A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bouteflika's Health: Rumors and Denials

Nearly a month after Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika suffered a small stroke (excuse me, "transient ischemic attack," he remains out of the country and unseen in public. With Presidential elections due next year, the 76-year-old President's health remains a matter of speculation, especially since many expected him to seek a fourth term.

Now rumors are swirling, as are denials. Bouteflika has reportedly been moved from the Val-de-Grace military hospital in Paris to the Invalides Military hospital, but with his health unclear. A number of French publications have reported that he is in precarious health, possibly in a coma.

For the first time in some years two Algerian newspapers, Mon Journal and its Arabic version Djaridati, have  been censored and been blocked from publication for publishing the rumor that Bouteflika is in a coma and has returned to Algiers. Publisher Hichem  Aboud was quoted as saying:
“According to my sources -- I personally did not see anything,  but I have my sources, which I cross-check and verify -- the president is in Algeria,” Hichem Aboud, head of both newspapers, told FRANCE 24.
“My sources say that he’s neither in Geneva, Switzerland, nor in the Val-de-Grâce hospital in Paris. He is in Algeria. He arrived at dawn on Wednesday [May 15], after leaving Paris at 3am,” specified the former member of the military who now opposes the regime.
“His health is declining, which is why they transferred him to Algiers,” said Aboud. “The Val-de-Grâce hospital could no longer help. We’ve been told he’s in a deep coma that can go on for days or weeks. That is what we put in those two pages.”
The government denies these reports. Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sallal has said he is "improving every day," but his doctors have ordered a "complete rest."

Rumors about Bouteflika's health have persisted for years. After surgery for a gastric ulcer (officially) in France in 2005, rumors spread that he had stomach cancer, and this was denied; he subsequently won a third term.

He has not yet announced for a fourth term but so long as the issue is open his party allies are reluctant to declare their own candidacies.

Usually during past health crises, Bouteflika has taken pains to make a public appearance; when he was rumored on the Internet to have died in 2012, he was promptly shown on television meeting people. His absence from appearing even in photographs from the hospital after a month is doubtless fueling the rumors of a coma.

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