Robert Zaretsky is a professor of French history at the University of Houston Honors College, in Texas.
...From the moment [Algerian president Abdelaziz] Bouteflika arrived in Paris nearly a month ago after suffering a minor stroke, Algerians have suffered a news blackout. The Algerian government has treated the event rather like its military operation during the hostage crisis at a gas facility in the Sahara earlier this year: with intense secrecy and overwhelming force.
Two newspapers were censured last week for reporting that Bouteflika’s health was worsening, while the government, under the eye of the president’s brother Said Bouteflika, insists all is well. Predictably, his blandly reassuring words have persuaded most Algerians that little is well, either with Bouteflika’s condition or Algeria’s future.
Though far from beloved, Bouteflika is at least familiar: a disciple of Houari Boumédiène, the military strongman who led the National Liberation Front and the Algerian government between 1965 and 1978, Bouteflika has been in office since 1999. He became president toward the end of the so-called “black decade,” when more than 200,000 civilians were killed in a vicious war between Islamic insurgents and government forces. In fact, Bouteflika’s decision to offer an amnesty to the rebels in 2000 ended the bloodletting and introduced a period of peaceful, if deceptive stability....