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Houari Boumediene

Colonel Houari Boumediene was chief of staff of the Army of National Liberation--Armée de Libération Nationale--ALN) in Morocco. Boumediene formed an alliance with Ben Bella, who together with Khider and Bitat, announced the formation of the Political Bureau (Bureau Politique) as a rival government to the GPRA, which had installed itself in Algiers as the Provisional Executive. Boumediene's forces entered Algiers in September 1962, where he was joined by Ben Bella, who quickly consolidated his power.

As minister of defense, Boumediene had no qualms about sending the army to crush regional uprisings because he felt they posed a threat to the state. However, when Ben Bella attempted to co-opt allies from among some of the same regionalists whom the army had been called out to suppress, tensions increased between Boumediene and Ben Bella. In April 1965, Ben Bella issued orders to local police prefects to report directly to him rather than through normal channels in the Ministry of Interior. The minister, Ahmed Medeghri, one of Boumediene's closest associates in the Oujda Group, resigned his portfolio in protest and was replaced by a Political Bureau loyalist. Ben Bella next sought to remove Abdelaziz Bouteflika, another Boumediene confidant, as minister of foreign affairs and was believed to be planning a direct confrontation with Boumediene to force his ouster. On June 19, however, Boumediene deposed Ben Bella in a military coup d'état that was both swift and bloodless. The ousted president was taken into custody and held incommunicado.

Boumediene described the military coup as a "historic rectification" of the Algerian War of Independence. Boumediene dissolved the National Assembly, suspended the 1963 constitution, disbanded the militia, and abolished the Political Bureau, which he considered an instrument of Ben Bella's personal rule.

Until a new constitution was adopted, political power resided in the Council of the Revolution, a predominantly military body intended to foster cooperation among various factions in the army and the party. The council's original twenty-six members included former internal military leaders, former Political Bureau members, and senior officers of the Armée Nationale Populaire (ANP--People's National Army) closely associated with Boumediene in the coup. They were expected to exercise collegial responsibility for overseeing the activities of the new government, which was conducted by the largely civilian Council of Ministers, or cabinet, appointed by Boumediene. The cabinet, which shared some functions with the Council of the Revolution, was also inclusive; it contained an Islamic leader, technical experts, FLN regulars, as well as others representing a broad range of Algerian political and institutional life.

Boumediene showed himself to be an ardent nationalist, deeply influenced by Islamic values, and he was reportedly one of the few prominent Algerian leaders who expressed himself better in Arabic than in French. He seized control of the country not to initiate military rule, but to protect the interests of the army, which he felt were threatened by Ben Bella. Boumediene's position as head of government and of state was not secure initially, partly because of his lack of a significant power base outside the armed forces. This situation may have accounted for his deference to collegial rule as a means of reconciling competing factions. Nonetheless, FLN radicals criticized Boumediene for neglecting the policy of autogestion and betraying "rigorous socialism"; in addition, some military officers were unsettled by what they saw as a drift away from collegiality. There were coup attempts and a failed assassination in 1967-68, after which opponents were exiled or imprisoned and Boumediene's power consolidated.

Agricultural production, meanwhile, still failed to meet the country's food needs. The so-called agricultural revolution that Boumediene launched in 1971 called for the seizure of additional property and the redistribution of the newly acquired public lands to cooperative farms.

Eleven years after he took power, in April 1976, Boumediene set out in a draft document called the National Charter the principles on which the long-promised constitution would be based. After much public debate, the constitution was promulgated in November 1976, and Boumediene was elected president with 95 percent of the votes. Boumediene's death on December 27, 1978, set off a struggle within the FLN to choose a successor. As a compromise to break a deadlock between two other candidates, Colonel Chadli Bendjedid, a relative outsider, was sworn in on February 9, 1979.

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Page last modified: 05-08-2011 20:01:20 ZULU