Islamist political parties and movements in Algeria : which prospects for the European Union?
by François Burgat (Directeur de recherche, CNRS) and François Gèze (publisher, La Découverte)
The following text was written in September 2006 at the request of the Finish Institute of International Affairs (http://www.upi-fiia.fi/eng/) , depending on the Finnish Parliament, for a collective book published in april 2007 and devoted to the relationships to be established between the European Union and the Islamist political parties of opposition in the Muslim world: Toby Archer and Heidi Huuhtanen (eds.), Islamist Opposition parties around the world and the potential for EU engagement . With the authorization of the authors, François Burgat and François Gèze, Algeria-Watch, publishes their contribution (brought up to date) devoted to the Algerian case.
Algeria-Watch, 1 April 2007
The current situation in Algeria betrays an archetypal model of political obstruction/stagnation par excellence , born of extreme repression against the Islamist opposition by an authoritarian regime. The only organised Islamist movements and political parties currently operating, in fact, are those that have been allowed to do so because they have severely compromised their own political integrity through their dealings with the centre of power, controlled by military secret service chiefs. A genuine democratic transition in Algeria, granting a legitimate political space to those Islamist political forces respecting the democratic process requires support from the European Union, with the following policy measures :
a) firm support for all forces (political, trade unions and civil organisations), both Islamist and secular, that have been weakened and dispersed by political repression, and which are attempting to work for the reconstitution of a democratic State;
b) encourage full adherence to international conventions, including the protection of human rights and anti-corruption initiatives, of which Algeria is a signatory.
Towards the end of the long and debilitating period of French colonization (1830-1962), the National Liberation Front (FLN), in 1954, engages in armed conflict for independence initially in the name of a secular and nationalist struggle. After seven years of a particularly bloody war (resulting in more than half a million victims and at least 2.5 million displaced persons) independence is finally gained in 1962. Although it proclaims Islam as the state religion, the FLN government, forms a one party State, based on a ‘socialist’ model, where religion occupies little space in the discourse of political mobilisation.
During the 1970s, the political opposition gains steady momentum at the expense of growing disenchantment with the FLN’s political and economic direction. Public discontent is focused on the failings in the FLN’s model of development (characterized by the priority given to the public sector and heavy industry, and an ineffectual voluntarist land reform policy) and on the FLN’s total grip on the political institutions (a grip even more tighter than the one experienced by the Tunisian or Moroccan neighbours). The control by the FLN is exercised less through a ‘popular’ political party structure, as illustrated by the former communist parties in Eastern Europe, rather than through omnipotent mechanisms of the secret services, the Sécurité Militaire (SM) in a tightly centralised way. In 1978, when president Houari Boumediene dies, the political system faces a dilemma: the kingmakers in the army fail to agree on designating a successor, eventually installing Colonel Chadli Bendjedid Head of State, as a powerless figurehead. Thus a new political dichotomy emerges with, on one hand, Bendjedid, the nominal Head of State, and on the other, those shadowy military figures behind the scenes, the real political decision-makers.
Up until now, this dualism is an essential key to fully understand the Algerian political system . Since the death of Boumediene, each ‘elected’ Head of State has struggled to wrest some control of power from the military, but all to no avail. Since 1990, the influence of the army secret services, the Department of Information and Safety (the DRS, a new moniker for the Sécurité Militaire) has broadened and deepened, to finally become hegemonic within the power structure. This tightening stranglehold on the political system led, in January 1992, to a military coup and a bloody civil war (costing the lives of 200,000 people and some 20,000 forced disappearances) marked by new levels of State terrorism, strategically organised in total secrecy by the DRS chiefs.
Further, these masters of propaganda have had a considerable degree of success perfecting a systematic disinformation service at both national and international levels, aimed at apportioning the violence exclusively to the ‘Islamic fundamentalists’. To this day, the effects of this dual strategy of State terrorism and disinformation continue to shape the Algerian political dynamic.
Today, behind the façade of a civil administration headed by president Abdelaziz Bouteflika (elected in 1999 and re-elected in 2004), the real powerbroker is General Mohamed Médiène, aka ‘Tewfik’, appointed as the head of the DRS in September 1990. With his maze of allies rooted in both civil society and the military, his control of the political scene, of economic activity, and the civil administration is absolute. More importantly, he controls the powerful networks of corruption fattened by the oil and gas revenues. The ‘management’ of these networks is the regime’s raison d’être and appears at the heart of the occult power of the military ‘decision-makers’.
In order to understand the forms adopted by the Islamist political movements in Algeria, as well as their political evolutions since their emergence in the 80s, one must fully acknowledge this historical context. Before 1989, every manifestation of political opposition, whether secular or Islamist, was, in fact, mainly hindered or constrained by the Government through: a) buying off/bribing public discontentment through a policy of ‘wealth redistribution’, with part of the oil revenue used as a tool for social pacification; b) a relatively sophisticated policy of repression managed by the SM. Besides, Islam, as a potential religious source for political legitimacy, was constrained through State institutions, using methods directly inspired by those of the French colonizer.
At the beginning of the 1980s, during a period of economic instability, due to the convergence of various factors (the collapse in oil prices, the obvious failure of the industrial and economic model), President Bendjedid launches a policy of economic liberalization. In October 1988, the social strains and internal divisions inside ‘ le pouvoir’ (a cabal of Generals) lead to violent popular unrest. Before brutally repressing the protestors (leaving 500 dead), a faction within ‘ le pouvoir’ had helped channel a move toward violent action, hoping to instrumentalise them against their opponents, who they wanted to weaken. In February 1989, a relatively pluralist Constitution is adopted by referendum, ending the one party system. At the same time, by legalising all the political groups, including Islamists, various factions amongst the military junta were acknowledging the sclerosis engendered by the old corrupt electoral system. However, the ‘opening up’ was not a selfless act by the Generals. They gambled that a more liberal approach, on both political and economic levels, would enhance their illicit networks of corruption. And the ‘liberalization’ of the political and economic structures was severely supervised: the key decision-makers could still rely on the untouchable powers of the Sécurité Militaire to keep control of the political arena.
In an atmosphere marked by the exacerbation of internal divisions within the military central command, the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique de Salut, FIS) is formed in March 1989, and granted legal political status in September of the same year. More than a traditional political party, it is a federation representing most of the trends of political Islam in Algeria, which had been gradually coalescing in the 80s (with the exception of the branch closely associated with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood). From its inception, a significant number of the FIS’s steering committee ( majlis ech-choura ) were embedded Sécurité Militaire agents (not an occurrence unique to the FIS, demonstrating the pervasive influence of the secret services across the political spectrum). In June 1990, FIS gained important victories in both local and departmental elections, at the expense of the ‘secular’ oppositional parties.
With the FIS now a serious political player, relations between the FIS leadership and the authorities soon deteriorated, with the latter attempting through infiltration to both ‘radicalize’ and split the party from within. In 1991, in order to weaken the vote for the FIS, the Sécurité Militaire chiefs’ tactics turn towards encouraging the creation of two competitor Islamist parties which are de facto subservient : the Hamas movement led by Mahfoud Nahnah (considered the main representative of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood), and the Movement for National Renewal (aka El-Islah or MNI) headed by Abdallah Djaballah.
In December 1991, in spite of the administration’s vote-splitting strategy, the FIS comfortably wins the first round of legislative elections (receiving 47.3 % of the votes cast – as opposed to 5.4 % for Hamas and 2.2 % for the MNI. Although there is only a 24.5 % turnout of the electorate, this figure underestimates the support for the FIS, as many voters had long ago lost faith in the official electoral system and abstain from voting). Facing the very real loss of political power and all of its implications, heads of the army and secret services (fronted by Generals Khaled Nezzar, Minister of Defence, and Mohamed Lamari) compel the president of the Republic to resign on January 11, 1992. They pronounce the dissolution of the Algerian Parliament and replace the Head of State with a ‘High Committee of State’ (HCE) formed as an interim administration and controlled by General Khaled Nezzar. Mohamed Boudiaf, a respected political opponent in exile with a prestigious nationalist past, consents to become the Head of State.
The HCE formally terminates the electoral process: a State of Emergency is proclaimed on February 9, followed soon after with the prohibition of FIS. In June 1992, the new president Boudiaf, who wields his position of power to try to effect genuine political and social renewal of the system, is assassinated. It is widely established that those responsible for his murder were the very military chiefs, whose networks of corruption were being threatened by Boudiaf. Subsequently, the era of direct confrontation begins, characterizing Algerian political life to this present day.
The military leadership initiates a chilling process of authoritarian ‘reorganisation’ of the political scene, and actual open war against the Islamist opposition, gradually spreading it wider to target the entire population. The success of their unbridled campaign is due, in part, to the overwhelming endorsement by the international community, with very few exceptions. During the ‘dirty war’, the Algerian Generals will reach a new degree of violence, utilising and perfecting all the methods of ‘counterinsurgency warfare’ developed by the French Army during the first war in Algeria. Mass arrests, extra-judicial executions and systematic use of torture, not only weaken but also ‘radicalize’ vast numbers of grassroots supporters of the Islamist parliamentary opposition: by crushing all forms of democratic expression through repressing the electoral system, the clear objective is to push all Islamist opposition towards the only available tool of political change – violence, which in turn justifies the Government’s policy of total ‘eradication’.
As a consequence, some Islamist groups from marginal radical trends opposed to the FIS, enter into the armed struggle. At the same time, as early as 1992, DRS agents effectively infiltrate the newly created Armed Islamic Groups (GIA – Groupes Islamiques Armés ). During this period, even if most GIA leaders and members remain relatively untainted, some GIA ’emirs’ are either DRS operatives on active duty, claiming to be deserters, or Islamists who have been co-opted and ‘turned’ by the security forces. Simultaneously, the DRS deliberately enhance the development of armed groups, through a sophisticated strategy of mass repression targeting in particular the youths, who in order to resist and/or take revenge, have no other alternative than to join the maquis . DRS operatives, holding positions of responsibility in these infiltrated and manipulated groups, manufacture official ‘Islamist’ statements, often extremely provocative, targeting various sections of society and encouraging the increasing use of assassination as a justifiable weapon against national and foreign civilians ‘in the name of Islam’.
From the beginning of 1995, all independents ’emirs’ are eliminated. The GIA are totally controlled by DRS agents and they are increasingly used as a weapon of terror against civilian populations, until the infamous massacres of 1997 and 1998. Meanwhile, the special military forces, who mainly launch bloody attacks upon civilians, are regularly prevented by their chiefs from completely liquidating the ‘Islamist maquis’, allowing them safe havens.
During the first two years of the war, some former leaders of FIS had tried in Algeria to federate the small groups engaged in the armed struggle. Part of them will make allegiance with the GIA in May 1994, against the opinion of the ‘Executive Instance’ of the FIS abroad , while others, close to the latter, will create in June 1994 the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS – Armée Islamique du Salut ). Almost immediately, the AIS is infiltrated by the DRS, and see itself the target of threats and operations by its rival the GIA. It leads to a confused picture of generalized hyper-violence, that misinformation carefully orchestrated by the DRS attributes exclusively to the Islamists.
The military authorities, viewed in the eyes of a gullible international opinion, thus succeed in de-legitimizing its principal political opposition. In addition, after having physically eliminated or ‘turned’ the majority of the players in the Islamist opposition to further the institutional marginalisation of its electoral base, those authorities activate and manipulate the marginal pseudo-oppositional parties. From 1995, a certain number of political parties, including the Islamists from the Hamas (Movement of an Islamic Society) of Mahfoud Nahnah (which will later become the ‘Movement of a Society for Peace’), and the MNI of Abdallah Djaballah (which becomes En-Nahda, and subsequently El-Islah) are invited to take part in the parliamentary process. The game of ‘political pluralism’, however, is purely lip service: the elections are systematically rigged and the constitutional reforms (resulting in the creation of a second parliamentary chamber) considerably limit the power of Parliament and thus degrade the electoral process.
In January 1995, an event of significant political importance takes place, demonstrating the model of political transition which Algeria could realistically use to escape the impasse that it has been prisoner to, for fifteen years. On the initiative of the Italian catholic community Sant’ Egidio, the principal oppositional groups in favour of an agreed political solution meet in Rome: the FIS, the FLN, the FFS (Socialist Forces Front of Hocine Aït-Ahmed), the MDA (Movement for Democracy in Algeria, headed by Ahmed Ben Bella), the PT (Workers Party led by Louisa Hanoune), En-Nahda, the Contemporary Muslim Youth, and the LADDH (Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights). The representatives of these organizations agree for the first time to sign a ‘national contract’: it proposes ‘negotiations’ with le pouvoir to put an end to the ‘civil war’; demanding in particular the ‘non-involvement of the army in the political process’; the ‘effective release of the FIS leadership and all political prisoners’, the ‘end of all confrontations’, and a ‘return to constitutional legality and popular sovereignty’. All participants – including, the Islamist FIS – affirm the ‘rejection of all violence in order to gain or maintain power’, the ‘respect of the handover of political power between parties through universal suffrage’ and the ‘consecration of the democratic multi-party system’.
Immediately, this ‘national contract’ is vehemently denounced by the Algerian regime and, very significantly, by all the so-called forces of opposition that the regime had managed to control and coerce.
By the end of 1998, the Algerian society is deeply riven by nearly seven years of civil war, and in particular by the horrific massacres of the civilian population executed by the GIA ‘made in DRS’. Having neutralised the prospect of any effective opposition, in particular the political Islamist forces, for some considerable time, the army chiefs and the DRS then decide to open a new chapter. They install the civilian Abdelaziz Bouteflika (an old apparatchik of the system from 1962 to 1978) as Head of State. He is, therefore, ‘elected’ in April 1999, through a rigged electoral process. In accordance with the demands of his mentors, Bouteflika introduces the ‘Concorde Civile’ endorsed with a massive majority through a national referendum, on September 16, 1999. In theory, this law should have led to a true ‘national reconciliation’, including the former partisans of the FIS in the negotiations.
But the legislation, like so much else, is only a political ‘sleight of hand’, appearing as a positive reform initiative but actually consolidating the power of a corrupt and divisive regime. Parliament, with little actual power in its hands, is monopolised by a three party ‘presidential Alliance ‘ : the FLN (which the DRS resumed control of, as early as 1996), the RND (a clone of the FLN, created ex nihilo in 1995) and the MSP, of the ‘domesticated ‘ Islamist Mahfoud Nahnah (now deceased). This ‘alliance ‘ is formed for appearances, but it prefigures the type of political structure that the military cabal would want to ‘normalize’ in the long run.
The immovable Chief of the DRS, General Mohamed Médiène, in a more or less unstable alliance with the other strong man of le pouvoir , General Larbi Belkheir (officially announced as a simple ‘cabinet chief’ to president Bouteflika, and from 2005, Ambassador to Morocco, but who in reality was one of the main masterminds during the ‘dirty war’), looks from 1999 onwards, at an escape-route out of the political crisis. He draws inspiration from the South Korean and Romanian transitional models. In these two countries, the chiefs of the secret services (the KCIA and the Securitate) in 1988 and 1989 respectively, succeeded (more so in South Korea than in Romania) to extricate themselves from military-based regimes where they had occupied key positions, instead reinventing themselves as business entrepreneurs taking control of private businesses which would ensure their fortunes. Transposed to Algeria, this scenario implies that the military ‘decision-makers’ will, one day, have to yield their power to a civil administration, as long as three main conditions are fulfilled:
1. Assurances of an unconditional amnesty in Algeria for all the crimes they committed since 1992, including the massive misappropriation of funds over the last twenty years, receiving cast-iron guarantees that they will never face prosecution abroad;
2. construction of an economic infrastructure that would enable them (and their children) to convert the current source of their substantial wealth (occult ‘commissions’ received on imports and exports), for personal benefit, into capital invested in large future business ventures;
3. the successful ascension of Islamo-conservatives to the future dominant political class, able to pacify forms of social unrest and protect the economic interests of today’s military decision-makers.
However, the system is so sclerotic, the political class so corrupted and discredited by more than forty years of domination by the SM-DRS, that this scenario faces many difficulties. President Bouteflika, in trying to widen his room to manoeuvre in negotiations with the generals, initially delayed the promulgation of a genuine amnesty for the crimes committed during the ‘dirty war’. When he finally does so in February 2006, his official edicts contradict the Algerian Constitution and all of the international conventions signed by Algeria. And attempts at siphoning off public funds through legitimate business fronts, spectacularly fail as demonstrated in the case of the corporate group ‘Khalifa’, discreetly promoted by General Larbi Belkheir, ending in the group’s bankruptcy of in 2002, and the fleeing of billionaire Rafik Khalifa to the UK, leaving a trail of scandals in his wake.
From 2000 to 2006, the only notable successes scored by the military ‘decision-makers’ strategy are twofold: the growing support of the regime from large numbers of former members of the FIS opposition, thanks to a systematic deployment of bribes and various sweeteners; the ‘cultivation’ of an ‘Islamist middle class’ rallying to the military regime who have supported the ‘career reorientation’ of many former ‘little chiefs’ from the ‘Islamist’ maquis , whose budding commercial activities allow them to build up small fortunes. This proto ‘middle class’ may form the future political base of a co-opted and toothless Islamo-conservative government, and could potentially replace, much to their disgust, the small minority of French-speaking secularists known as the ‘eradicators’, a label applied due to their unwillingness to negotiate with Islamists and enthusiasm for the State policy of ‘eradication’.
At the same time, despite the unexpected cash bonanza which saw tens of billions of dollars flood the State coffers thanks to the rising price of oil and gas (whose exports account for 98% of receipts of the foreign trade and approximately 60% of the financial resources of the State), wide sections of the population, both urban and rural, continue to live in hopeless misery, surrounded by deteriorating infrastructures. As a consequence, due to the lack of open political frameworks, the opposition manifests itself mainly through the ‘riots of misery’, occurring with increasing and impressive frequency after 2002; but also by the growing wave of activism originating from the new autonomous trade unions, principally in the public sector.
Facing a potentially damaging social revolt, the DRS chiefs have chosen to play the ‘residual terrorism’ card. The GIA were gradually substituted, from 1998 onwards, by a new mysterious armed Islamist terror group, the ‘Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat’ (GSPC). There is little doubt that the DRS has also infiltrated and now manipulates this organisation (even if some factions within it have probably retained some level of autonomy).
The GSPC today fulfils a double role: Since September 2001, its mere existence provides valuable political capital for the Algerian regime, able to reap the benefits of aligning itself more closely to the West. In the name of the ‘Global War on Terror’, the regime is further legitimised in its role as a regional gendarme, integrated within a US (and European) geopolitical and military strategy in the Sahara and in the Mediterranean, aiming to stop the migratory flows of people coming from the South through Algeria and heading North, and to control territory rich in hydrocarbons. Domestically, the armed violence of the GSPC serves equally to justify the State of Emergency and the continuation of laws reneging on international human rights conventions. These measures justify the criminalisation of trade unions opposition and ‘riots of the misery’. More importantly, since the beginning of 2006, the map of the intensified terrorist activities of the GSPC that can be drawn (targeting both civilians and the security forces), increasingly matches the sites of the riots; the bombs that explode at the exact locations where riots have just occurred. In brief, it is highly likely that the DRS exploits ‘Islamic terror’ to curb widespread social anger.
The genuine political opposition forces to the Algerian regime have been currently weakened and dispersed. There are extremely few official representatives of the Islamist legalist trends still politically credible, within the Algerian national borders. This situation can be explained by the extreme ‘effectiveness’ of the repression imposed by le pouvoir since 1992, and by the level of sophistication attained with the manipulation of survivors of the massacres: many valuable key players have been physically eliminated, while many survivors (both in Algeria and in exile) have made Faustian pacts and allied themselves, by self-preservation or self-interest, to the military leaders and to their anti-democratic conception of political power.
Within this framework, in gauging the credibility of Islamists as genuine representatives of Islamist trends and legitimate negotiators with the EU the criteria appear to be as follows:
1. their degree of autonomy in relation to le pouvoir , which is both reflective of the strength of their political base and their ‘oppositional’ credibility;
2. their engagement in seeking and finding a genuine political solution to the civil war, and notably their involvement in the 1995 ‘national contract’ of Sant’ Egidio: this ‘Sant’ Egidio criterion’ is reflective of the wholehearted adherence to the principle of the democratic rotation of political parties based on the popular will of the people; considering that the Algerian regime was vehemently opposed to the process (forcing its allies to do the same), this criterion thus reveals the genuineness of the political opponents;
3. their commitment to a transitional framework for justice, establishing the truth behind the massive violations of human rights since 1992, and to ensure those responsible face impartial judgement, whether members of the security forces or of Islamist armed groups.
These three criteria can practically distinguish those, amongst the Algerian Islamist trends who have, more or less clearly, signed up to abide by the basic rules of the democratic process: the two parties granted early political legalisation by the chiefs of the DRS who knew they could control them; and the various survivors of the banned FIS, divided between those that have u-turned and allied themselves to the Generals, and the others.
In 2006, the ‘official’ competitors to the FIS, widely discredited in the Algerian public community, continue to pay the price of their engagement with a thoroughly corrupt system.
The Hamas party, which morphs into the ‘Movement for the Islamic Society’ (then ‘for Peace’), is formed by Mahfoud Nahnah (who died in June 2003), and is currently led by Aboudjerra Soltani. The stranglehold of le pouvoir on this movement has been unremitting from its creation. Nahnah ran for presidency of Algeria in 1995 and was a member of the government coalition and his successor, Soltani, became minister (without portfolio). The fact that Nahnah was initially viewed as the Algerian representative of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement has lead to a paradoxical and unique situation, as regards to the other countries in the region: in Algeria, this strain of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers holds no credibility as representative of the Islamist political opposition. However, the school of thought inspired by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood still occupies an important place in that country.
The party En-Nahda (The Revival) for its part was founded (and is led to this day) by Abdallah Djaballah, on ideological premises close to those of the FIS, and the trend of the Muslim Brotherhood. Born out of a genuine oppositional initiative, En-Nahda very quickly faced political realities and had to pay the price of its legal survival. Present during the Sant’ Egidio meeting, Djaballah did not clearly support the process, although abstained from outright public condemnation. He has since regularly supported the phoney political pluralism pushed by the administration, collaborating, by notably volunteering himself as a candidate in the rigged presidential elections of April 2004, to give them an outward appearance of democratic legitimacy. Since then, his party is prey to internal dissensions, undoubtedly provoked by the DRS.
It is obvious that the broad social and political constituency that the FIS had managed to build up and mobilize in the early 90s is still the most important component of a potentially effective legalist opposition to the regime. But, as a political party, the FIS is no longer in existence. Since its banning and dissolution in March 1992, its ‘representation’ – with no current legal basis or coherent structure, even at a clandestine level – is reduced to its two historic leaders, Ali Belhadj and Abassi Madani, as well as some of its exiled executives. It is very difficult to seriously evaluate the supporters of each of the players, in the broader context of a population deeply hostile to the military and security chiefs, and who have been largely deprived of any realistic political perspective, despite a genuine will to participate.
As for the EU, the criteria for the identification of credible Islamist interlocutors both in Algeria and in exile is currently less a matter of the political positions that they formerly or currently occupy, than of the cautious evaluation of the public’s trust that one can attribute to each of them with respect to their bases (and, of course, to their degree of autonomy vis-à-vis the regime). Because of the lack of space here for a more (and indispensable) detailed analysis, we will only concentrate briefly on the most notorious personalities.
Inside the country
Ali Belhadj (52), former number two of the FIS, was held in jail in very harsh conditions for twelve years (1991-2003). His radical vision has considerably softened during the last few years. He can still undoubtedly be credited for attracting a popular audience, and of maintaining an independence and a real autonomy in opposition to the military, making him a very rare and credible political interlocutor. However, his ‘radicalist’ reputation will make it difficult for the European Union to endorse him. Belhaj could however be represented by mandated interlocutors.
Madani Mezrag , chief of the AIS (dubbed, at the time of its inception in June 1994, as the ‘military wing’ of the FIS), concluded in October 1997 a unilateral truce with the chiefs of the DRS. He has since, publicly supported the ‘Concorde Civile’ process (September 1999) and later the unconditional amnesty for military personal implicated in the ‘dirty war’ (February 2006); his credibility has thus severely diminished, and as early as 1994 a number of experienced observers linked him to the DRS.
The members of the former ‘Executive Instance’ of the FIS abroad , run from Aix-la-Chapelle (Germany) by Rabah Kébir, have managed, from the early 2000s, to forge an agreement with the regime, to be able to return to Algeria with other members of the FIS delegations from Germany and Belgium. Rabah Kébir did so in September 2006: he immediately multiplied initiatives to prepare the creation of a « FIS light », but Kébir and his friends lack political credibly due to their dealing with the Algerian regime .
Outside the country
Since 2003, after twelve years of detention and house arrest, Abassi Madani , former number one of the FIS, now lives in Doha (Qatar). At 75 years of age, isolated and physically weakened, he is no longer viewed to be widely representative.
Anwar Haddam has directed from 1992-2002 a ‘Parliamentary Delegation of the FIS’ in exile (a delegation of elected parliamentarians that was appointed by the National Executive Committee headed by Mohammed Saïd and Abderrezak Redjam), from the United States (where Anwar Haddam has himself been in political exile since 1993). It was the Parliamentary Delegation which led the FIS delegation in Sant’ Egidio. At odds with the leadership of the Executive Instance, he was approached by the current Prime Minister Belkhadem, at the end of 2005, but he has still yet to return to Algeria. Despite having preserved a certain degree of autonomy, he does not seem to carry much weight.
Ahmed Zaoui has been exiled in New Zealand since 2002, where he still hopes to obtain political asylum. He belongs to the small number of former FIS interlocutors who have preserved an important amount of political credibility.
Mourad Dhina has been residing in Switzerland since the 80s, and was a member of the executive bureau of the FIS until 2004. He has advocated for several years a reformist path for the future of the Islamic movement, with the small circle of his allies, and has resisted all attempts at co-option from the DRS. Although relatively isolated, he belongs in the mold of those rare independent personalities capable of representing the expectations of large component of the Islamist Algerian trend and fits the ‘Sant’ Egidio criterion’.
At this moment in time (end of 2006), due notably to oil and gas revenues, Algerian society seems to be enjoying a period of relative economic and political stability. But it is a hollow stability because of four factors:
First, the dual nature of the political system (behind the democratic facade embodied by an ‘elected’ Head of State, the real executive power is monopolized by the chief of the DRS), in existence for the past twenty-five years, is betraying serious signs of exhaustion. The serious disease of president Bouteflika, essential part of this system, and uncertainties of its succession contributed to reanimate the conflicts between the various civil and military clans linked to the chiefs of the DRS. Aged respectively 67 and 68, generals Mohamed Médiène and Larbi Belkheir are failing to facilitate a political transition towards a new system with new decision makers. The hyperconcentration of their power can in the medium term potentially lead to serious internal divisions amongst the factions jockeying to inherit the power within the junta, and thus constitutes an important source of destabilization.
Second, the social condition of large part of the populace is becoming increasingly precarious: with more than 25% of the population living below the poverty threshold, and the middle class becoming increasingly pauperized (with the exception of the war-profiteers), the ‘riots of misery’ are spreading and could potentially lead to the development of social revolts on a wider scale.
Third, although the hydrocarbon exploration fields are extremely well guarded, to the point of constituting a country with defined borders, the oil and gas pipelines which lead to the Mediterranean coasts are more exposed to manifestations of social revolt and sabotage which could become gradually more violent.
Fourth, the extent of political and economic corruption, and the total dependence of the economy on hydrocarbons are serious obstacles to an endogenous economic diversified development which is desperately needed (the industrial sector is for example deeply inefficient).
It is therefore in the interest of the EU to favour the economic and political renewal of Algeria, giving an undertaking to act as guarantors of democratic stability in the long term.
The full implications are as follows:
1. to send a clear signal acknowledging the fact that the EU is fully prepared to include genuinely democratic Islamist forces in its choice of possible partners. To give meaningful support to all progressive forces (political, trade unions and truly independent organisations of the civil society), Islamist as well as secular, which are currently melting away, but are struggling to work for the reconstitution of a genuine representative State. Beyond the independent Islamist figures mentioned in the section above, these forces principally include the Socialist Forces Front (presided over by Hocine Aït-Ahmed), that advocates the necessity of a constituent Assembly; the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH, led by the lawyer Hocine Zérouane) ; the autonomous Trade Unions that have been forming in recent years (and not officially recognized) within the public sector (SNAPAP, CNAPES, CENS, SNPSP, etc.); a confluence of these forces, although currently relatively atomized, is possible and must be encouraged;
2. contributing to enlarge and help protect the political space of these progressive forces, especially by securing guarantees from the Algerian government to repeal the State of Emergency (presently still in force, since February 1992) and to fully respect the international conventions on human rights and anti-corruption measures of which Algeria is a signatory. This would imply for example that the EU and its member States use legal tools at their disposal to encourage the Algerian government to end the human rights violations (abiding by Article 2 of the EU Algeria Agreement Partnership, codified in March 2005, or item 41.1a of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966) and to curtail mass-corruption that is a barrier to any real economic develop ment.
In the short run, the endorsement of such a policy would certainly face severe resistance from the key powerbrokers in Algeria. They may well be tempted, as a form of retaliation, to further their links with the United States, that have already been cultivated over the last few years at economic (with the increased presence of the US oil firms in Algeria), political and military levels (within the framework of the anti-terrorist cooperation in the ‘War on Terror’). But the EU holds a potential economic trump card in its dealings with Algiers, in that it constitutes, by far, the largest consumer/buyer of Algerian hydrocarbons (a position that the geographic proximity renders irreversible).
But, inside the EU, it is highly possible that this policy would be contested by Italy and, especially, by France, a number of whose leaders right across the political spectrum, are compromised by their links – politically and economically- with the Chiefs of the DRS. But these links in fact jeopardise the member States of the EU, notably on a security level (as demonstrated in 1995 with the horrific terrorist attacks on French soil attributed to the GIA, but in truth initiated by the chiefs of the DRS to pressurise the French government of Prime Minister Alain Juppé, to end their support of the ‘national contract’ of Sant’ Egidio).
In order to avoid the risk of a violent destabilization of Algeria, in both the medium and long term, that would play into the hands of Islamic extremist trends, it is therefore in the economic and political interests of the EU to explore with immediate effect initiatives that will facilitate the blossoming of a democratic process in Algeria. The EU should, in a prudent but robust manner, support initiatives relating to authentically democratic forces, in particular ones originating from political Islam: they are currently dispersed and weakened, but there is little doubt, in fact, that they mirror the aspirations of a majority of the Algerian population.