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An Open Letter to President Bouteflika

In the Name of Allah the Beneficent the Merciful,

Dear Mr. President:

On the eve of your re-election for a fourth term, it is with honor and humility that I write to you at this time. Mr. President re-elect, Algeria has been waiting for decades for a rupture in its history, not for change and continuity, which is what the country has been getting since the economic and democratic reforms of the 80′s. Since that time Algerians have regarded you with a great deal of respect and confidence as an incarnation for providential change in the country.

When Algeria headed into political failure and societal disintegration during the decade of terrorism and contra-terrorism, the people became trapped between monsters and thirsty vampires that sucked the people and the country dry of blood and treasure.

Fifteen years ago, Your Excellence, you arrived at el-Mouradia Palace looking energetic, genuine and eloquent with your political maturity and intellectual duality. Algerians were proud to witness their President’s mastery of the language of Molière and el-Moutanabi, and hoped to see their country again become a leader on the world stage as it had been in the 70′s.

They remembered you dancing from airport to airport like an elegant goldfinch, advocating for people’s right to self-determination and defending just causes like those of the Palestinians, the ANC, Namibia and the Western Sahara. This was a President who devoted his entire life to his country and his people, who fought to liberate them from a scornful colonizer and from any Western alienation.

As a teenager I remember your unforgettable farewell speech at President Boumediènne’s funeral at el-A’alia Cemetery before hundreds of world leaders in December, 1978, a speech that was to shape your legacy. I was emotionally moved and in that moment became politically aware. Thank you for giving me a dream that forged my political conscience and shaped my world affairs correspondence. Still, later on, you left Algeria for a decade. Surely your heart never quit the country and its scent of fresh jasmine and honeysuckle. But alas, when you returned, you were met with the odor of hate, intolerance, and plainly-speaking, death.

Mr. President, I was very pleased about your first election in 1999. Despite the lack of legitimacy, I went on to applaud your re-election. Subsequently, though, many of my fellow citizens and I have come to question how, through abuse of power, you have run and won a third and fourth election. You ordered the amendment of the Constitution, with a majority in the National Popular Assembly already behind you for a third term, so today they also support the fourth term agenda.

Your Excellence, you are surely aware of regimes that you have sided with for many years. You have even advised them, watched their heirs as children grow up. You may even have caressed the heads of Bachar, Abdallah ll,  Mohammed VI, Udie and Gamal, maybe not Saïf el-Islam or Dr. Aïcha el-Qadafi.  You might have endorsed the enthroning of Abdallah ll and Mohammed VI because of the nature of their regimes.

But not of Bachar, although, Your Excellence, you are acting like those bankrupt regimes. You never thought, like the rest of the region’s tyrants, their elite, and the masses, that you would witness the Arabs’ awakening, the “Arabs’ Spring,” or as your stooges call it, the “Arab Delusion.” But with it came Saddam hanged, Ben Ali fled, Mubarak in rehab recuperating from humiliation, Ali Saleh recovering from his facial burns, el-Qadafi found wavering in a sewer, and Bechar, myopic, living with severe insomnia.

You wove a web of family members and “loyal” compradore friends, and today Algerians are reproaching you for reviving the old political tradition. You remember the B.T.S. clan? Today it’s the W.N.T. clique. Your Excellence, don’t you think it is enough — as one says in Algeria, barakat — of regionalism and cronyism? Of the former your campaign manager almost exploded the “Aurės and the chaouia” because of his joke in poor taste about their region.

Your campaign team chose the color blue as a symbol of hope, just as hope was President Obama’s slogan in his 2008 campaign.

Americans elected their 44th President who was two-years-old when you, Mr. President, were appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. You were twenty-six years-old then. Today, at that age, the youth of Algeria are either holding up the walls of their neighborhood or struggling to obtain Schengen visa to go, not on a diplomatic mission, but a nomadic one. They prefer “el-harga” (illegal immigration to Europe) to “el-hogra” (injustice).

Your Excellence, the country is struggling in profound multi-dimensional crises. The government is totally absent; corruption is the going currency; public policies never leave the meeting rooms.  Algeria, a country of such rich human and economic potential, still imports its daily basic food and gets its manpower from China and Turkey.

Algerians need universities, modern transportation systems, well-equipped hospitals — not everyone can afford Val-de-Grâce — and above all, politicians and leaders who love their country and strive to do well by it. Indeed there is an ecologic catastrophe in process along an axis from the Metidja Plain to Algiers Bay. The Grand Alger has lost its small villages, rivers and eucalyptus forests. Savage urbanization has destroyed the beauty and vocation of the region.

Where are all those orchards of clementines and lemons? Today there is a winery, transmission barracks and ugly concrete boxes that creep to the gates of Algiers. Mr. President, the blue sky of Algiers has turned grey. The children needs parks to play in, convivial green spaces for them and their grandparents, not superficial amusement parks, poor imitations of those in the Gulf countries.

The prestige of Algeria’s role as leader in world and regional affairs has been lost to Qatar in the Arab world and to Morocco in Africa, not to overlook its attitude regarding events that are shaping the MENA. This shift, Your Excellence, is not due to lack of intelligent diplomats but because of the political detachment embedded in the Arab/African policies of your administration.

This letter is not an act of despair, Mr. President, but a “cri de coeur” expressed by a simple Algerian citizen, because his heart and mind swing between a country he has never ceased to love and a life of exile he has never opted to like.

Mr. President, I wish you well and good fortune for the fourth term. Please, do not leave Algeria behind with no resolve. Make the right decision when you pick a successor to lead the country in the 21st century. Two years ago you told your fellow citizens, “my garden has ripened,” and with well-chosen leadership, Algerians can cultivate this fertile “garden” with renewed strength and modern equipment.

You have succeeded in storming the castle of the military institution, even reduced the DRS to banality, imploded a political opposition that favored ministerial positions to real political opposition, and ultimately wrapped up the people’s will who still confound political fatalism and societal determinism.

Assuring you of my best intentions at all times, Mr. President,

May Allah bless you, and long live to Algeria,

Respectfully,

Abdennour Toumi

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