The BBC’s Ahmed Rouaba looks at what might happens next in the country.

The significance of Mr Bouteflika’s resignation cannot be understated. He has been in power since 1999, so almost half of the country’s young population have only known him as president.

So is this a defeat for the regime?

There is no doubt that this is the end of Mr Bouteflika. A senior party figure in the ruling party, Hocine Kheldoun, said in a TV interview on Thursday that the long-serving leader was “history now”.

But many Algerians believe that the octogenarian’s health has declined to such an extent that he is just being used as a front by the murky group of businessmen, politicians and military officials, known as “le pouvoir” (the power) who don’t want to give up their influence.

This group dominates the National Liberation Front (FLN), which has governed Algeria since independence from France in 1962.

So the protesters see the concessions as a ruse to avoid far-reaching reform.

The new Prime Minister Nouredine Bedoui, a close ally of Mr Bouteflika, has been tasked with bringing about political reforms until new presidential elections are held.

His government is also expected to organise a national conference, but no dates have been given for either the elections or the conference.

And for the moment, Mr Bouteflika remains in office.

One of the protesters’ new slogans is: “We wanted elections without Bouteflika, we were given Bouteflika without elections.”

Is Bouteflika still in charge?

His supporters say the 82-year-old leader is “mentally and intellectually” capable of running the country.

However, since suffering a stroke in 2013 he has rarely been seen in public and does not travel around the country or abroad, except for medical treatment.

His aides represent him at events and read his messages to the public.

He was not physically present at the constitutional council to submit his paperwork run for his fifth term as required by the law.

And the announcement that he was not standing was read on his behalf by a newsreader on national TV.

Some say his brother Saeed is making key decisions for him, although the reality is much more complicated. Saeed is at the head of one of the groups which make up “le pouvoir”.

Why is it so hard to find another candidate?

A veteran of Algeria’s war of independence, Mr Bouteflika’s upper-class, Westernised style led him to be called “the dandy diplomat” in some quarters.

He came into office, backed by the army, after the 1990s civil war and was largely viewed as a unifier of the many factions underpinning Algerian politics.

Unlike some leaders in the region, his presidency survived the protests of the Arab Spring in 2011 – until now.

Mr Bouteflika has been the pivot, or the balance, in the patronage created by “le pouvoir” – a system of rule which gives power to a small privileged group. He has been key to making this complicated and conflicted system work.

It is unclear what would happen in the country if the cog for the past 20 years is removed.

And this is why it has been so hard to find an alternative.


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