Impoverishment fuels Algeria's Civil War

By By Pat Smith, from the Militant, January, 1995.

Representatives of Algerian opposition parties announced proposals January 13 calling on the discredited military government to restore free political activity, recognize the banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), and release hundreds of jailed political opponents. Since the FIS was banned in 1992 following a military coup, more than 30,000 people have been killed in an ongoing civil war. The conflict claims 800 lives a week.

The FIS is the main rival bourgeois party to the National Liberation Front (FLN), which had governed Algeria for nearly three decades prior to the military takeover. The FIS has gained growing support by castigating the FLN government, and now the current regime, for the mounting corruption, deteriorating economy, and impoverishment of growing layers of working people.

The FIS, which won the first round of elections overwhelmingly in December 1991 , advocates establishing what it calls an Islamic state. To block an FIS government, President Chadli Benjedid of the FLN resigned "in the interest of the stability of the nation" and handed the reins over to a military council.

The new government annulled the election, imposed a state of emergency, banned the FIS, and launched a campaign of brutal repression against its political opponents, some of whom have taken up arms. Since then the regime has been anything but stable, however. The council in January 1994 appointed Gen. Lamine Zeroual as Algeria's fourth head of state in just over two years.

"The security forces carry out killings and extrajudicial executions daily and in total impunity," said an Amnesty International report released last March. "Armed Islamist opposition groups continue to kill civilians targeting a growing sector of the civilian population," the report continued.

The recent agreement by the FIS, FLN, Front of Socialist Forces, and smaller parties at a meeting in Rome marks the first time they have formed a common front against the military regime. The proposal calls for the right to free assembly, including for those waging armed struggle; an end to press censorship and torture; and a halt by all sides to violent attacks against civilians and non-Algerians. The agreement proposes an investigation into killings over the last year of journalists, women not wearing veils, children, immigrants, and tourists.

The former FLN regime came to power following the overthrow of the Algerian workers and farmers government, which emerged in 1963 from a powerful social revolution that ended 130 years of French colonial rule. The anticapitalist government, headed by Ahmed Ben Bella of the National Liberation Front, launched a land reform, expropriated much imperialist-owned industry, expanded workers control in many factories, solidarized with the young socialist revolution in Cuba, and actively aided the African National Congress of South Africa. In 1965 bourgeois forces within the FLN took advantage of political retreats by the revolutionary forces to carry out a military coup.

The new FLN regime consolidated capitalist rule and brutally demobilized struggles by peasants and urban workers to better their conditions. It is the failure of a quarter century of capitalism in Algeria - compounded by the economic depression besetting that social system world wide - that is at the root of the current strife in the oil- rich nation of 27 million, the most populous in North Africa.

Working people's hatred of the regime has grown since it imposed an austerity program in April 1994 to satisfy the International Monetary Fund in exchange for rescheduling Algeria's $26 billion foreign debt. Last year interest payments to imperialist banks absorbed the country's entire export earnings.

Twenty-five percent of the country's workforce is unemployed, and among youth the jobless rate reaches 75 percent. Inflation is high and working people wait in long lines for such staples as semolina, bread, and oil.

The big-business press in the imperialist countries attributes the crisis in Algeria to rising "Islamic fundamentalism." But the bloody civil war is the product of mounting class tensions in a situation where workers and peasants have no leadership that speaks and acts in their interests.

The December hijacking of an Air France jetliner by members of Algeria's Armed Islamic Group (GIA) coincided with the third anniversary of the annulled 1991 election. The French government, which committed 2.3 million soldiers to combat Algerian independence between 1953 and 1962, supported cancellation of the elections and recently supplied the Algerian government with new helicopters and night vision equipment to use against its opponents.

Algeria's former colonial rulers are also using the pretext of "Islamic terrorism" to justify attacks on immigrants in France. "I will not let people of foreign nationality living here to lead prayers, to become anti- French propagandists, to preach against the institutions of the republic, and to advocate confrontation here or elsewhere," French interior minister Charles Pasqua told Parliament November 7.

In pre-dawn raids by 300 commandos the following day, French police arrested 95 people allegedly tied to the GIA. Months earlier the government deported 20 accused FIS sympathizers.

Since the hijacking, Paris stepped up identity checks, already a daily concern for those of Algerian origin, and suspended air and maritime links to Algeria. And at least 88 girls have been expelled from school for wearing hidjabs, Islamic headscarves, since Education Minister Francois Bayrou banned "ostentatious signs" of religion in secondary- school classrooms.

"It's tragic what is happening; Algeria is being torn apart," Hamid, a mechanic and one of 3 million Algerians living in France, told John Ridding of the Financial Times. "We are worried that the trouble will come to France and build a feeling of hostility towards ordinary Muslims," said one of Hamid's friends.

Confronted with what the French media are describing as "France's second Algerian war," Paris is debating its next step in guaranteeing capitalist stability in the region.

"The options may not seem very attractive now," an unnamed diplomat in Paris told the Financial Times. "But they are getting less attractive by the day.- [I]t is by no means clear that pressures within Algeria can be contained that long."

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