Ahmed Gaid Salah has been head of the Algerian military since 2004 and has been a crucial figure in the country since the resignation of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
On Monday, official media in Algeria said that veteran Algerian general Ahmed Gaid Salah, who was instrumental in the resignation of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, had died due to a heart attack. Gaid Salah was 79 years old at the time of his death.
Born in the town of Batna in 1940, Gaid Salah joined the National Liberation Army, the armed wing of the National Liberation Front (NLF) of Algeria, when he was 17 years old.
The NLF was the nationalist party in Algeria represented by Abdelaziz Bouteflika and participated in the Algerian War from 1954 to 1962. The NLF was also instrumental in the country’s civil war between 1991 and 2002.
In recent months, Gaid Salah has emerged as a kingmaker of sorts in Algeria. Following protests in Algeria in February and the subsequent forced resignation of Bouteflika in April, who had ruled since 1999, Gaid Salah became the de facto leader.
Seen by many as an extension of the military elite, however, many protesters had called on the whole military and political elite to resign.
Protesters also rejected the country’s December 12th elections, which were largely pushed by Gaid Salah, with a low voter turnout. Protesters complained that the five main candidates were all too close to the Algerian general and the regime of Bouteflika.
Despite this, the elections went on, with former civil servant Abdelmadjid Tebboune winning the contest, although he was labelled as the “chosen one” by onlookers due to his close proximity to the military elite.
Following the death of Gaid Salah, who had been military chief since 2004, the new army general will have to work closely with Tebboune to assuage the fears and concerns of the protesters.
This includes instigating the necessary reforms demanded by the protesters. However, owing to the lost support of a key ally, it remains to be seen if Tebboune will be able to placate protesters, enact change and become an accepted candidate.