The cat and mouse game
Ghania Khelifi - 13/12/2011
The Algerian status quo has resisted the Arab revolutions even if the country is still borderline. The social front continues to be dangerously unstable and the governments’ public image remains quite negative. Nevertheless, foreign observers exasperate Algerians by continuously questioning their apparent passivity. Like certain elite personalities, they could argue that they had already had their revolution in 1988 to obtain a constitutional revision and a caricature of democracy. This is not their answer because thanks to the Arab Spring, they have understood that real change is not compatible with the survival of the system. The people know that the real fall of the regime, of the entire regime is the only alternative to rebuild democracy. The Algerian government is also aware of this. In fact, it has opened the purse strings to seduce those categories who could “conceive” a revolution and announced political reforms to reassure the country’s foreign partners and save time.
With a little bit of luck, the Arab revolutions could fail or sanctify Islamist fundamentalism! It is therefore a cat and mouse game between the corrupted isolated institutions and the population, aware of the threat it represents. Unlike Tunisians and Libyans, Algerians know that the fall of the president of the republic will change nothing to the situation because the Algerian government is composed of several decision-making centres and complex ramifications that are interdependent to survive. After ten years of a bloody civil war, for the time being, nobody is interested in the leap in the dark. This is why Algerian citizens are neither interested in the so-called political reforms, nor in the revision of the law on political parties or elections as they are busy claiming housing and wage increases. At the moment, the elections - a key moment for fraud and clan co-optations – are actually at stake for a political class that has been weakened for a long time.
In this Tower of Babel of a system, everyone tries to place his pieces to take the pot in the next big share of spoils, that is, the succession of President Bouteflika in 2014. First of all, a good quota for parliament has to be negotiated and a comfortable lead has to be ensured before the big manoeuvres of the presidential election. The Islamists are patient as they believe in their future. They are convinced that sooner of later, the army, the country’s main authority, will depend on them to continue holding their reins. Hasn’t Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Tunisian Islamist Party Ennahda, been elected State leader last November whereas his presence was barely tolerated by the authorities in Algeria? The lack of a credible democratic opposition and thanks to the tremendous legitimacy brought by their Arab neighbours, the Algerian Islamists indulge in the luxury of playing the democrats.
Translated from French by Elizabeth Grech
This article has been written in the framework of the «Babelmed Arab World» project financed by the Foundation for the Future, the René Seydoux Foundation and Solidarités Laïques.
The crazy dream of Algerian Islamists
In early December, the Parliament members approved the legislation on political parties thus prohibiting the former FIS (Islamic Salvation Front(1) dissolved in 1992) to return to the political scene. An Article of this law states that no “person responsible for the exploitation of religion” and who has advocated violence or committed acts of terrorism can undertake political activity. The majority of MPs belonging to the presidential alliance, who voted this law, did not commit a high act of courage since the FIS has been totally discredited in the eyes of the Algerians for years. Instead, they have reassured the “local” Islamists, i.e. the MSP (Movement of Society for Peace(2)), their ally in the presidential majority. The leader of this party and his comrades presented as the moderate Algerian Islamists make the real moderate Islamists dream out loud their electoral aspirations. Since the victory of the Tunisian, Moroccan and Egyptian Islamists and the triumph of the Libyans, the leader of the MSP has been suddenly encouraged. Last weekend, he even tried to play the role of the leader of the movement by calling all the Islamists to “ally” for the upcoming legislative elections and to form “a front against fraud”. In the same electioneering strategy, he has adopted the Tunisian Islamists’ rhetoric advocating for openness to the world and other trends. His ideological rival, Abdella Djaballah, founder of the association movement El Islah and of the En Nahda Party, does not see things in the same way. Closer to the Salafists, Djaballah does not hide the fact that he will open the doors of his new party, not yet registered, to the former FIS activists. His way of thinking close to that of the Muslim Brotherhood, for him, the MSP is just a “henchman of power”. In fact, the MSP takes note of Bougerra’s offer of services but gives no sign of encouragement. One must say that another “local” Islamist has also made advances. Abdelaziz Belkhadem, head of the FLN(3) (National Liberation Front - former single party) and pillar of the presidential alliance is actively preparing to maintain hegemony in the Parliament after the legislative elections of 2012. He proclaims to those who willing to listen that his party will support President Bouteflika for another mandate in 2014. His loyalty to the Algerian authorities’ decision makers is thus guaranteed. An Islamo-nationalist himself, Belkhadem sees himself as a leader of a moderate and nationalist Islamism that would maintain and consolidate the current Family Code inspired by the Shari’a and purge the State of its secular and modernist pulse. After a long hibernation period to deflect from the deadly clashes that took place between the regime and the armed Islamists in the 1990’s, the Algerian Islamists come back to life thanks…to the Arab Spring.