Chadli Bendjedid: The Godfather of Algerian Democracy

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Algerian security forces escort the hearse of late Algerian president Chadli Bendjedid during his funeral in Algiers on 8 October 2012. (Photo: AFP - Farouk Batiche)

By: Othman Tazghart

Published Monday, October 8, 2012

Paris - Former Algerian president Chadli Bendjedid died on Saturday at the age of 83, following a long illness. He succeeded Houari Boumediene in 1979 and served as president for the next 14 years, before being toppled by the army in a bloodless coup to stop the Islamists from claiming a parliamentary majority.

Bendjedid was forced to resign on 11 January 1992, which obstructed the possibility of a period of peaceful power sharing with the Islamists who had won a majority at the polls. This put an end to the first free elections in the country.

Following his resignation, Bendjedid decided to remain completely out of the public view and refrained from making public statements.

This continued until 2008 when he came out with strong words against current president Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The latter had given a speech questioning the performance of his predecessors and calling them “novices.”

Despite the heated media exchange, Bouteflika intervened to remove the travel ban imposed by the Algerian military authorities against Bendjedid. This allowed the latter to travel to Belgium for cancer treatment.

This gesture paved the way for a reconciliation between the two men, with Bendjedid accepting a medal of honor from Bouteflika during Independence Day celebrations. He disappeared again, only to reappear during the funeral of former president Ahmed Ben Bella last April.

Bendjedid’s military and political career reflects all the contradictions of Algeria’s modern history. At age 15, he joined the struggle against French colonialism, becoming the youngest officer in the National Liberation Army (ALN).

After independence, he was marginalized for two main reasons. While he had been one of the “interior officers” who fought the French army in the Algerian mountains, victory of independence went to the “border army,” whose leaders were outside the country in the border regions with Morocco and Tunisia.

The border troops had marched toward the Algerian capital in the first days of independence. They toppled the interim government of the Algerian revolution and appointed Ben Bella as president.

Bendjedid came out of obscurity following the coup against Ben Bella in 1965. He was appointed to the Revolutionary Council, the collective command formed by president Boumediene, which was considered a gesture of undeclared reconciliation between the internal and external officers of the revolution.

He was later marginalized again by former French army officers who had joined the revolution in the final minutes. They were able to gain power and began gradually excluding former ALN officers.

Bendjedid was appointed military governor of the Oran district. He stayed out of politics for years, even shunning the Revolutionary Council meetings after 1972.

His appointment as president following the death of Boumediene in 1978 came as a big surprise, contrary to all expectations.

The succession battle had been raging inside the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) between the socialists, led by head of politburo Mohamed Salah Yahiaoui, and the liberals, represented by then-foreign minister Bouteflika.

This led to the intervention of the regime’s strongman, Boumediene’s head of intelligence, Kasdi Merbah, who arbitrated the political conflict to avoid armed clashes or a coup.

Failing to reach a consensus, Merbah proposed an unexpected solution. He asked everyone to approve the appointment of the eldest and the highest ranked member of the Revolutionary Council as president.

Chadli Bendjedid found himself in the presidency of Algeria by coincidence. He was heavily criticized by Algerians and became the subject of numerous jokes.

Those who believed they were the most knowledgeable of Algerian politics predicted that he would be a weak president. They thought that his role will be limited to that of a nominal ruler due to the hegemony of the army and military intelligence over power.

But the successive crises allowed Bendjedid to become the godfather of the country’s democratic transformation.

During the financial crisis resulting from the collapse of oil prices in 1986, he launched a series of liberal economic reforms, moving away from the state-controlled economy. This led to a clash with the old guard – the “barons of the army and party.”

He immediately countered that with political reforms beginning in 1987, removing army officers from the parliament and the party central committee.

He then seized the opportunity of the youth uprising in October 1988 to purge the remains of the Boumediene regime, introducing a multi-party electoral system and press freedoms.

This culminated in his announcement of a pluralistic constitution in February 1989, putting an end to a quarter century of single party rule by the FLN.

The first few months of the Algerian “democratic spring” saw the creation of more than 60 new political parties. But the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) had the upper hand, winning both the local elections in June 1990 and the December 1991 parliamentary elections.

Bendjedid announced that he would remain committed to the results of the ballot boxes. He was ready to attempt a period of “political cohabitation” with the Islamists, but was met with a veto from the military officers.

A petition signed by 184 officers forced Bendjedid to step down. It was delivered to him by defense minister Khaled Nizar during a stormy meeting whose details are still a secret after all these years.

Did Bendjedid resign or did the military command force him to do so? The Algerian mock this incident and like to say that he did not resign but they “resigned him.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


Benjvid and the political powers reflects the modern history of paris. Banjvid died at the age of 83 after a long illness he succeed in 1979 and become the next president for next 14 years but the political conditions are on the biggest flow the powers forced him to resign from the post but he did not do this. and make public statments.A petition signed by 184 officers forced Bendjedid to step down. It was delivered to him by defense minister Khaled Nizar during a stormy meeting whose details are still a secret after all these years.

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