President Emmanuel Macron of France is expected in Algiers Wednesday, for his first visit since he took office in May, and a meeting with ailing President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika is on the schedule. However, nothing could be less certain.
Actually, President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika, glued to a wheelchair since he suffered a stroke in 2013, has made rare public appearances since then and planned meetings with heads of state were regularly cancelled.
In March this year, Iranian President Hassan Rohani postponed sine die a visit to Algeria, and the Algeria state-run news agency said the visit has been postponed due to “temporary unavailability” of the Algerian President.
The Iranian President’s visit cancellation took place only few weeks after German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s February visit was called off at the last minute, also over health concerns of the Algerian President.
And later in September, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro waited for three days in Algiers for a meeting with President Bouteflika, but finally joined the list of heads of state whose supposed meetings with Bouteflika never took place.
These successive cancellations of official meetings confirm the deteriorating health condition of the 80-year old ailing president.
During his stopover in Algiers Wednesday on his way to Qatar, President Macron is expected to visit Bouteflika at his private residence of Zeralda, if the visit ever takes place.
The French President will nonetheless meet with Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelkader Bensalah, the Speaker of of the Senate.
Talks will focus on security in the Sahara-Sahel region plagued by terrorism and the situation in Libya.
Whatever the outcome of the visit, it is already marred by Algiers’ refusal to grant entry visas to the President’s accompanying French media.
According to a Reuters report, relayed by Algerian media, a dozen French media outlets, including Le Monde, Le Figaro, Liberation and Mediapart website, have not received visas to cover the French president’s visit on Wednesday.
This is not the first time that the Algerian regime deprives French media from covering an official French activity in the North African country.
Reuters recalls that in April 2016, journalists from Le Monde and Petit Journal were denied their visas for a trip to Algiers with Manuel Valls, then Prime Minister. Algerian authorities had then accused some French papers of undermining the honor and prestige of President Bouteflika.
In a gesture of protest and solidarity, Libération, Le Figaro and Radio France had boycotted the trip.