Shame of old men clinging to power

2014-03-18 10:00

Is there no limit to the assault on the basic rights and fundamental humanity of Arab citizens?

The latest insult to common human decency and the struggle of millions of Arabs for democratic and accountable governance emanates from Algeria, where Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced earlier this week he was running for his fourth consecutive term as president.

Security forces arrested 40 people in central Algiers last week who were protesting against the news. Although a state of emergency in the country was lifted in 2011, public protests remain banned.

Police intervened forcefully to break up the protests, but the lessons of the past three years across the Arab world suggest that this latest example of attempted perpetual incumbency by military-backed families and small cliques will not pass without protest.

Even after the demonstrators were bundled into vans, they banged on the sides of the vehicles. A protester shouted: “52 years?–?barakat!” (that’s enough), referring to the fact that the Algerian military, in one form or another, has ruled Algeria for the past 52 years.

The vision of an ailing old man clinging to power after 15 years as president is a reminder of the single most debilitating legacy of the modern Arab state system. It is being challenged by citizens tired of being treated like children with no rights.

Bouteflika (77) had a stroke in April last year and spent months being treated in France.

His rare public appearance was for him to submit his candidacy papers for the April 17 presidential vote. He then appeared on TV to confirm his candidacy, marking the first time he spoke in public since returning from Paris eight months ago.

Before his presidential years, he held senior posts in the National Liberation Front that has ruled Algeria since independence from France and was foreign minister from 1963 to 1979. He is credited in his first term for ending the 10-year civil war against Islamists in the 1990s.

But after being re-elected in 2004, he amended the constitution so he could run again in 2009 and 2014.

Bouteflika is likely to be re-elected, but not because most Algerians want him to serve again.

He will win despite the protests against his candidacy and will serve another term or as much of it as his frail health permits.

But he will remain a sad symbol of the inability of old Arab men with guns to come to terms with their people’s desire to live with dignity and full citizen rights.

Khouri is editor at large of The Daily Star and director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon

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