Bouteflika's health opens a debate in Algeria

A presidential health crisis raises new questions in Algeria, an Arab columnist writes. Other subjects in today's opinion round-up: Israel's raid on Syria, and militants in Tunisia.

Succession talks rage in Algeria as Bouteflika remains in hospital after suffering mini-stroke

The state of health of Algeria's president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 76, who has been in hospital in France since April 27 following a minor stroke, has reignited the debate over his country's political future and possible power transfer scenarios, Abu Allam Ghamrasa wrote in the London-based newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

Observers noted that the president's health is nothing new. But unlike on previous occasions, when his ailments were kept under wraps, this time they were disclosed, fuelling speculation among pundits, the report said.

Some suggested that the president's health problems have shattered his dream of running for a fourth term, while others saw it as a tactic as he prepares for another next term.

Sofiane Djilali, the president of the Algerian Jil Jadid (New Generation) opposition party and leader of a front that opposes Mr Bouteflika's candidacy, told Asharq Al Awsat about three likely scenarios that might arise out of this crisis.

The president might fully recover and stay in power until the end of his tenure, holding presidential elections and transferring power to another person (which is unlikely), according to Mr Djilali.

He might announce early elections next autumn owing to his ill health.

Or in the third scenario, with the president's condition remaining the same, the position will remain vacant until elections are held. Mr Djilali added that the worst-case scenario would be the president seeking a fourth term following a full recovery.

For years, Mr Bouteflika has dealt with the speculation about his health in a particular way: he would deny any health problem on television, the reporter noted.

The corruption scandals involving the president's brother and adviser, Said Bouteflika, have reportedly contributed to the president's deteriorating health and have dimmed his chances for another term, he noted.

Anouar Malek, an Algerian analyst based in France, said: "Bouteflika won't leave office because that would mean the fall of many heads who enjoy privileges under his regime."

It would also affect those who have found a favourable environment to indulge in corruption during his 14-year reign.

Al Arabi Zawwaq, another Algerian analyst, said that despite ill health, reports of corruption and unrest in the south, it is unlikely that Mr Bouteflika will leave office. He added that all countries have seen changes except Algeria and North Korea.

If he becomes incapable of performing his duties, his replacement would be one approved by the junta.

Rachid Tlemçani, a professor of political science, remarked that the announcement of the president's ailment marked a shift in the regime's tradition of preparing the public opinion for his succession.

We must reject both Al Assad and Israel

Do we have to side with one of the two evils, Israel and the Assad regime? This question was asked by Fahmi Huwaidi in the Qatar-based newspaper Al Sharq.

"Why can't we reject both of them: condemn Israel for its criminal air strikes on the outskirts of Damascus, and at the same time condemn the Assad regime for its crimes against the Syrian people?" the writer asked.

The Israeli raid that targeted weapons depots and a military research facility killed about 300 Syrians. Surprisingly, the crime was welcomed by some people, who have dismissed the condemnation as a display of support for the Assad regime and Iran, he continued. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, left for China a few hours after ordering the attack.

He knew that the Arabs' reaction, if any, would not go beyond condemnation. While some will unable to take a stand against Israel, others will no longer see Israel as the number-one enemy. Yet for others, Israel is not an enemy at all.

On Monday, the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat carried a front-page story with the headline, Israel's air strikes target Iranian missiles in Damascus. It sounded as if it was "merely an act of score-settling between Israel and Iran that we have nothing to do with".

Both the Syrian regime and Israel are bad guys, one murders the Palestinian people and the other the Syrian people.

Militants in Tunisia are a cause for concern

The bloody clashes with armed militias that are believed to have links to Al Qaeda is a major concern in Tunisia these days, editorialised the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi yesterday.

Over the past 15 days, Mount Chambi, a region in the west of Tunisia near the border with Algeria, has seen large-scale confrontations between security forces and hard-line militants who planted bombs to stop forces from advancing.

Tunisia is paying the price because of its location between the two nations - Algeria and Libya - where there is a strong presence of Al Qaeda-linked groups, the paper observed.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb seeks to gain a foothold in Tunisia after managing to establish its presence in Libya, Algeria, as well as the African Sahel, where the borders are open and training bases prevalent.

Tunisia is now the weak spot in the region after it has turned into a transit country for extremist groups. Hence the recent clashes between Tunisia's police forces and these militants near the Algerian borders, the newspaper noted.

A quick solution to Tunisia's unrest is not easy to achieve in the presence of a nearly failed state and armed jihadist groups in Libya, the paper wrote.



* Digest compiled by Abdelhafed Ezzouitni

Published: May 10, 2013 04:00 AM


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