|Chairman of the Revolutionary Council|
19 June 1965 – 10 December 1976
|Succeeded by||Ahmed Belhouchet|
|2nd President of Algeria|
10 December 1976 – 27 December 1978
|Preceded by||Ahmed Ben Bella|
|Succeeded by||Rabah Bitat|
|4th Secretary General of Non-Aligned Movement|
5 September 1973 – 16 August 1976
|Preceded by||Kenneth Kaunda|
|Succeeded by||William Gopallawa|
|Born||Mohamed Ben Brahim Boukharouba
23 August 1932
Héliopolis, Guelma Province,
|Died||27 December 1978 (aged 46)
|Years of service||
Boumediene was born Mohammed Ben Brahim Boukharouba (محمد إبراهيم بوخروبة) near Héliopolis in Algeria’s Guelma Provinceand was educated at the Islamic Institute in Constantine. He joined the National Liberation Front (FLN) in the Algerian War of Independence in 1955, adopting Houari Boumediène as his nom-de-guerre (from Sidi Boumediène, the name of the patron saintof the city of Tlemcen in western Algeria, where he served as an officer during the war, and Sidi El Houari, the patron saint of nearby Oran). He reached the rank of Colonel, then the highest rank in the FLN forces, and from 1960 he was chief of staff of the ALN, the FLN’s military wing. But at this point of the war, the ALN had been defeated and badly hurt by the French operations and Boumediene accepted a difficult command.
In 1961, after its vote of self-determination, Algerians declared independence and the French announced it was independent. Boumedienne headed a powerful military faction within the government, and was made defence minister by the Algerian leaderAhmed Ben Bella, whose ascent to power he had assisted as chief of staff. He grew increasingly distrustful of Ben Bella’s erratic style of government and ideological puritanism, and in June 1965, Boumédienne seized power in a bloodless coup.
The country’s constitution and political institutions were abolished, and he ruled through a Revolutionary Council of his own mostly military supporters. Many of them had been his companions during the war years, when he was based around theMoroccan border town of Oujda, which caused analysts to speak of the “Oujda Group“. (One prominent member of this circle was Boumédienne’s long-time foreign minister, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who, since 1999, has been Algeria’s president.)
Initially, he was seen as potentially a weak ruler, with no significant power base except inside the army, and it was not known to what extent he controlled the officer corps. But after a botched coup against him by military officers in 1967 he tightened his rule. He then remained Algeria’s undisputed ruler until his death in 1978, as all potential rivals within the regime were gradually purged or relegated to symbolic posts, including several of his former allies from the Oujda era. No significant internal challenges emerged from inside the regime after the 1967 coup attempt.
Economically, Boumédienne turned away from Ben Bella’s focus on rural Algeria and experiments in socialist cooperative businesses (l’autogestion). Instead, he opted for a more systematic and planned programme of state-driven industrialization. Algeria had virtually no advanced production at the time, but in 1971 Boumédienne nationalized the Algerian oil industry, increasing government revenue tremendously (and sparking intense protest from the French government). He then put the soaring oil and gas resources—enhanced by the oil price shock of 1973—into building heavy industry, hoping to make his country the Maghreb‘s industrial centre. His years in power were in fact marked by a reliable and consistent economic growth, but after his death in the 1980s, the drop in oil prices and increasingly evident inefficiency of the country’s state-run industries, prompted a change in policy towards gradual economical liberalization.
In the 1970s, along with the expansion of state industry and oil nationalization, Boumédienne declared a series of socialist revolutions, and strengthened the leftist aspect of his regime. A side-effect of this was the rapprochement with the hitherto suppressed remnants of theAlgerian Communist Party (the PAGS), whose members were now co-opted into the regime, where it gained some limited intellectual influence, although without formal legalization of their party. Algeria formally remained a single-party state under the FLN, but Boumédienne’s personal rule had marginalized the ex-liberation movement, and little attention was paid to the affairs of the FLN in everyday affairs.
Pluralism and opposition were not tolerated in Boumédienne’s Algeria, which was characterized by government censorship and rampant police surveillance by the powerful Sécurité militaire, or Military Security. Political stability reigned, however, as attempts at challenging the state were generally nipped in the bud. As chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Boumediene and his associates ruled by decree. During the 1970s, constitutional rule was gradually reinstated and civilian political institutions were restored and reorganized. Efforts were made to revive activity within the FLN, and state institutions were reestablished systematically, starting with local assemblies and moving up through regional assemblies to the national level, with the election of a parliament. The process culminated with the adoption of a constitution (1976) that laid down Algeria’s political structure. This was preceded by a period of relatively open debate on the merits of the government-backed proposal, although the constitution itself was then adopted in a state-controlled referendum with no major changes. The constitution reintroduced the office of president, which Boumedienne entered after a single-candidate referendum in 1978.
At the time of his death, later that year, the political and constitutional order in Algeria was virtually entirely of Boumediene’s own design. This structure remained largely unchanged until the late 1980s, when political pluralism was introduced and the FLN lost its role as dominant single party. (Many basic aspects of this system and the Boumedienne-era constitution are still in place.) However, throughout Boumedienne’s era, the military remained the dominant force in the country’s politics, and military influence permeated civilian institutions such as the FLN, parliament and government, undercutting the constitutionalization of the country’s politics. Intense financial or political rivalries between military and political factions persisted, and was kept in check and prevented from destabilizing the government mainly by Boumedienne’s overwhelming personal dominance of both the civilian and military sphere.
Boumédienne pursued a policy of non-alignment, maintaining good relations with both the communist bloc and the capitalist nations, and promoting third-world cooperation. In the United Nations, he called for a new world order built on equal status for western and ex-colonial nations, and brought about by a socialist-style change in political and trade relations. He sought to build a powerful third world bloc through the Non-Aligned Movement, in which he became a prominent figure. He aggressively supported anti-colonial movements and other militant groups across Africa and the Arab world, including the PLO, ANC, SWAPO and other groups.
A significant regional event was his 1975 pledge of support for an Western Saharan self-determination, admitting Sahrawi refugees and the Polisario Front guerrilla national liberation movement to Algerian territory, after Morocco and Mauritania claimed control over the territory. This ended the possibility of mending relations with Morocco, already sour after the 1963 sand war, although there had been a modest thaw in relations during his first time in power. The heightened Moroccan-Algerian rivalry and the still unsolved Western Sahara question became a defining feature of Algerian foreign policy ever since and remain so today.
In 1978, his appearances became increasingly rare. After lingering in a coma for 39 days, he died of a rare blood disease, Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia, following unsuccessful treatment in Moscow. Rumors about his being assassinated or poisoned have surfaced occasionally in Algerian politics, perhaps due to the rarity of the disease. The death of Boumédienne left a power vacuum in Algeria which could not easily be filled; a series of military conclaves eventually agreed to sidestep the competing left- and rightwing contenders, and designate the highest-ranking military officer, Col. Chadli Bendjedid, as a compromise selection. Still, factional intrigue mushroomed after Boumédienne’s death, and no Algerian president has since gained the same complete control over the country as he had.