Algeria: Blushing Strongman

A Western diplomat once described Houari Boumediene as a man you had to stumble over to notice in a crowded room. At such comments, Boumediene will blush to the roots of his reddish hair. Tall, withdrawn, wraithlike, the army colonel is an authentic revolutionary, but he has so little taste for haranguing crowds that he usually gives his speeches in classical Arabic, which most Algerians do not understand. "Believe me," he is wont to remark, "I don't like the role of No. 1 man."

The reticent, reluctant son of a peasant farmer, he rules a...

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