Algeria: paralyzed by fear.Algerian is rapidly disintegrating in an atmosphere of escalating violence and widespread panic Widespread Panic is a southern rock band from Athens, Georgia. The current lineup includes guitarist/singer John Bell, bassist Dave Schools, drummer Todd Nance, percussionist Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz, keyboardist John "JoJo" Hermann, and guitarist Jimmy Herring. . In large areas of the country, including many towns, effective power has already passed to the Islamic fundamentalists. Yet faced with open rebellion, the government is doing nothing. Has it a secret and subtle strategy, or is it simply paralysed by the increasingly likely prospect that Algeria is about to become North Africa's Iran?
THE ATTACK on 10 March by over 150 fundamentalist militants on a jail at Tazult near Batna in eastern Algerian -- with insider help -- that allowed over 1,000 fundamentalist prisoners to escape is the most devastating dev·as·tate
tr.v. dev·as·tat·ed, dev·as·tat·ing, dev·as·tates
1. To lay waste; destroy.
2. To overwhelm; confound; stun: was devastated by the rude remark. blow to government security since the start of the "troubles" over two years ago. It also symbolically underlines the continuing loss of control by the new army-backed government sworn in at the end of January on which Algerians had pinned their last hopes of avoiding catastrophe.
Instead, despite the news blackout, it is clear to all that the country is spiralling out of control. The speed with which Algeria is disintegrating and the situation deteriorating day by day shocks everyone. Many areas -- including towns only 40 miles outside the capital, including the garrison town of Blida where the top FIS FIS n abbr (BRIT) (= Family Income Supplement) → ayuda estatal familiar leaders Abassi Medani and Ali Belhadj Ali Belhadj (also Benhadj; Arabic علي بن الحاج\بلحاج) was the Vice-President of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in Algeria. are jailed, and others such as Dellys, Baraki, Larbas, Tissemlit, Tiaret and Saida to the west of the country, and Djidjelli, Colo, Mila, in the east are now under the effective control of the Islamic guerrillas.
Some say only the major cities of Algiers, Oran, Constantine and Annaba are really under government control. However, these also contain no-go inner-city fiefdoms controlled by the fundamentalists. Government troops, report those travelling around the country, appear to have been withdrawn from many areas, leaving these "liberated zones" in the sole control of the fundamentalists.
Similarly the government now seems so divided and lacking in authority that it is increasingly unclear how it will be able to impose conditions on fundamentalists -- if indeed it has a clear position on negotiations. It is torn between those who insist the only way out is to reach an accommodation with Islamists and those who believe this will spell the demise of the secular state A secular state is a state or country that is officially neutral in matters of religion, neither supporting nor opposing any particular religious beliefs or practices. A secular state also treats all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and does not give preferential , and probably lead to Algeria's leaders being tried and executed.
Algerians interviewed by telephone by The Middle East say they are appalled and panic-stricken as the country seems to be collapsing around them. "There's a national psychosis", one says. They are at a loss to explain quite why the country is unravelling so fast, let alone what the government's tactics are, or why at this most desperate of times it is simply doing nothing except give up.
Some suggest its inaction is a calculated gamble, maybe part of a secret deal (in the absence of any reliable information, often unfounded rumours fly around). By far the most likely explanation, however, is that the government -- which has no legitimacy, support, policy or raison d'etre rai·son d'ê·tre
n. pl. rai·sons d'être
Reason or justification for existing.
[French : raison, reason + de, of, for + être, to be. except to prevent "another Iran" -- is withdrawing simply because it cannot do otherwise.
Not only is the government losing territory day by day to the fundamentalists but the entire country is being rapidly, extensively and very forcibly Islamicised except for a few areas still nominally under government control. This process is taking place everywhere. Satellite dishes are being torn down, newspaper and cigarette kiosks closed and their vendors killed, taxes are uncollected following death threats, businesses not in accordance with Koranic law closed, women not wearing the veil murdered. Now in a sign of growing confidence Islamic leaders are emerging publicly from clandestinity. And in some Islamic strongholds the streets are even being cleaned to prepare for the rumoured liberation of Medani and Belhadj, the leaders of the outlawed Islamic Salvation Front Islamic Salvation Front
French Front Islamique du Salut (FIS)
Algerian Islamist political party. Known best by its French acronym, the organization was founded in 1989 by Ali Belhadj and Abbasi al-Madani. (FIS), already said to have been moved from jail to house arrest.
How far is the original leadership of the FIS in control of the Islamic movement? Many believe it is not yet discredited, but that political dues will have to be paid to the front-line armed groups who are foremost in putting pressure on the government. The most prominent guerrilla group is the ferocious Armed Islamic Group Armed Islamic Group
French Groupe Islamique Armée (GIA)
Algerian militant group. It was formed in 1992 after the government nullified the likely victory of the Islamic Salvation Front in 1991 legislative elections and was fueled by the repatriation of (GIA Noun 1. GIA - a terrorist organization of Islamic extremists whose violent activities began in 1992; aims to overthrow the secular Algerian regime and replace it with an Islamic state; "the GIA has embarked on a terrorist campaign of civilian massacres" ), one of whose leaders, Djafar al Afghani af·ghan·i
n. pl. af·ghan·is
See Table at currency.
[Pashto afghn , was recently killed. This apparently followed a tipoff by its rival, the Armed Islamic Movement (MIA MIA
A member of the armed services who is reported missing following a combat mission and whose status as to injury, capture, or death is unknown.
[m(issing) i(n) a(ction). ), which is the military wing of the FIS.
The withdrawal of state control is leading to widespread banditry by young thugs and to the despair of ordinary Algerians. The interior minister recently admitted he was unable to cope with anything except the terrorist threat. Meanwhile, all those Algerians who can (mostly the French-educated middle classes with professions) are leaving. Scare stories are proliferating, not only of secret deals but also of infiltration of armed groups by the security services Security services are state institutions for the provision of intelligence, primarily of a strategic nature, but also including protective security intelligence. Examples include the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in the United Kingdom, and the . But in this murky world it is hard to see who is on which side or for what. In any case the country is barely functioning.
"We're just waiting for the country to go. So far, apart from releasing two FIS leaders from jail in Blida, the government has done nothing and is doing nothing. We're just waiting to see what will happen," commented one Algerian journalist who sounded deeply depressed and very frightened. Every day the death toll mounts. The television journalist Hassan Benaouda, wounded last month, died shortly afterwards of his wounds. So did critically injured playwright Abdelkader Alloula Abdelkader Alloula (Ar. عبد القادر علولة) was an Algerian playwright, born in 1929 and assassinated in 1994.
He was born in Ghazaouet in western Algeria, and studied drama in France. , transferred to Paris because Oran hospital was so under-equipped. His assailants were arrested by the police. They were adolescents.
Not only is the mass escape of fundamentalist prisoners a terrible blow to the regime's sagging morale, but those still on the run (and despite a massive manhunt man·hunt
An organized, extensive search for a person, usually a fugitive criminal.
an organized search, usually by police, for a wanted man or fugitive
Noun 1. only 39 had been recaptured as The Middle East went to print) will have no choice but to join the armed fundamentalist groups, putting yet more pressure on the beleaguered be·lea·guer
tr.v. be·lea·guered, be·lea·guer·ing, be·lea·guers
1. To harass; beset: We are beleaguered by problems.
2. To surround with troops; besiege. government. Some 400 prisoners had been condemned to life imprisonment Imprisonment
See also Isolation.
former federal maximum security penitentiary, near San Francisco; “escapeproof.” [Am. Hist.: Flexner, 218]
German prison ship in World War II. [Br. Hist. and another hundred to death for terrorist activities. The attack, helped from inside the jail forcefully demonstrates the existence of clandestine Islamists even in institutions such as the army, supposedly the last bulwark of the secular regime. When The Middle East asked an informed Algerian about the possibility of any solution, she replied: "I think it's already too late".