Date: Thu, 20 Mar 97 23:14:13 CST
From: Mid-East Realities <>
Subject: MER: ALGERIA - Islamists more popular than ever

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Algeria: Beyond the Horror

From La Press, Montreal. 20 March, 1997

Algeria's absurd forced march in a bloody deadlock continues without respite.

Houses set ablaze, women transformed into human torches before being shot or slaughtered with hoes and axes, the night of terror in the mountain hamlet near Algiers was blamed on "terrorists" (armed Islamic fundamentalists) by survivors questioned yesterday by a journalist from the French news agency AFP.

In a statement received by AFP in Bonn, the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS, armed branch of the outlawed Islamic Salvation Front or FIS) meanwhile condemned the massacre of civilians in the Algiers region, and blamed "the terrorist military regime for the total responsibility of the crimes committed by those it has armed under the pretext of self- defense or other callings, and who have shed the blood of the innocent".

This new massacre has been perpetrated against the backdrop of a huge offensive launched by the security forces in the Algiers region, amid great discretion and accompanied by the search and mopping up of presumed bases of armed islamists, with the participation of the army, the police, the gendarmerie and self-defense militias.

According to partial estimates, 200 armed islamists have been killed in the last 15 days, but the authorities continue to maintain a black- out on the operations under way.

These developments underscore the scenario of "a secret war in a context of political deadlock" described by professor Addi Lahouari, a native of the Algerian town of Oran who teaches political science at Lyon-II, in France, and who was the guest of the Centre d'Etudes arabes pour le développement (CIAD) last week at the Université du Quebec, Montréal (UQAM).

At the heart of the crisis, he says, there is the army, kingpin of the system since independence in 1962 "because the Algerian State was born in violence", the army which removed the GPRA, the first civilian government, that very same year, the army which overthrew Ben Bella in 1965, the army which governed alone with Boumediene until 1978 and with Benjedid until 1992.

Calling for a "dispassionate debate" through analysis of the facts "which have led Algeria into this horrible impasse", Lahouari says the army has been maneuvering since the social explosion of 1988 "to democratize while at the same time preserving its own political pre-eminence above all institutions".

"By allowing pluralistic parliamentary elections in December 1991, the army calculated that the Islamist FIS would peak at 30-35% of the vote, and that thanks to a system of proportional representation, the old one-party formation, the FLN (National Liberation Front), would continue in power, in a coalition with the FIS", he says.

"The army miscalculated. The FIS did so well in the first round of voting that it needed only 30 to 40 seats in the second round in order to take power alone: so the army intervened to stop the process", says Lahouari, who calls this step "the biggest mistake Algeria ever made in all its History".

"The truth is that the army would have annuled the elections even if it had been the secular RCD (Rassemblement pour la culture et la dimocratie) which had bagged 60% of the seats: the army just does not trust the civilian ilites", he says.

Addi Lahouari has expounded on his ideas for Le Monde diplomatique, the Journal of Democracy, and in a book titled L'Algérie et la Démocratie (La Découverte, Paris, 1995).

He believes the islamists have no more than 20-30% support among the people. He thinks the FIS is effective in the opposition, but that "beyond its radical discourse, there is nothing in its program, it has no clear project for exercising power".

He adds that "the islamists are not even a real opposition since all they want is to change the personnel and not the system". "They want to replace the FLN with the FIS because they believe, naively, that to ensure good government, it's enough to place pious men in power, for such men would fear God".

But the Algerian political scientist also believes that "the cultural impact of the islamists on society is enormous", that the islamists represent "a profound historical current going back to Ben Badis and Messali Hadj, and to the national liberation struggle". He even believes that the islamists "are more popular now than when they were frustrated on the threshold of power in 1992".

Because the fundamental issue, he says, is that the Algerian people, "destructured, laminated and alienated by 130 years of a particularly brutal brand of colonialism", have burst onto the stage of History with the war of independence.

"With Ferhat Abbas, the Algerian people now are claiming their full and complete status as citizens, and they will not allow the State to be the private property of a handful of individuals", says Addi Lahouari.

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