Abdelaziz Bouteflika was born on 2 March 1937 in the Moroccan town of Oujda, near the Algerian border. In 1956, he joined the Algerian nationalist movement, which was fighting for independence from France. When Algeria gained its independence in 1962, President Ahmed Ben Bella appointed Bouteflika to be minister of youth, sports, and tourism. The following year he became the foreign minister. Despite the overthrow of the Ben Bella government by Colonel Houari Boumedienne in 1965, Bouteflika was able to retain his post until 1979. As foreign minister, he distinguished himself by successfully articulating Algeria's economic and political nationalism in the 1970s. He led negotiations with France that preceded the 1971 nationalization of the hydrocarbon industry. Bouteflika chaired the 1974 United Nations' special session on the new international economic order. He was also successful in making Algeria's influence felt on the nonaligned movement.
After the death of Boumedienne in December 1978, Bouteflika was considered a possible successor. However, he lost the ensuing power struggle and the military imposed Colonel Chadli Benjedid as Algeria's new president. Bouteflika remained in the government as minister without portfolio and advisor until 1980 when Benjedid dismissed him. The following year, Bouteflika was accused of having embezzled close to US $12 million while he was foreign minister. Bouteflika abandoned Algerian politics and spent 16 of the next 19 years in exile in Switzerland. There he worked as a consultant to several Persian Gulf nations.