ALGIERS, May 21, 2013 (AFP)
ALGIERS, May 21, 2013 (AFP)
Official assurances about the improving health of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, hospitalised in France in April, are failing to convince many Algerians, as analysts warn that hiding such details is harder than it was.
On Monday, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal denounced the “false information” about Bouteflika’s health, nearly four weeks after the head of state suffered a mini-stroke, insisting he was getting better “day by day” and following the activities of the government.
But experts are wary of such pronouncements, with precedents in France and Algeria of the public being kept in the dark about their ailing leaders, which they say is harder in the Internet age.
“Secrecy surrounding the illnesses of heads of state is not right in Algeria,” said Brahim Brahimi, head of the Algiers school of journalism.
He referred to the case of former French president “Francois Mitterand, who came to power in 1981 with a cancer that was kept secret for years.”
“It’s not new. What is new is that with the Internet, with social media, we can no longer hide anything,” Brahimi added.
He said the authorities started well, when Bouteflika was flown to the Val-de-Grace military hospital in Paris on April 27 following his latest health scare, by responding to popular demand for information and saying he was ill.
But since then, the occasional and reactive information has only encouraged
“The mistake by the authorities is the fact that for the past ten days thestate institutions have not played their part,” Brahimi said, pointing out that before Monday’s announcement Sellal last broached the subject on May 11,to say the president was “well.”
Official sources had only giving indirect information about that, in the form of strident denials, after the seizure of two opposition newspapers for reporting that Bouteflika had been flown back to Algeria last Wednesday after lapsing into a coma.
Kamel Daoud, columnist for French-language Quotidien d’Oran, suggested the authorities were “no longer managing the president’s health, like in December 1978,” an allusion to Bouteflika’s mentor, former president Houari Boumediene.
Like Bouteflika, Algeria’s post-independence strongman appeared increasingly rarely towards the end of his rule, and the illness from which he suffered prior to his death on December 27, 1978 was kept secret for months.
“They need to make a sincere and courageous effort,” said Daoud, who described as a “humiliation” the fact that it was the French foreign minister “which informs us that Bouteflika is still in Paris.”
Arabic daily Echorouk also lamented that the “French secret services are precisely informed about the president’s health” while Algerians remain in the dark.
Two days after Bouteflika was transferred to France, his doctor in Algeria, Rachid Bougherbal, was quoted by Algerian daily Ennahar saying the president was on the mend and would return to Algeria in “not more than seven days.”
But information published in recent days in France and Algeria has suggested that if anything, Boutelifka’s condition is deteriorating.
Algerian prosecutors have accused Hichem Aboud, the editor of the two newspapers seized last week, of “undermining state security” and ordered a criminal investigation.
“All this information about the (presidential) succession, there is no official communication,” said one political expert, requesting anonymity.
“The ruling clan is managing a vacuum resulting from the head of state’s illness. If the illness is not so bad as they suggest, they only have to show him on television,” he added.