For those of you familiar with Fellag’s comedy, he said in one of his stand-up acts that in Algeria, we would have to interpret documentaries to find out about what is happening in the political scene. He gave the imaginary example of when Boumediene died; they showed a wild-life documentary on TV in which an elephant was left to die by the rest of the herd. And as Algerians are clever, they figured out that it was a message telling them that their then president Boumediene “est mort”.
Lucky for us, it is not as bad as that with previous presidents*, we learnt about the death of one Algeria’s presidents Chadli Bendjedid in the numerous newspapers that have been in circulation since the reforms he introduced following the uprising of October 1988. Prior to these reforms, Algeria was under one party rule where all newspapers and media outlets were the echo of the voice of that party.
As I read about the news of his passing away, I felt sad. I am sad that one of our rulers died and we did not get to learn much from him. I know that he wrote his memoirs, but I believe that he exercised auto-censorship in writing them. They will be published soon, but the truth about our pouvoir* will still remain a mystery to most of us.
Bendjedid is the only president whom I stood for hours waiting to see, when I was 4 or 5. He visited my small town, and luckily for us, his procession was only meters away from my childhood home. I was excited all day, made sure I got a flag, and waited in a line to get a glimpse of him, for hours. He was whisked away in a black convertible, and kids were running trying to follow his car. He is also the only president in Algeria’s history to have so many jokes made about him, about the fact he was not the cleverest of presidents, especially in comparison to the likes of Mitterrand or Regan.
As Muslims, we are meant to recount the deceased’s good deeds and good character. He has his mistakes like all humans, and more so because he was a military man, then a politician. What will he be remembered by? Each one of us will remember him by something, but he will be mostly associated with the 1988 uprising and the reforms that followed.
I believe that he was a tolerant president, having allowed so many exiled politicians to return to Algeria, and particularly the two heroes of the Algerian revolution: the late Ben Bella, and Ait Ahmed. Chadli came to power before I was born, and during his rule, I enjoyed the happiest days of my life as a child. I guess that is what I will remember his era by. I will try to forget anything post 1990, for now.
*Algeria has one of the most opaque governance systems in the world. Communications with the people or the rest of the world about Algerian matters is very obscure.
*Le pouvoir is the ruling clan in Algeria