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President of Algeria, 1979-1992
Chadli Benjedid was born in Boutelda, Algeria, on April 14, 1929. He was an early participant in the Algerian independence movement, joining the National Liberation Front (FLN) and the Army of National Liberation (ALN) after open hostilities broke out in November 1954. His military competency brought him to the attention of then Chief of Staff Colonel Houari Boumédiène, who named him as commander of the Northern Military Zone in 1961.
In 1962, after Algeria gained its independence, Benjedid was given command of the Fifth Military District. In 1963, he was chosen to head the Algerian Army's military tribunal. That same year he was also chosen to head Algeria's first mission to the People's Republic of China. In 1964, he was transferred to the Second Military District, which was headquartered in Oran. In 1965, Benjedid provided military support to the coup which toppled the government of Ahmed Ben Bella and made Boumédiène President. He subsequently became part of the Council of the Revolution, and was promoted to Colonel in 1969.
On November 22, 1978, it was announced that Boumédiène was seriously ill and that legal control of the government had been transferred to the Defense Ministry, which at that time was jointly led by Benjedid and Abd-Allah Belhouchet, commander of the First Military District. Boumédiène died on December 27, 1978, and, by constitutional provision, executive power temporarily passed to Rabah Bitat, then president of the National Assembly (ANP). As provided for in the Algerian Constitution, the FLN convened a congress in late January 1979 to nominate someone to "replace" Boumédiène. Although he was not the initial favorite of the congressional delegates, Benjedid emerged as the party's candidate on January 31. As the country's sole official presidential candidate, his election by the people on February 9 was a mere formality. Although Benjedid had been nominated as both President and Prime Minister, he waived his constitutional option to the latter position and named Ben Ahmed Abdelghani his Prime Minister.
One of President Benjedid's first actions as President was to order the release of former President Ahmed Ben Bella from house arrest. He did, however, continue restrictions against his receiving foreign visitors and issuing of statements. In domestic affairs, Benjedid tried to steer a compromise course between the country's Islamic and non-Islamic populations, but had little success. Despite his vigorous support of more liberal personal status laws for women, for example, the National Assembly passed a Code de la Famille that was conservative and Islamic in nature. He did succeed in elevating a woman to a Cabinet position -- in 1981 he appointed Zhor Ounissi, an Egyptian-educated writer, to the Ministry of Social Affairs. In foreign affairs, Benjedid maintained Algeria's ties with the rest of the Arab world by supporting the Palestinian cause, but continued Boumédiène's policy of non-alignment and reconciliation. He helped the United States obtain the release of hostages held in Teheran in 1981, but refused to take sides in the Iran-Iraq War.
As President, Benjedid helped make Algeria one of the most stable and influential nations in the Third World. Unfortunately, his reforms were often slow in materializing, and heavy rioting broke out in 1985. A new Constitution implemented in 1989 failed to appease Islamic activisits, and, in 1990, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won many local and provincial elections. In December 1991, the FIS secured 188 of the seats in the National Assembly, while the FLM only managed to keep 15. On January 11, 1992, an FIS-led junta took control of the government and forced Benjedid to resign.
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This page was last updated on April 23, 2018.