A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, April 29, 2013

Will Bouteflika's "Mini-Stroke" Dampen Talk of a Fourth Term?

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika suffered a "mini-stroke" or transient ischemic attack (TIA) on Saturday and is recovering in a Paris hospital,  with official statements insisting there is no permanent damage and he is recovering well. Such attacks are, however, sometimes called "warning strokes," and may be early warnings of a more serious attack. a TIA stems from a temporary blockage in a blood vessel.

Bouteflika's health has long been a subject of rumor. He periodically has been hospitalized in France, amid rumors of stomach cancer or something similar, always denied. On the Internet, where one's mortality rate can easily exceed 100% and Husni Mubarak has died many times (Husni Mubarak dies about once a year), Bouteflka has died occasionally, most recently last September.

Joking and rumors aside and without questioning the official claims that there is no permanent damage, this event may have an impact over the debate over a possible fourth term for the 76-year-old President.

Bouteflika has not officially declared for a fourth term, and some reports suggest he doesn't want one, and he has also said it's time for a new generation, but there are elements in the FLN party pushing for a  fourth term, and Bouteflika has not ruled that out. Elections are due in April 2014, a year from now.

There is a widespread if unproven belief that the powerful military and intelligence services,, whose influence has been curtailed under Bouteflika, oppose a fourth term because they fear that Bouteflika's extended family, including his brother and his family, are seeking to succeed. (The unmarried Bouteflika has no children.) Opposition parties also oppose a fourth term. (Last time Bouteflika won 90% of the vote, but it's unlikely such improbable victories would be credible post-Arab Spring.)

The "mini-stroke" will at minimum give opponents of another term new ammunition; at most, it could rule out another term and open up a real political contest, at least within the establishment parties.

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