I barely knew anything about the world when President Houari Boumediene died. I realised the extent of this catastrophe when I saw my father holding his head between his hands, as we sat before the television and watched the funeral at the Alia Cemetery, which is only a few kilometres away from our house. My father wept as you made your speech at the funeral, wearing a dark coloured jacket and dark black sunglasses.
You were very stylish. My father seemed to be more shaken by your words than he was by the death of Boumediene. I will never forget that speech. I was fascinated by you, your skilful speaking abilities, and your beautiful language (I discovered over 20 years ago that, in fact, it was below average) and your name and face were etched in my mind.
You then disappeared from the radar of the boy I was. Then I saw you at the Palace of Nations in the Club of Pines during a conference for the National Liberation Front members during the second half of 1989, during which I was experiencing my early days as a journalist. On that day, you gave a speech in traditional Arabic (compared to the other attendees, whose Arabic was broken), in which you demanded justice and equality. You ended the speech by saying, "Have mercy on us; either keep us on equitable terms, or set us free with kindness". You dazzled me once again and took me back to your speech in Alia cemetery which is engraved in my mind.
In one of the Palace of Nations corridors, a small number of journalists, of whom I was a member, circled around Colonel Ahmed Ben Cherif, the gendarmerie commander and your companion in the Boumediene governments. He told us about a lot of things in politics and about leaders and officials, spontaneously and without reservation. Then he mentioned your name. He said you were the victim of an unfair pursuit after the death of Boumediene. He told us the story of how you were kicked out of a villa in Al-Abayar neighbourhood. According to him, your mother visited Ben Cherif, crying and begging him to do something and speak to President Chadli. I had believed Ben Cherif's stories about you than those about himself, despite the fact that both of your stories after the death of Boumediene were similar. I was even more amazed and impressed by you while my respec
t for the Colonel dropped because he was speaking irresponsibly.
You then disappeared, at least from my radars, until your name, not your face, came up in 1994. The news was that the ruling clique were negotiating with you over the post of president amidst pools of blood. It was said at the time that you were a stubborn negotiator who refused to concede any of your conditions, even if this would cause you to sacrifice the presidency. The price of your stubbornness was five more years of waiting. I do not know why my fascination with you began to wane. Perhaps it was the disappointment of you allowing yourself to become a military man.
We then reached the year 1999. The same ruling clique returned to negotiate with you once more over the presidency. You agreed on conditions and stipulations that only you and them know. No one else knows what you and them exchanged. While the entire world knew you were a military man, you were arrogant and claimed otherwise. That year, my fascination with you ended because I no longer saw anything that set you apart, because I felt (mistakenly?) that you put your personal interests ahead of your concern for Algeria.
You began first presidential term with energy that could move mountains and with confidence no different than arrogance. You charmed the Algerians (I was not among them). You made them cry and you made them cry. Only a few felt, or expected, at the time, that you did not yet heal after the death of Boumediene, and that you were determined to settle your accounts with history.
The decline began. The Constitution was mercilessly violated. You became the state and everything had to occur through "an initiative by you", under your guidance, wisdom, greatness, cleverness, and shrewdness. No one and nothing could move without you. Senior officials were useless and terrified of you. They honoured your posters and gave them medals and awards. You were present in absentia. Twenty years later, all the cities of the country revolted against you. Algerians burned your pictures in the street while others cheered. Some of them were infants and embryos when you became president in 1999. The Algerian people, or at least some of them, have never acted this way towards their president: they trusted Boumediene, tolerated Chadli, loved Boudiaf, pitied Kafi, and respected Zeroual. They did not burn or insult the pictures of any of them.
Friday, February 22nd was an expression of the end of something and the beginning of something else. That day is the date when fear was gone and the sanctity ended. Tens of thousands of Algerians screamed, with all their might, that they did not want Bouteflika. Bouteflika is no longer a man of consensus, neither in the streets nor amongst the ruling cliques. If this weren't so, all of Algeria would not have taken to the streets against him and the Algeria Press Service would not have broadcasted the protests. The people who instructed the security forces to be lenient with the demonstrations and to encourage them in some situations are the same people who ordered the APS to broadcast the news. February 22nd has nothing to do with your failure as president, but with the feelings of humiliation brought about by the news of your candidacy after you spent your fourth term in bed.
Only God knows if those who are surrounding you on your sick bed told you about the events taking place on Friday and afterwards. They and the other clowns of the National Liberation Front, the Democratic National Rally, and other factions are fighting for their own interests, not yours. They will rally around your successor as soon as you leave.
There was no need for you to bring yourself to this point. You could have withdrawn early and achieved much more than you sought to achieve by remaining for too long. If you had conceded presidency before today, you would have gone down in history and statues would have been built for you in Algerian cities. However, you chose another route.
Take those who are with you and leave, as this is what's best for all of you.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Aquds Al-Arabi on 25 February 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.