If Bouteflika carries out his promise, he would become the fifth Arab leader to be pushed out of office by populist pressure since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, following the path of autocrats in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen.
He is Algeria’s longest-serving head of state, and his ouster would represent a stunning victory for tens of thousands of Algerians who have poured into the avenues and boulevards of the former French colony since February to demand change. The outpouring of anger was triggered by Bouteflika’s decision to seek a fifth term in office.
Under pressure, he dropped his bid for a fifth term and postponed elections scheduled for this month. But large street protests continued as many Algerians saw his move as an attempt to extend his fourth term, and they demanded his immediate resignation.
The announcement Monday came a week after Algeria’s powerful army chief, Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, publicly urged that Bouteflika be declared unfit for office and called for his removal. Salah is considered one of the most influential power brokers in the country. In deciding to part ways with Bouteflika, Salah was the latest in a wave of allies who have abandoned him.
The ailing 82-year-old leader, who uses a wheelchair and has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, has ruled since 1999.
The presidential statement came a day after Bouteflika’s office announced a reshuffling of the government, centered on the creation of a new cabinet of 27 ministers headed by the recently appointed prime minister, Noureddine Bedoui. Most significant, perhaps, was that Salah will remain as the army chief of staff, underscoring his influence.
Also Monday, Algerian authorities took away the passports of seven business executives accused of corruption, local media outlets reported. The seizures came a day after authorities arrested Ali Haddad, a business tycoon with close ties to Bouteflika, as he tried to cross the border into Tunisia.
These actions were widely seen as an effort to calm tensions on the street and defuse the political crisis. Many in the crowds of protesters, especially disillusioned youths, also have been calling for an end to official corruption, viewed by many as a key reason for the lack of opportunities and unemployment.
But it remains to be seen if Algerians will be satisfied by Monday’s announcement. Most protesters have sought not only the end of Bouteflika’s rule but also that of his ruling clique, known as the “pouvoir,” or the power. The group is largely made up veterans of Algeria’s independence war, wealthy businessman and relatives of Bouteflika.
“It’s one step in the right direction,” said William Lawrence, a political science professor and North Africa expert at George Washington University, referring to the impending resignation. “But it’s not going to appease the crowds. Their first demand is that Bouteflika step down, and their second demand is a change in the system.”