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The painful transition from authoritarianism in Algeria.

"DEVELOPMENTAL DICTATORSHIPS" IN THE MIDDLE EAST and elsewhere have failed miserably. Not only have they failed in modernizing their societies, but their rule has led to an impoverishment of the middle class and to the pauperization of the masses. And, even if they have achieved some relatively substantial level of industrialization, their success has been overshadowed by the corruption, injustice, arbitrary rule, and the clientelism which have characterized these regimes. The long-held assumption that central planning under an authoritarian regime was the best path to rapid economic growth(1) has been shattered when confronted with the harsh realities resulting from two or three decades of such developmental schemes. In addition to the severe economic crises (inflation, astronomical international debts, high unemployment, etc.) authoritarian regimes have faced a crisis of credibility and identity. The centralization of power in the hands of petit bourgeois elites that have sustained their rule through corruption, clientelism, neopatriarchism, and total tyranny could no longer sustain themselves due to their inability to meet the increasing needs of their populations. The populist discourse was of little help in hiding the gloomy realities. By the mid-1980s it had become evident that the social contract between the masses and the leadership had lost any type of legitimacy it might have had hitherto.(2) As aptly put by Hisham Sharabi, the petit bourgeoisie was incapable of performing the tasks either of capitalist economic development or revolutionary social transformation.(3)

By the mid-1980s, the fragility of the authoritarian state in Middle Eastern and African countries had become quite obvious. This weakness was evidenced by forceful new opposition to single party rule by a multitude of social groups, especially radical Islamist organizations. The difficulty faced by these regimes both domestically and externally led to the introduction of some degree of liberalization and even democratization. Many reasons have compelled these countries to initiate reforms. First, most of these countries were faced with disastrous socio-economic situations, which have often engendered violent upheavals, as was the case in Algeria and Jordan, thus forcing the regimes to undertake democratic reforms. Second, for domestic and external considerations, these countries have had to liberalize their economies. The consent and good will of civil society are necessary preconditions for regimes to initiate economic liberalization and to apply the structural adjustments imposed by the International Monetary Fund. Third, and more importantly, the regimes have lost their legitimacy and even their raison d'etre. In order to survive, the ruling elite have decided to open the political system, hence making it easier to control the social and political movements opposed to them than would have been possible through sheer repression. Fourth, important societal groups have compelled the regimes, often through force, to launch political reforms. But, even if many political analysts have interpreted the recent upheavals in Third World countries as struggles for democracy, it would perhaps be more realistic to argue that "the peoples who rose up and will continue to rise up in Asia and Africa have done so less for democracy than against their former inefficient and despotic rulers."(4)

Undoubtedly, Algeria has been the country in the Middle East and Africa that has made the biggest steps toward democracy despite the stalemate that has prevailed since January 1992. A brief overview of the Algerian political system will help us understand the process of "democratization" which was initiated following the bloody riots of October 1988.


Although difficult to define, the Algerian political system can best be characterized as authoritarian.(5) In this system, the single party, officially charged with the task of ruling over civil society, is a mere transmission belt to the clan in power. In fact, the party was simply an instrument of control and repression in the hands of the ruling bloc, or, of what an Algerian scholar calls "l'Etatclan."(6) Because the regime lacked popular legitimacy, an entire administrative and political machinery was instituted to generate unanimous approval of its policies. The regime strove to have total control over every aspect of State and society, for it wanted to remain in power by whatever means. The clan in power was not only afraid of institutions but was also fearful of other rival clans, as well as society. However, regardless of the clan's totalitarian efforts, coexisting instruments (e.g., an underground economy, dissident groups, etc.) defied the policies established by the regime. A split between State and civil society was the most visible consequence of the policies undertaken by succeeding clans. The institutions established by the Algerian State did not represent the real interests of civil society. Rather, their real purpose was to provide the illusion of legitimacy and to prolong the power of the clan. The Etat-clan entrusted clienteles within these institutions. The result was that, since the clan failed to obey the rules it had itself decreed, civil society did not feel compelled to observe them either. Therefore, everyone sought to discover how to evade the rules. Corruption and favoritism thus become rampant and have influenced the entire social body.(7) Whatever its progressive nature and its international prestige, the Algerian political system was a repressive police State.

The nature of the political system has had a lasting, negative impact on the transition to a more democratic State. It should be pointed out, however, that attempts to open up the political system were evident even under Houari Boumediene's regime. The authoritarian regime under his rule showed its shortcomings in 1974-75, when dissensions within the bloc in power became evident. This was due to deteriorating socio-economic conditions produced by failure in various sectors of the economy and to the conspicuous lack of legitimacy of the regime. Algerian "socialism" failed to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. In fact, there was an increase in social inequalities. Although the popular masses experienced substantial improvement in their standards of living, the existing gap between them and the rich, led to social discontent. The absence of democratic channels forced Algerians to adopt attitudes of apathy toward the regime and its populist preaching. The predominant expression of this general dissatisfaction came in the form of passive resistance: apathy toward public affairs, strikes (though illegal in the State sector), absenteeism, sabotage, etc. In order to give some legitimacy to his regime, Boumediene launched a public debate on the proposal for a National Charter. If the move was meant mainly to consolidate his rule, it is also conceivable that due to popular pressure and increasing opposition inside the ruling bloc, the regime attempted to "extricate itself from authortarian rule"(8) or, at least, to soften it.(9) Thus, the stability and legitimacy of the system presupposed greater popular participation in the nation's decision-making. Of course, the Charter failed to achieve this objective, assuming this was one of its priorities. The Charter merely served the needs of the regime, i.e., self-legitimation and self-justification. One can argue in retrospect that a chance for democratization was missed in 1976 when the regime had, despite its limitations, considerable positive accomplishments. But, even if one assumes that there existed genuine forces favorable to an opening of the system, their efforts were in vain, for, as pointed out by students of the transition: "If things are going well, and no important crises or challenges are foreseen, why decide on changes that will inevitably introduce new actors and uncertainties, however tightly liberalization may be controlled by the regime? Why risk the 'achievements of the regime' for the sake of the fuzzy long-term advantages advocated by the soft-liners?"(10) What is paradoxical in this context is that Houari Boumediene appeared like a soft-liner because the so-called "liberals" in the ruling bloc, despite their opposition to the Charter, resisted any weakening of the bloc. Whatever their ideological predilections and whether soft-liners or hard-liners (a notion which is hard to discern in the Algerian political system), they were opposed to any move toward democracy. Their major preoccupation was how to protect their own interests and those of their respective clienteles. This is why, in retrospect, the Charter had at least the merit of directing national development--through industrialization--in favor of the underprivileged. The problem was that, in order to remain in power, Boumediene had to yield to and compromise with those staunchly opposed to his initiatives by allowing them to stay in their positions.(11) Cohesion was not the strongest mark of the regime, but rather an alliance of antagonistic currents under the leadership of Boumediene. The balance of power inside the bloc which seemed to have prevailed did not outlive Boumediene's death in December 1978.


Boumediene's succession took place peacefully despite the bitter rivalry between former members of the Revolutionary Council. The two rivals who aspired to leadership had no clear-cut ideological or political orientations. In the final instance, the military made its own choice.

With Chadli Bendjedid--initially a transition figure--the political system remained almost untouched, although the new president removed numerous heavyweights from power. The anti-corruption campaign as well as the changes announced by the regime were simply a tactic to eliminate from office personalities or clans who had fallen out of favor, on the one hand, and to co-opt individuals who were not sufficiently rewarded by the previous regime.(12) Again, there was no radical rupture with the past. Civil society continued to be repressed. The political system staunchly opposed the emergence of a coherent intelligentsia, and opposed any form of organized dissent.

The Bendjedid regime (1979-1992) had the most disastrous consequences for Algeria. It was at the level of the management of the economy that radical changes were introduced. State-owned enterprises were broken up and decentralized, thus leading to a total reorganization--or rather disorganization--of the public sector. The private sector was accorded a greater role in both agriculture and industry. More importantly, hydrocarbon revenues were re-allocated toward the service sector and internal consumption. The coalition between the bureaucracy, the petit bourgeoisie, elements of the military, and the landlords which was crystallizing under the preceding regime matured and provided the social basis of the new one.

At the political level, the regime maintained its authoritarian features. The party was transformed into a quasi totalitarian machine in order to mute the regime's opponents (mainly leftists and syndicalists) and to control more closely, under the infamous Article 120 of the FLN Statutes, the mass organizations. The latter lost their protest character to become mere appendages of the party with no representation whatsoever: "In the absence of social hegemony, Algeria was subjected to the political hegemony of the party, combined with the power of the military."(13) Bendjedid's regime repressed any kind of opposition. Artists, independent syndicalists, Berberists, human rights activists, and radical Islamists suffered the harshest repression. Paradoxically enough, the regime introduced some legislation in 1987--resisted by the FLN-dominated National Popular Assembly (APN)--which favored the emergence of associations (consumer defense, cultural activities, etc.). Simultaneously, the Algerian Human Rights League, recognized by the State, was founded. The initial objective, of course, was to counteract the two unrecognized Human Rights Leagues.

In the 1980s, the economic reforms introduced by the regime aggravated the socio-economic conditions of the laboring masses. In particular, the industrial workers lost the social benefits they enjoyed under the previous regime. Further, the dismantling of the State enterprises led to growing unemployment. The anarchic manner in which Bendjedid's economic liberalization was brought about led Algerian society,

To organize itself, in an informal way, not around the production of goods and services, but around legal and illicit speculation. The underground economy [marche parallele] imposed itself progressively as the essential mechanism, thus illegally determining the functioning of a drifting economy. The rapacious racketeering [affairisme] "has led ineluctably to corruption, a phenomenon which has seized the entire social body and generates in it an ethical malaise which leads to generalized cynicism and feeds at the same time sermons in the mosques and reactions of religious fundamentalism."(14)

The reforms, which applied to the educational and health sectors as well, resulted in the emergence of a system of privileges (e.g., selective schooling system, private vs. public hospitals, etc.), hence alienating important segments of Algerian society. Opposition to the reforms came from several sectors (FLN party, unions, communists, and intellectuals). In the Summer of 1988, the socio-economic situation in Algeria was appalling: acute housing shortage, water problems, food shortages, high inflation, an increase in prices of most commodities, high unemployment, and so on. The social compromise esablished under Boumediene's regime was broken. The widening gap between rich and poor, the austerity programs which affected mostly the poor and the lower middle class, coupled with the impudent exhibition of wealth by the nouveau riches who made their fortunes with the assistance of high officials and/or through the underground economy, exacerbated social tensions in the country.

Tensions existed within the political system as well. A power struggle was fought between the presidency and the party. The thesis which describes the October 1988 riots as a spontaneous popular revolt is simplistic and inaccurate, for a closer analysis of the political evolution would underscore the unquestionable power struggle which preceded the riots and their subsequent manipulation by different forces (presidency, party, security services, etc.).(15) The Army itself seems to have been manipulated as well, and forced to intervene to prevent the chaotic situation from reaching unpredictable dimensions. There is strong evidence that the military was provoked into shooting rioters.(16)

The tragic events of October 1988 demonstrated that the ruling bloc, which had begun to disintegrate in the mid-1980s, had reached a point of no return. The crumbling of the bloc was caused by the general crisis of the rentier State due to severe socio-economic difficulties and an unresolvable crisis of legitimacy. The ruling bloc was over-confident as to its durability and seemed unaware of its limits as a "welfare State" or of the impotence of its claim to legitimacy acquired from the war of independence. The post-independence generations do not share the values which exemplified the wartime FLN and its army of liberation. Most Algerians, especially the youth, have lost confidence in the State's elites and have rejected the nationalist ideology propagated by the system. These attitudes have been strengthened by the "demonstration effect" which the Western model--not only its material opulence and consumerism, but also its freedoms and progress--has had on many Algerians who expected more from independence. Young people in particular have been frustrated by the growth of a new bourgeoisie which displays blatantly, against traditional values and teachings, its newly, often illicitly, acquired riches. In October 1988, Algerians manifested their repulsion for a political system based on clientelism, regional/tribal/clan/family solidarity which favored a few and marginalized millions. Algerians were also repulsed by the networks of patronage that granted so many benefits to those who have access to them, while excluding those who have no choice but to live hopeless lives. The immediate consequences of such a system were widespread cynicism, complete withdrawal from and disinterest in public life, lack of civic virtues, and total hatred toward the State and its symbols. It goes without saying that it was within this context that Islamism found propitious terrain. However, it should be pointed out that, in spite of their yearning for liberty, social justice, and egalitarianism, this did not translate into demands for democracy. The evidence is the popularity enjoyed by the anti-democratic, populist, quasi-fascist/totalitarian, Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), after the ostensible liberalization of the political system by the Bendjedid regime.


Economic reforms and economic liberalization were initiated by Bendjedid's regime in the 1980s, especially after 1986, as a direct result of the increasing power of the new bourgeoisie and the drop in oil prices. However, after the October revolt, which signaled the final divorce between State and civil society, the regime had no other recourse but to initiate a number of political reforms. The formidable pace with which these reforms were introduced activated a process, certain features of which have become irreversible, with immense ramifications. But, it must be pointed out that these reforms:

1. were not well thought out; they were imposed on the regime by

the "street." The regime's main objective was to prevent further

disturbances from occurring.

2. were effectuated in a highly undemocratic fashion;

3. were part and parcel of the power struggle for leadership of the

regime and were initiated, therefore, to serve the president's effort to

recover legitimacy--assuming he ever had any;

4. were not meant to institute a truly democratic system, but merely

to preserve the old one with a "democratic" facade.

What took place in Algeria, therefore, was not different in purpose from what has occurred in other places, especially in the Near East:

The main purpose of liberalization from above is system maintenance in a situation of acute socio-economic crisis, by co-opting wider circles of the political public, distributing responsibility for future austerity policies more broadly, directing political and religious organizations into controllable channels and excluding all those outside the "national consensus" defined by the regime.(17)

The changes that took place following the October events consisted of removing from office the most unpopular individuals. The regime resorted to the usual scheme: Although the entire political system was de-legitimized, the regime chose a few individuals to be sacrificed, but never entirely eliminated for regional and clientelist/clan considerations. The president himself succeeded in staying in power despite the military's wish to see him resign.(18)

In order to save the regime, Bendjedid, under pressure from the military, launched a series of reforms starting in November 1988. On 3 November a referendum was held to decide on constitutional reforms, which were the first effort ever to introduce consequential changes to the political system itself by way of amendments to the Constitution, including, inter alia, the creation of the position of a prime minister responsible to the National Popular Assembly. Obviously, the use of referendums by Bendjedid was intended to strengthen the presidential nature of the regime and to partially liberate himself from the party and the military. Indeed, less than two weeks before the referendum, Bendjedid had introduced a proposal reluctantly adopted by the FLN which reduced considerably the party's monopoly on three aspects: separation of State from the FLN, independent candidacies at the municipal and legislative elections, and independence of "mass organizations."(19) At the FLN Congress (28-30 November), Bendjedid managed to have himself chosen as the single candidate for the presidency of the Republic, a procedure which obviously suggested continuity rather than a break with Algeria's undemocratic experiene. Bendjedid was elected for a third five-year term on 22 December 1988. The abnormality resides in the fact that Bendjedid made sure he was re-elected before "democratic" reforms could be initiated.

As promised by Bendjedid, 1989 was indeed the year of reforms. On 23 February, a new Constitution was approved with 73.43% of the votes. The new Constitution(20) was a revolution in the sense that it repudiated the FLN as a constitutional institution with a political role. No longer was there any mention of the leading role of the FLN and its supremacy over political life. Interestingly enough, the new Constitution made no reference to the socialist orientation of the country nor was any preference given to the workers, peasants and progressive intellectuals, as emphasized in the 1976 Constitution.

The new Constitution "guarantees to the citizen freedoms of expression, association, and assembly" (Article 39). It also acknowledges the right of workers to strike, except in vital areas (Article 54). This article represented a considerable retreat from the 1976 Constitution, whose Article 61 recognized the right to strike only to workers in the private sector.

The most consequential amendment to the Constitution pertains to the recognition of the right of the citizens "to create political associations" (Article 40). This amendment allowed for the establishment of a multiparty system, thus terminating, at least theoretically, the FLN's monopoly and making it a parti comme les autres. This amendment also affected the military which had been a component of and occupied an important position in the FLN. Contrary to the previous Constitutions (1963 and 1976), which granted considerable political and economic functions to the military, in the new Constitution the "permanent mission" of the military is limited to the "safeguard of national independence and the defense of national sovereignty...." (Article 24) The military accepted this role and decided to withdraw from the FLN in order to elevate itself above political parties. The new function, according to the military's representatives, is to support the "legitimate" authority and to safeguard the free choice of the people.(21)

The new Constitution was complemented by a new law, No. 89-11, which provides guidelines for establishing political associations(22) which in reality are political parties. In order to be legal, political associations must first be approved by the government. The Law on Political Associations prohibits the "foundation of parties whose creation or action rests exclusively [author's emphasis] on a religious, linguistic or regionalist basis...." (Article 5) Moreover, "any association must, in its program and activities, prohibit intolerance, fanaticism, racism and incitement and/or resort to violence under all its forms." (Article 3) Also, the Law insists that a political association "must use the national language [Arabic] in its official activity." (Article 4)

Under the new Constitution, basic human rights and freedoms are guaranteed by law. A Constitutional Council was instituted for the purpose of guaranteeing respect for the Constitution and for supervising legislative and presidential elections and referenda. Primarily, these reforms revealed the fact that at least a sizable segment of the Algerian elite and a good majority of society were eager to see the erection of a more democratic order in which political groups and movements could participate in public life unhampered by a single party or by a parasitic bureaucracy. For the vast majority, the main objective was to find ways to end the FLN's populist/authoritarian reign since it could not abide by the social contract established after independence.

Subsequent to the introduction of the new Law on Political Associations, numerous parties were either newly born or came out of the underground (e.g., PAGS, PST, FFS, MDA, MDRA, etc.) or were proclaimed after long years of struggle against successive regimes (RCD, FIS). By 1992, approximately sixty parties had been recognized. Numerous daily and weekly newspapers, and several specialized magazines continued to come to life--even under the state of siege, as was the case for Le Journal and Ruptures, born in late Fall 1992.

In spite of this positive development, it should be pointed out not only that the initiators of this democratization are the authoritarian rulers themselves who would use any means to preserve their power, but, also, that the process itself was undertaken in the most unlawful and un-democratic fashion, hence demonstrating that old habits have prevailed. Suffice it to say here that the revision to the 1976 Constitution was undertaken illegally. There were no public debates, not even within the ruling party, preceding the revision of the Constitution because Bendjedid feared that such debates would elicit strong opposition. Therefore, he and his cohorts adapted a Constitution to their own ideological preferences. The new Constitution granted the president enormous powers. Reluctant to fight within the party, Bendjedid decided to make use of his institutional prerogatives to break the FLN. One way of inhibiting the FLN from recovering its hegemony was to institute a pluralist system to fetter the impending triumph of a potentially rejuvenated FLN at the polls. This perhaps explains the reason why the Islamic Salvation Front was recognized in September 1989, that is, in the hope that the FIS would offset the power of Bendjedid's opponents in the FLN.

The Law on Political Associations borrows from old democratic systems. For example, the Law draws its inspiration from liberal democracies when it stipulates that political parties must "respect the free choice of the citizens" and protect "the republican form of the State and the fundamental liberties of the citizens" and to "respect [the] democratic organization of society" (Article 3). Paradoxically, however, while this law forbids the existence of any party based exclusively on religion (Article 4), it also stipulates that the parties are obligated to incorporate in their goals "the protection and the consolidation of the social and cultural blooming of the nation within the framework of national Arab-Islamic values" (Article 3). Assuming that this was a mere concession to the Islamists, it can also be easily construed in such a manner as to be targeted against the secular parties should they challenge political decisions concerning Islamic customs (e.g., the 1984 Shari'a-inspired Family Law, which basically sanctions the inferiority of women). Consequently, could not the Law on Political Associations be exploited to outlaw parties which do not conform to Islamic values, as interpreted by the Islamists?(23) The effect of this Law was to compel the secular parties to fight the Islamists by continually referring to Islam, thus providing the Islamists with strong arguments because, how can one proclaim to be Muslim and reject the Islamic solution?(24)

Undoubtedly, the most important and most popular party to have arisen and profited from the liberalization of the political system is the now-banned FIS. It was the most organized and best structured Islamist party in the country. Before their arrest on 1 July 1991 and their condemnation in July 1992, Dr. Abassi Madani, a university professor, but by no means a theologian, and Ali Benhadj, a high-school teacher, presided over the party. The FIS's leaders asserted that they represented the general will of the Algerian people and pledged to implement the Shari'a al- Islamiya once in power.(25) An examination of the program highlights its incoherent character. No concrete proposals were advanced in its program to show how it would solve the country's severe socioeconomic problems. The Shari'a was cited as the solution to every question. Some FIS leaders declared unequivocally that when they came to power they would banish the republican Constitution and ban the secular political parties. Ali Benhadj repeated ad infinitum that democracy was incompatible with Islam and was kufr [blasphemy] because it placed the power of the people over God's power over the people.(26) Unavoidably, the FIS' program frightened not only the democratic forces and liberated women, but large segments of society as well.

Other Islamist parties, such as HAMAS and al-Nahda competed with the FIS for constituencies. But because of their seemingly moderate position and their middle class membership, these parties had little audience among the disgruntled and impoverished youth that constitute a gigantic portion of the population.

With very few exceptions, the other parties are insignificant; their existence is due mostly to the rather liberal character of the Law on Political Associations--only 15 members are required as a precondition for the constitution of a party. In fact, one of the major problems in the competiton for power is that most of the small parties have no popular base and owe their existence to a charismatic figure. Among the most notable parties one can mention the Front des Forces Socialistes, formed in 1963 as a splinter of the FLN. The party has been presided over by a national hero of the war of liberation, Hocine Ait Ahmed. Despite its attempt to extend its influence nationally, the party is popular primarily in the Berber-speaking Kabylie region and, to a lesser degree, in Algiers. The FFS, despite the democratic discourse of its leader, as well as his critical attitude toward the regime and to Islamism alike, has had limited audience. And, like the Mouvement pour la Democratie en Algerie (MDA), led by Algeria's first president, Ahmed Ben Bella, the FFS has not offered any fresh democratic conceptions. Instead, both parties have competed with the FLN for historic legitimacy.

The same observation applies even to the most democratic parties, such as the Rassemblement pour la Culture et la Democratie (RCD), the social democratic type of parties, and the left-wing, especially Trotskyite, organizations.

The birth of dozens of parties has been accompanied by the emergence of independent newspapers and magazines. Freedom of the press (written and audio-visual) is guaranteed by the Law on Information passed by the National Assembly on 3 April 1990.(27) Although the Law on Information may be considered a revolution in the Arab World and Africa--for it envisions private individuals creating their own stations--it also has stringent restrictions on issues dealing with national defense and foreign policy questions, as well as issues pertaining to religion.(28) Yet, one can argue that, overall, there is a relatively free press in Algeria, despite the enormous difficulties (lack of adequate equipment and supplies, budgetary constraints, etc.). An impressive variety of daily and weekly newspapers in French and Arabic, some of very high quality, are available throughout the country. What is even more extraordinary is that even during the two states of siege (June-September 1991; February 1992 to the present), except for periodic suspensions of a few newspapers and the banning of the FIS's newspapers, freedom of information generally has been observed. This, hopefully, may mean the irreversible character of the liberalization process in Algeria rather than a measure to appease international public opinion.

The presence of a multitude of political organizations appeared to prove the "resurrection of civil society,"(29) assuming there ever was one. Despite its semi-totalitarian control, the Algerian regime was never able to totally suppress the challenge to its authoritarian rule from diverse groups inside and outside the regime. By the mid-1980s, there were clear indications that whatever seeming legitimacy the party-State may have obtained in the past had vanished. Challenges to the regime emanated from all social strata, even from those that had backed it and been rewarded by it. The corruption that had plagued the regime at all levels, its conspicuous failures in the socio-economic realms, the moral disgust expressed by several sections of society and from within the State and the FLN themselves, and the existence of new options, pushed by human rights and religious organizations, coupled with the transformations happening elsewhere in the globe, have strengthened the defiance against and the determination to modify the political order. The many demonstrations organized by democratic parties to protest the rise of intolerance practiced by the Islamists, seemed to corroborate the resurrection of civil society and the democratic hopes of Algerians. However, the outcome of the municipal elections of June 1990 demonstrated how deceptive the nature of this assessment can be.


Even though various Islamist groups have always existed and challenged the Algerian regime, their crystallization into a full-blown protest movement is a recent phenomenon. This is the result of a combination of factors:

1. the FLN regime's unsuccessful modernization program and the

persistent refusal to acknowledge the failure of these policies

2. the regime's failed attempt to integrate a Western model of

development, without its democratic tenets--coupled with the failure

of the model to fulfill the overall hopes of the masses--into a

traditional, neopatriarchal/ neopartimonial,(30) Islamic society; the

socio-economic problems, worsened by incredible demographic

growth, did little to alleviate the shortcomings of the regime's


3. the corrupt and inefficient nature of the system, thus hindering any

worthwhile development policies

4. the debacle of Arab nationalism and the discredit suffered by Arab

regimes at the hands of Israel; and,

5. the impact of the Iranian revolution.

The strength of the Islamist movement, whatever the impact of external influences (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, and even Libya), stems primarily from the failures of the FLN regime. The latter utilized Islamist ideology to legitimize its rule. But, unquestionably, the FLN's efforts to create a synthesis between Islam and socialism proved unproductive because the political system engendered inequalities instead of the egalitarianism prevailing in the regime's official discourse.

Whatever its authoritarian and quasi-totalitarian nature, the regime did not always repress the Islamists. And, whenever it challenged the Islamists' ideology, it did so in the name of Islam!(31) In the 1980s, the State's ambivalent policies toward the Islamists enhanced the bold stance of the movement, which the FLN unleashed against secular forces, especially the Left, in the universities and elsewhere. More distressing is the fact that the regime failed to understand the exact nature, ambitions, and grievances of the Islamists, for, although the FIS was undoubtedly a party of violence, it was also "a movement that succeeded in mobilizing a marginalized youth around an existential project, a moral order, an immanent justice where redemption is a permanent order."(32) The FIS, in particular, was particularly attractive to the poor strata of Algerian society. The greatest component is a lumpenproletariat that grew as a consequence of the disruption of traditional society. The remainder of the movement is constituted of the unemployed; the hittistes, i.e., those jobless people who lean against walls all day long; those with a diploma in Arabic (Arabophones) but who could not find work; Arabic teachers; students and graduates in the physical sciences; and merchants opposed to State socialism who made generous financial contributions to the FIS; employees; jewelers; engineers; former FLN militants, either disgruntled with the FLN or out of sheer opportunism; a few urban intellectuals, etc.(33)

Although the main beneficiary of the liberalization of the system, the FIS, particularly its extremist faction, demonstrated its aversion to a democratic society through its violent activities (attacks on women, bars, disruption of musical concerts, etc.). The fiery speeches of some of its leaders validated such observations. What is rather ironic is the fact that the Islamists condemned democracy when it was precisely the democratic opening which allowed them to openly express their hostility to it.

It is no exaggeration to describe objectively the Islamist movement, the FIS in particular, as a reactionary, proto-fascist current. True, its leaders often refer to technological progress and science; but, modernity, in its most positive and culture-free sense, is not their main objective. Their obsession with a mythical and regressive past is not merely a discourse to rally their base, it is also an intrinsic component of their political and ideological weltanschauung.(34) The FIS embraces a vague, even contradictory discourse, characteristic of fascist and populist movements. Yet, it is a simple discourse that provides hope for those who no longer have any.(35) The FIS is principally a political movement. The party succeeded in channeling a leaderless protest movement, on the one hand, and, in establishing itself, because of the disarray of the regime during the riots, as the only mediator between the rioters and the authorities, on the other hand. The regime bears a heavy responsibility for promoting the party and making the Islamist leadership aware of the potential power of the movement. The FIS claimed to be the authentic progeny of the Algerian revolution. In fact, the leadership utilized the populist discourse of the wartime nationalist movement. Clearly, the FIS owed its prestige partly to its capacity to depict itself as the "legitimate" FLN of the war of national liberation, i.e., the party which, for Algerians, embodied the singularity of the Algerian people, egalitarianism, pride, liberty, and so on. In other words, the FIS espoused the FLN's ideological discourse and clothed it with an Islamic garb, hence downgrading the FLN to an organization that had betrayed those ideals and correctly denouncing its members for having exploited the party to improve themselves to the detriment of the society at large. Moreover, in order to defeat its adversaries, be they democratic or other Islamist parties, the FIS, like the FLN in November 1954 (the beginning of the war of liberation), contended that it was the unique agent capable of saving Algerian society. In practice, this meant fostering a hegemonic discourse which the FIS's leaders could manipulate to fight their opponents, mainly the democratic (secular) parties that refuted their claims. And, because it identified itself with Islam, the FIS succeeded in discrediting the parties that resisted the party's hegemonic ambitions.

In spite of the widespread violence employed by the Islamist movement and its open objectives, and despite opposition from the military,(36) the regime, violating its own promulgated laws (Law on Political Associations), authorized the FIS in September 1989. The FIS had by then already confirmed its reputation among the youth and many social strata. The power of mobilization achieved by the party could not be equaled by the extremely discredited FLN. The democratic forces were incapable of even reaching a minimum platform to constitute a common front to counterbalance the weight of the Islamists and/or to preclude their manipulation by factions within the old ruling party and other clans inside the regime.

The confirmation of the FIS's power, on the one hand, and the ineffectiveness of the democratic parties, on the other hand, became obvious during the first pluralist municipal and departmental elections of 12 June 1990.

Having proved its force on numerous occasions, having bullied both the State and civil society, having demonstrated its power of mobilization, and, more importantly, having appointed itself the one and only representative of true Islam, and thus virtually disallowing any other party to speak about Islam,(37) the FIS went to the elections with justified self-assurance.

The results of the elections were stunning. The FIS garnered 54.2% of the votes against 28.13% for the FLN, 12% for the independents, and a mere 2% for the RCD.(38) In spite of the attempts undertaken to cleanse its image and the electoral map designed to favor it, the FLN was swept away. The power struggle within the party also did not help matters. What should be pointed out, however, is the fact that the emphasis on democracy as an objective had little appeal among the masses at large, nor did it produce a democratic electoral majority. The FIS had perhaps succeeded in stigmatizing the democratic forces (secular, Marxist parties and associations, human rights organizations, women's associations, etc.) as the products of an alien society (the West) and of an antiIslamic culture. Undoubtedly, the democratic parties had neither the time nor the means to organize themselves adequately in the hope of capturing a meaningful percentage of the voters.

Subsequent to its victory, the FIS manifested some restraint:

1. The FIS sought a political compromise with the president.

2. The party did not dismiss a possible understanding with a faction

of the FLN.

3. The FIS did not insist on Bendjedid's resignation.

Bendjedid, in fact, appeared to the FIS's leadership as an objective ally. This seeming restraint was due to the FIS's apprehension of the military, which was definitely unwilling to see the establishment of an Islamist state or the institution of yet another single-party system. Benhadj's declaration that the elections were "not a victory of democracy, but a victory of Islam,"(39) reinforced the military's mistrust of the FIS and its real objectives. Paradoxically, the military presented itself as the champion of Algeria's embryonic democracy against the FIS's totalitarian temptations.


The Algerian military has been favorable to the establishment of a more open, even, democratic system. However, being the backbone of the regime, it made explicit its opposition to any political party that would take advantage of the democratic process in order to seize power and put an end to democracy. As indicated earlier, the military was against the legalization of the FIS. But, since it had "extracted" itself from politics in Spring 1989, at least in theory, the military hierarchy agreed to let Bendjedid and his prime minister, Mouloud Hamrouche, take responsibility for that decision. But, again, the military warned that it would not tolerate the activities of any party that threatened the republican institutions and public order.(40) Lacking in realism and political experience, the FIS leadership decided to launch a head-on confrontation with the military.(41) The leadership used different means:

1. Direct threats: "If you [military] are manipulated by foreign

hands, you shall know that the Algerian people are ready for any


2. Attempts to divide the military and/or incite the troops to rebel:

"The good Muslim soldiers, policemen and gendarmes adore Allah

and will not hesitate to turn against their superiors."(43)

The military was quite infuriated by such statements but abstained from acting. There is no doubt that the FIS was totally confident that the military was enfeebled. In fact, this conformed to the strategy of the FIS which consisted of diminishing the power of the State altogether. And, there is ample evidence to show that the regime, often deliberately, permitted the Islamists to act unrestrained without fear of reprisal from the authorities.(44) According to many Algerians, during this whole period, the State was "absent." The FIS had even more grounds to think that it had fulfilled its goal of undermining the State when Bendjedid fired, in July 1990, General Mustapha Cheloufi, thought to be too critical of the tolerance exhibited by the Hamrouche government vis-a-vis the FIS's violence.(45)

The military continued to express its attachment to democracy; however, it reiterated its warnings. The Minister of Defense, Khaled Nezzar, stated in a lengthy interview that: "The ANP [National Popular Army] wishes that elections be held in peace, without any prejudice to the inalienable rights of the citizens. If this were not the case, the ANP would be ready to respond to any organized excesses that might jeopardize the national unity of the country." He repeated his warning that "if grave events that threaten the unity of the country re-occurred, the ANP ... would not hesitate to intervene and to re-establish order and unity so that force remains in the hands of the law."(46) The message was clear: the ANP would not allow an Islamist party, the FIS, or any other party for that matter, to establish a hegemony that would terminate the democratic process.

Unquestionably, the military was committed to the democratic game and endorsed the termination of the party-State regime. The military's position was that so long as its interests were not threatened as an institution and those of the nation as it perceives them were not at stake, it would limit its role to its new constitutional prerogatives.

Tension between the military and the FIS intensified during the Gulf War when the FIS demanded the opening of training camps to send volunteers for the Jihad against the allied forces. The FIS, which initially was staunchly opposed to Saddam Hussein,(47) now accused the Algerian military of having failed to fight on the side of Iraq and questioned its ability to defend the country. Of course, this provocation was meant to divide the military and to turn the populace against the State. This tactic failed miserably, for the majority of Algerians, despite their burning desire to see Iraq win the war, were conscious of the overwhelming superiority of the coalition. The FIS's persistent attacks against the military remain puzzling. Whatever the FIS's intentions for such attacks, they proved disastrous, for they alienated large sections of the military, especially the officer corps. In April 1991, the military responded to the FIS's attacks in the military's news magazine, El Djeich. In a sobering commentary, the author blamed the Islamists for the disintegration of modern Arab states and for being an impediment to progress and modernity in the Arab World. Thus, the author accused them of collusion with Western interests against Arab and Muslim nations because of their special relationship with the Gulf monarchies, objective allies of the West.(48) This statement did nothing to deter the FIS's leaders from repeating their provocative statements against the military. On 14 April 1991, for instance, Madani threatened that, "In the event the military went out in the streets [to prevent the FIS from holding a general strike], we will fight. I swear to God that if a single drop of blood is shed, we will combat the military until its complete annihilation" and that the FIS would initiate a Jihad if the party's demand for legislative and presidential elections were not met.(49) Benhadj took an even more antagonistic view by announcing that once the FIS won the elections, its leaders would apply the Shari'a instantly, abrogate the Constitution, outlaw the secular parties, and oust the president of the Republic.(50)

These deliberately provocative pronouncements were prompted by the FIS's fear that the new electoral legislation introduced by the government, and passed by the Assembly in Spring 1991, would reduce the party's chances of winning the upcoming legislative elections. This partly explains the FIS's unyielding position on the clearly unfair electoral laws. The manner in which the laws were conceived would have forced the democratic parties, which were also opposed to these laws, to vote for the FLN in the second ballot because of their abhorrence for the FIS and because the FLN was perceived as the lesser evil. The radicalization of the FIS was generated by other factors, notably, the dwindling popularity of the Islamist party due to the mismanagement of the municipalities it had won in the June 1990 elections. Also, the evolution of events threatened Madani's presidential ambitions. On the eve of the aborted legislative elections, the FIS looked alone because of its own blunders (e.g., rejection of any type of coalition with other Islamist parties, antagonism toward the democratic parties, women, the press, etc.) and miscalculations (e.g., naive belief that the military would not respond to its gambit to destabilize the regime; its overconfidence in its ability to divide the military or even to win it over to its side, etc.). The other factor in the FIS's equation was Madani's capitulation to the radical wing of the party that refused to play the "democratic game" and sought a violent overthrow of the regime. In order to gain the support of the radical wing of the party, to isolate his opponents, and to establish his preponderance in the Majlis al-Shur'a (consultative body of the movement), Madani decided to flex his muscles by calling a general strike on 23 May and an "unlimited" one beginning 25 May.(51) The FIS called for the abolition of the electoral laws and the holding of early presidential elections. The FIS's second in command, Ali Benhadj, insisted on the instantaneous erection of an Islamic State. The potential for an insurrection was manifest.

Aware that the strike was a total failure, Madani appealed to the streets by rallying the marginalized youths and mobs to demonstrate their support through demonstrations and sit-ins.(52) Clearly, Madani sought to free the FIS from the trap in which Bendjedid put the party, i.e., containing the Islamist movement within a "democratic system," hence making it less difficult for the regime to curb the movement.

The June 1991 events demonstrated the frailty of the transition to democracy in Algeria. The FIS used these events to discredit the regime, to force it to cancel the elections (since the FIS was not sure it would win them), and perhaps forcibly seize power. The government sought to turn the occasion to its advantage by, in the beginning, displaying moderation, and relying on the population's increasing unhappiness with the FIS's incitement to anarchy.

The determination of the Islamists, the indecision of the regime, and the paralysis of the democratic parties, all resulted in a grave atrophy of the situation. The Hamrouche government, which presumably had bargained with Madani to avoid the worsening of an already chaotic situation, toughened its stance and intervened with resolve against the Islamists and their supporters. Under pressure from the military, Bendjedid, who had been quiet hitherto, announced on 4 June a state of siege (effective 5 June). The military took security matters into its own hands. It also asked for and obtained the resignation of the Hamrouche government. The legislative elections scheduled for 27 June were suspended sine die.(53)

There is no doubt that the FIS's leadership, chiefly Abassi Madani, the government, the FLN, and the president all bear responsibility for the June events. A few points should be made about the chaotic situation that prevailed in May/June 1991 which looked more like an insurrection orchestrated by a faction of the FIS--with the support of the lumpenproletariat the party succeeded in mobilizing--than a mere general strike to extract legitimate demands (abolition of the electoral laws) from the regime.

Clearly, following its stunning victory in the June 1990 local elections, the FIS steadily regressed when faced with the realities of administration. Its ineptitude in managing the municipalities and the departments soon became evident. Empirical examination shows that the FIS reproduced the clientelist method of power. Friends and relatives of the elected officials were the principal beneficiaries rather than the constituents who voted for the FIS. There is evidence of transfer of public holdings to private persons.

The May/June events unveiled the profound divisions that existed within the Majlis al-Shur'a. The disunity inside this advisory organism would have been disastrous for Madani and Benhadj had it not been for the disarray that reigned within the State itself and the inertia that overpowered the other parties. This strengthened Madani's belief that he could unseat Bendjedid and overthrow the regime.

For their part, the FLN and the Hamrouche government used all sorts of subterfuges, including judicial but unabashedly undemocratic means, to enfeeble, even marginalize their only credible contender, the FIS. Though the FLN had tried since the October 1988 riots to create a new image as a reformist, democratic party, it had no real intention of giving up power. The FLN--or at least some factions inside the party--induced, in some ways, the FIS to have recourse to illicit actions in order to further discredit it, and to portray the "new" FLN as the sole party qualified to mobilize the democratic forces and to restrain the advance of Islamism. It is still puzzling why the government shifted its position and decided to crack down on the FIS when the latter was at its weakest and when the strike was losing momentum. Thus, as a result of its clumsy decision the government helped instill the image of a martyred FIS, allowing it to recover its lost popularity among large segments of the population. This governmental action also had the effect of buttressing Madani's and Benhadj's standing in the radical wing of the FIS, at least temporarily.

The democratic forces did not have the necessary persistence to constitute themselves as a true alternative to the FLN or the FIS. They failed, despite some futile attempts, to form a common front against the two giants. No wonder the FIS came out the winner against the regime during the crisis of May/June 1991, for it compelled the regime to change governments and to promise to revise the disputed electoral laws, as well as to promise early presidential elections. The State blinked!

But, again, the FIS overestimated its force and popularity. It underestimated the military's attachment to legalism and its unwillingness to allow public disorder. In June 1991, the military's intervention to restore social peace and to avoid civil war seems to have been welcomed by millions of Algerians and by several political parties. Thus, the military was able to cleanse its image tarnished during the October 1988 riots.

The task of the newly-formed government, under Prime Minister Sid Ahmed Ghozali, was to prepare for the holding of "clean and honest" legislative elections.(54) The new government did in fact seek to create adequate conditions for the holding of such elections. At the same time, however, it attempted to divide the FIS and to create a less radical leadership that could collaborate with the regime on various issues. The government's attempts were futile, for the radicalization of the movement had reached a point of no return. The FIS's dissidents, including some of its founding members (Bachir Fqih, Ahmed Merani, etc), who accused the party's leadership of having betrayed the original objectives of the FIS, came to be seen as puppets of the regime, thus losing any credibility among the party's base.

Despite the precarious situation prevailing in the country, legislative elections were scheduled for 26 December 1991 and 16 January 1992. The FIS, due in part to its internal dissensions, as well as the disputes over the legitimate succession for leadership--Madani and Benhadj having been imprisoned in July 1991--and because of the radical wing's opposition to the party's participation in the elections, did not announce its decision to participate in the elections until 12 days before the scheduled date.(55)


Algerian political parties were so obsessed with holding legislative elections that few thought of their consequences. The common denominator was a determination to rid the country of its rulers.

It is true that a system is democratic when decision makers are chosen "by means of a competitive struggle for the people's vote."(56) There is also no doubt today that the crucial test for democratization is the replacement of an illegitimate, undemocratic government, by one that is freely chosen in an open and fair election.(57) The most important aspect is that the holding of free elections augurs the end of an authoritarian regime. The main question, however, is why authoritarian rulers decide to hold them. The simple answer is that such a decision is prompted by pressure from opposition parties and from the streets, as well as by the regimes themselves hopeful that they can renew their lost legitimacy, and, thus, perpetuate their rule through elections. This observation is corroborated by the Algerian example. More precisely, the Algerian regime decided to hold elections for the following reasons:

1. The regime gave in to pressure exerted by the Islamists, thinking

that such a concession would attenuate their pressing demand for

presidential elections and the immediate erection of an Islamist State.

2. The regime resorted to elections as a stratagem to split the

opposition even more and to neutralize the "hard-liners" within the


3. The reformers in the FLN and the president, in spite of their

apprehensions, still believed that the FLN would win the elections.

The FLN leadership misjudged the disaffection the majority felt toward the regime. The military, for its part, had already made its decision that the FIS would not run the country.

The legislative elections held in December 1991 confirmed the unpopularity of the regime. Just as in the June 1990 municipal elections, the FIS won an astounding victory which surprised both its opponents and its supporters. The FIS garnered 188 out of 430 seats (47.26% of the votes); the FFS obtained a surprising 25 seats (with only 7.4% of the votes; this was the result of the absurd electoral mapping); the FLN gained only 16 seats (23.38%), and, the Independents, just 3 seats (4.48% of the votes).(58) Two significant points ought to be made. First, the FIS lost more than a million votes as opposed to the municipal elections in June 1990. Regardless, the FIS only needed 28 more seats in the second ballot, scheduled for 16 January 1992, to gain a majority in the National Assembly and form a government. Second, the FLN, which, too, lost more than 500,000 votes, obtained only 16 seats with 1,622,649 votes, while the FFS with slightly over half-a-million votes, won 25 seats.(59) The effect of the electoral law was, against the expectations of its authors, to favor the FIS rather than the FLN. In any event, had it been held, the second ballot would have seen a confrontation between the FIS and the FLN.

The FIS was the unquestionable winner of these elections despite the 341 appeals, the majority of which were against it, that were handed over to the Constitutional Council. The FIS resorted to all sorts of tactics, including psychological pressure on the voters (e.g., "You are voting for Allah, aren't you?" "Don't forget that you are voting for Islam"), to multiply its chances at the polls.(60) However, the improprieties at the polls could not alone explain such a devastating accomplishment. The FIS's crushing victory only proved what had already become evident since October 1988 and June 1990:

1. The FLN regime was completely debunked.

2. Although it represented a substantial minority, the FIS was the

main contender. It had become the channel for all the anti-regime

hate and frustration felt by various sections of society.

3. This vote was similar to the one cast in June 1990: it was a vote

against the FLN more than a vote for the FIS, i.e., a vote-sanction


4. Even if the elections did not necessarily signify that Algerian

electors were "not ripe for theocracy,"(61) they proved that Algerian

voters were not ripe for democracy either. A vote for the FIS was

definitely not a vote for democracy.

5. The legislative elections revealed that the democratic parties have

had inconsequential influence beyond marginal societal layers and

that civil society has yet to confirm its resurrection. The democrats

were unable to persuade the masses that they represented a credible

alternative between the FIS and the ill-famed FLN, or what

Algerians called the choice between "the plague and the cholera."

The democratic parties, due to their inner discord, their public

disputes (between personalities) over non-essential matters rather

than genuine programs, and their inability to offer a credible

perspective for a modern society, disappointed the approximately

five million voters who did not go to the polls. Worse still, these

parties devised an esoteric discourse that obviously had little or no

appeal in a society where 50% of the population is illiterate and

where the disheartened youth expect and call for instantaneous

solutions to their every-day socio-economic and cultural problems.

6. The FIS outsmarted the democratic parties by adopting the

war-time FLN's populist discourse. The Islamist leaders' discourse

conformed to the marginalized youth's expectations and offered

them hope. The FIS benefitted from its almost total grip over the

mosques and schools to disseminate its word to a profoundly Muslim society that was quite receptive to such a message. The State's complacent stance toward the FIS only helped invigorate the aggressive attitude of the Islamists.

Serious investigation has shown that the FIS was allowed to exist in order to be manipulated by the regime as a scarecrow to thwart other clans in the regime and to compel the opposition to mobilize around reformists such as Bendjedid and his cohorts. This strategy was devised in October 1988, and even before, as part and parcel of the power struggle waged inside the regime. The reforms were thus inaugurated for the purpose of maintaining one clan and its clients in power.


The victory of the FIS at the polls disheartened the military. What exasperated the military the most was the political game played by Chadli Bendjedid, especially his willingness to cohabit with the FIS. On the eve of the first ballot, he made clear that he was not about to step down and that he would not object to cooperating with the Islamists.(62) After the results of the first round were known, the FIS, especially its Jaz'ara group, a nationalist faction which persuaded the party to participate in the elections, abstained from any actions or statements that could have provoked military retribution. It also indicated its willingness to cooperate with the president. The FIS was genuinely concerned that the military might use the acts of violence led by the extremist factions within the movement as an excuse to cancel the second ballot. The appeal to the military to cancel the electoral process and ban the Islamists by many democratic groups(63) opposed to the "rise of totalitarianism," i.e., Islamism, worried the FIS's leadership. But, in the last instance, it was Bendjedid's behind-the-scenes dealings with the FIS that prompted the military to cancel the electoral process just five days before the second ballot. The military could no longer endure the maneuvering of Bendjedid, the FIS and some factions of the FLN.

The forced departure of Bendjedid, the establishment of the five-man High State Council (HSC), headed by Mohamed Boudiaf, a national hero who returned from a 26 year-exile to lead the country, seemed to initiate a new phase in Algeria's arduous transition. For the first time since the country's independence, the FLN was excluded from the decision-making process and forced into opposition. Like the events that occurred in Eastern Europe, this phase marked the end of one-party rule in the country. In order to hold on to power, the FLN sought some understanding with the other two winners of the legislative elections, the FIS and the FFS. The HSC, under Boudiaf's leadership, was determined to terminate the prerogatives enjoyed by the FLN in order to weaken the attraction of the FIS, whose political program was focused on the privileges accumulated by the FLN-regime.(64)

The interruption of the electoral process, followed by the interdiction of the FIS in March, was decided primarily for two reasons:

1. The military's resolute antagonism to Islamism and aversion to the

allenged instability that would have resulted from the establishment of

an Islamist regime.

2. Based on the statements of its own leaders, there is no doubt that

had it come to power, the FIS would obviously not have allowed the

erection of a genuinely democratic system in Algeria. The FIS leaders' honesty in this regard is noteworthy. They have never hidden their aversion to democracy nor their intention to establish a totalitarian State. In fact, the FIS's military preparation and actions before and after the legislative elections demonstrate that a sizable faction of the FIS was favorable to the violent seizure of power and, therefore, opposed to a peaceful, lawful, path. Like the Communist parties in Eastern Europe after World War II, once elected, it is doubtful whether the Islamists would have agreed to leave office. This, of course, does not justify the Machiavellian ploys orchestrated by clans inside the regime still clinging to power. The assassination of Boudiaf on 29 June 1992 and the absurd explanations provided by the investigating commission,(65) highlight the preponderance of forces opposed to radical change in the country. Although the Islamists may have been involved in the assassination, the involvement of what Algerians call "the politico-financial Mafia" is more likely. It remains to be seen whether the indefinite extension of the state-of-siege, announced on 7 February 1993, is meant to reestablish civil peace and prepare the ground for genuine democratization or is the prelude to the establishment of a "democrature," i.e, "an unstable mixture of democracy and dictatorship, of constitutionalism and authoritarianism ...."(66)

The explanation provided by the HSC for canceling the elections should not be rejected lightly. There still exists within the Algerian political elite men and women fully devoted to the building of a modern nation and a strong, efficient State. Their opposition to the Islamists does not stem from any aversion to Islam or to Islamic values, but to the Islamists' totalitarian scheme and their archaic societal project.

Some scholars and politicians, though secular and bitterly opposed to the Islamists, have argued that the FIS should have been allowed to come to office because once in power, it would have shown its limits to govern and, therefore, would lose all credibility, thus demonstrating the need to separate religion from politics once and for all.(67) Those who maintain this line of argument contend that the regime had enough institutional buffers and, consequently, had the FIS ventured to transgress the republican institutions, the military would then have had a rightful excuse to step in. These observers are convinced that due to the divisions within the FIS, combined with the constitutional restrictions on the government, the party would have vacillated once compelled to develop a plan for governing. However, in view of the Iranian experience, the FIS's own totalitarian discourse, the opportunism of factions of the FLN willing to espouse Islamist ideology, the catastrophic reaction which an FIS victory would have provoked in the Kabylie, those who hold such ideas display a rather narrow--or perhaps politically motivated--comprehension of the essence of the Islamist movement and its destructive capacity. Their argument, that the Algerian experience would be different from Iran's,(68) is not defensible because it is limited to an analysis of the difference of the circumstances rather than to the nature of Islamism itself.(69)


A process of democratization did indeed occur in Algeria. The authoritarian rulers allowed a liberalization of the system hoping that it would enable them to "extricate" themselves from the catastrophic socio-economic and political crises caused by the bankrupt system they had imposed for three decades. The process has been arduous due to the violence which has pervaded it and to the resistance of the old rulers to surrendering their power. There is no doubt that, notwithstanding the willingness of some forces within the regime to initiate a genuine democratization of the system, the main objective of democratization, in fact, was a scheme orchestrated by particular clans inside the regime to preserve their rule and hegemony.

Algerian society is at a standstill. It has been divided between those who advocate modernity, those who seek to regress to an "ideal," mythological past in the hope of resolving society's multi-fold crises, and those who would like to return to the status quo ante to maintain their privileges. It is not yet evident whether Algerian society seeks democracy--understood in its most universalistic aspects--or will simply be satisfied with the limited political liberalization it has wrested from the old authoritarian rulers. But, what is certain is that a majority of Algerians refuse to be ruled by the old State-FLN regime.

The main difficulty in Algeria does not relate to the transition from authoritarianism--or from a one-party regime--to a multi-party democracy. The primary question is how to modernize a neopatriarchal society, dominated by emerging forces which have used religion for political purposes, but who accord little or no toleration to democratic values, in a neopatrimonial State entangled in clientelist networks.

Can Algerian society, and all other Arab/Muslim societies for that matter, develop a culture of tolerance and show respect for difference? As put by Mohammed Arkoun, "The tolerance sought today is due precisely to what has become, throughout the centuries, the intolerance of traditional religious systems supported by State apparatuses--emperors, caliphs, sultans, drawing their legitimacy from religious authorities."(70) More importantly, how can political democracy, social justice, and human rights be rethought in view of these societies' experiences? Can those who advocate democracy become genuine democrats? What guarantees that if and when these parties come to power they would institute democratic institutions? Are the democratic or the Islamist forces more capable of solving Algeria's socio-economic problems? Can Algerian society succeed in changing family relations and annul the totally discriminatory Family Law that reduces women to second-class citizens? Equally important, can Islamists and rulers alike stop using Islam to advance political ambitions and understand that "Islam is a religion, whereas Islamism is a political movement?" As long as these and other questions are unresolved, the best one can hope for is slow liberalization until genuine democratic social forces emerge that can mobilize millions, counter the obscurantist categories of society, rid the country of corrupt rulers, and erect a truly modern political system.


(1.)See Robert Heilbroner. The Great Ascent (NY: Harper and Row, 1963), pp. 132, 135, 138; Jagdish Bhaghwati. The Economics of Underdeveloped Countries (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1966), pp. 203-4, and Samuel Huntington. Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1968).

(2.)On this point, see the excellent discussion in Robert Fatton, Jr., "Liberal Democracy in Africa," Political Science Quarterly, 105, 3 (1990), esp. p. 459.

(3.)Hisham Sharabi. Neopatriarchy - A Theory of Distorted Change in Arab Society (NY: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 9.

(4.)Guy Hermet, "Presentation: le temps de la democratie," Revue Internationale des Sciences Sociales, 128 (May 1989): 265.

(5.)Juan J. Linz, "Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes," Handbook of Political Science, Vol III. Macropolitical Theory, edited by Fred I. Greenstein and Nelson W. Polsby (Reading, MA: Addison Wesley Publishing Co., 1975), p. 264.

(6.)Abdelkader Yefsah. La Question du Pouvoir en Algerie (Algiers: ENAP, 2nd edition, 1991), p. 449.

(7.)This analysis draws from Yefsah's study, op. cit., especially pp. 448-459.

(8.)On this notion, see Guillermo O'Donnell and Philippe C. Schmitter. Transitions from Authoritarian Rule - Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies (Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), p. 39.

(9.)In a recent pamphlet, Rachid Boudjedra argues that Boumediene realized as of 1974 that "his entourage was rotten, corrupt and anti-socialist. He turned to the youth, students, syndicalists, and communists. He asked men with integrity to write an advanced and progressive charter." F.I.S. de la haine (Paris: Editions Denoel, 1992), p. 46. On the elaboration of the Charter's project and the opposition to it by the "liberals" within the bloc, see the significant disclosures made by one of its framers, Belaid Abdessalem, in Mahfoud Bennoune and Ali El Kenz. Le Hasard et l'Histoire - Entretiens avec Belaid Abdessalem, Vol. II (Algiers: Editions ENAG, 1990), pp. 229-245.

(10.)O'Donnell and Schmitter, Transitions, op. cit., p. 16.

(11.)Bennoune and El Kenz, op. cit., p. 244 ff.

(12.)On this point, see El Hadi Chalabi. L'Algerie, l'Etat et le Droit, 1979-1988 (Paris: Editions Arcantere, 1989), especially pp. 44 ff.; I. William Zartman, "L'elite algerienne sous la presidence de Chadli Bendjedid," Maghreb-Machrek, No. 106 (Oct.-Nov.-Dec., 1984): 38; Yefsah, p. 328.

(13.)Jean Leca, "Etat et societe en Algerie," Maghreb: Les Annees de transition, eds. Bassma Kodmani-Darwish and May Chartouni-Dubarry (Paris: Masson, 1990), p. 18.

(14.)Mahfoud Bennoune, "Notre derniere chance--Comment on fait le lit de l'integrisme, I," Algerie-Actualite, No. 1376, 27 February-4 March 1992, p. 19. Bennoune cites Ali El Kenz, "La societe algerienne aujourd'hui: esquisse d'une phenomenologie de la conscience nationale," in La Modernite et l'Algerie (Dakar, Senegal: CODESRIA, 1989), pp. 25-26.

(15.)A serious analysis of the October events can be found in Abed Charef. Octobre 88 (Algiers: Editions Laphomic, 2nd edition, 1990) and M'hammed Boukhoubza. Octobre 88 - Evolution ou rupture? (Algiers: Editions Bouchene, 1991).

(16.)Charef, p. 250.

(17.)Gudrun Kramer, "Liberalization and Democracy in the Arab World," MERIP, No. 174 (January-February 1992): 24.

(18.)See Abdelhamid Brahimi's (former prime minister, 1984-88) interview in Jeune Afrique, No. 1609, 30 October-5 November 1991, p. 32.

(19.)On this point, see Abdelkader Djeghloul, "Le Multipartisme a l'algerienne," Maghreb-Machrek, No. 127 (Jan.-Feb.-March, 1990): 196.

(20.)"Constitution de la Republique Algerienne Democratique et Populaire," Journal Officiel de la Republique Algerienne (1 March 1989): 188.

(21.)See El Moudjahid, 5 March 1989.

(22.)"Loi No. 89-11 du 5 juillet 1989 relative aux associations a caractere politique," Journal Officiel de la Republique Algerienne (5 July 1989): 604-607.

(23.)During a prayer, attended by President Bendjedid, Sheikh Ali Magharbi, president of the Islamic High Council, declared that the Algerian parties that advocate secularism (laicite) must "repent to Allah." See Liberation, 3 July 1990. This was obviously an indirect way of demanding their banning.

(24.)For a similar argument, see Aissa Khelladi. Les Islamistes algeriens face au pouvoir (Algiers: Editions Alfa, 1992), p. 102. Also, since the Algerian Constitution states that "Islam is the religion of the State," the Islamists have often argued that secular and Marxist parties must be prohibited.

(25.)See, Projet de Programme du Front Islamique du Salut (Algiers: 7 March 1989).

(26.)See Benhadj's writings on democracy reproduced in Mustapha Al-Ahnaf, Bernard Botiveau, and Franck Fregosi. L'Algerie par ses islamistes (Paris: Karthala, 1991), pp. 87 ff.

(27.)"Loi du 3 avril 1990 relative a l'information," Journal Officiel de la Republique Algerienne (4 April 1990): 395-403.

(28.)See, "Presse: Auto-censure et penuries," Liberation, 9-10 June 1990.

(29.)O'Donnell and Schmitter, Transitions, op. cit., p. 48.

(30.)On the concept of neopatriarchy, see Sharabi, Neopatriarchy, op. cit. On neopatrimonialism, see S.N. Eisenstadt. Revolution and the Transformation of Societies: A Comparative Study of Civilizations (NY: The Free Press, 1978), Chapter 9, pp. 273-310.

(31.)Khelladi, Les islamistes algeriens, p. 162.

(32.)Ibid., p. 99.

(33.)See also the interesting analysis provided by Benjamin Stora, "Algerie: Huit cles pour comprendre," Jeune Afrique, No. 1539 (27 June-3 July 1990): 18.

(34.)In addition to the statements by FIS leaders, one should refer to two recent accounts by renowned Algerian writers, Boudjedra, FIS de la haine, op. cit., and Rachid Mimouni. De la Barbarie en general et de l'integrisme en particulier (Paris: Editions Le Pre aux Clercs, 1992).

(35.)See Yahia H. Zoubir, "La Legitimite du HCE tributaire de la dissolution du FLN," El Watan (Algeria), 16 March 1992.

(36.)See, "L'armee au dessus de la melee," Liberation, 11 June 1990, p. 20.

(37.)Abassi Madani once declared, "The people is us and we are the people, for the people [al-sha'b] identifies itself with Islam only." Cited in Al-Ahnaf, et al, op. cit., p. 34.

(38.)For further details on these elections, see Francois Burgat, "La mobilisation islamiste et les elections algeriennes du 12 juin 1990," Maghreb-Machrek, No. 129 (July-Aug.-Sept. 1990): pp. 5-22; Jacques Fontaine, "Les Elections locales algeriennes du 12 juin 1990," in ibid., pp. 124-133; and Arun Kapil, "Chiffres-cles pour une analyse," Les Cahiers de l'Orient, No. 23 (3rd Trimester 1991): pp. 41-63.

(39.)Cited in Liberation, 16-17 June 1990.

(40.)The first warning was made public by General Mustapha Cheloufi, then secretary general of the Ministry of Defense and well-known for his liberal views. See his statement cited in Liberation, 11 June 1990.

(41.)See, for instance, El Mounqid (FIS's newspaper), No. 12, cited in Al-Ahnaf, et al, op. cit., p. 118.

(42.)Abassi Madani's declaration, cited in ibid., p. 119.

(43.)Benhadj's declaration, cited in Liberation, 11 June 1990.

(44.)Algerians interviewed by the author argued that, by allowing the Islamists to act the way they did, the regime sought to demonstrate what an Islamist system would be like and that Algerians were thus better off with the reformists around Bendjedid.

(45.)Liberation, 27 July 1990.

(46.)L'Horizon (Algiers), 13 September 1990.

(47.)For further details, see Yahia H. Zoubir, "Reactions in the Maghreb to the Gulf Crisis and War," Arab Studies Quarterly, 15, 1 (Winter 1992/93).

(48.)El Djeich's editorial, reprinted in L'Horizon, 4 April 1991.

(49.)Jeune Afrique, No. 1582, 24-30 April 1991, p. 7; Le Monde, 17 April 1991.

(50.)Cited in 24 Heures (Switzerland), 13 May 1991.

(51.)Liberation, 25-26 May 1991.

(52.)Jeune Afrique, No. 1588, 5-11 June 1991, pp. 28-30.

(53.)See, Le Monde, 6 June 1991, for details.

(54.)Le Monde, 11 June 1991. Two national conferences between the parties and the government took place in the Summer 1991--the FIS refused to attend, hence diminishing the significance of these conferences. These conferences, except perhaps for the fact that the first one was broadcast live in its entirety on Algerian TV, a unique event in the Arab and Islamic world, produced few concrete results. The two conferences highlighted the inexperience of the political parties and their lack of political, let alone democratic, culture. A great opportunity to forge a national consensus at the two conferences was thus missed.

(55.)On the situation on the eve of the legislative elections, see Yahia Zoubir and Karim Bouzourene, "Veillee d'armes electorale--L'Algerie devant un choix capital," L'Express (Switzerland), 19 December 1991.

(56.)Joseph Schumpeter. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, third ed. (NY: Harper & Row, 1950), p. 269.

(57.)Samuel Huntington. The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Norman & London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991), p. 9.

(58.)Journal Officiel de la Republique Algerienne, 4 January 1992, pp. 2-31; Liberation, 31 December 1991.

(59.)See Le Monde, 1 January 1992, for details.

(60.)See the important revelations on the suspicious nature of many of the results published in El Moudjahid, 22 January 1992. Some of the facts published in the newspaper were confirmed to the author during his visit to Algeria in May-June 1992.

(61.)I have borrowed this expression from Robert A. Mortimer, "Islam and Multiparty Politics in Algeria," Middle East Journal, 45, 4 (Autumn 1991): 593.

(62.)See El Watan, 25 December 1991.

(63.)See Jeune Afrique, No. 1618, 9-16 January 1992.

(64.)See Yahia Zoubir, "La legitimite du HCE ....", op. cit.

(65.)See the report in El Watan, 14 December 1992.

(66.)This concept was originally developed for Eastern Europe in the period 1989-1990. See Pierre Hassner's "Conclusion: 'Democrature' et 'Revolution' ou la transition bouleversee," Pierre Gremion and Pierre Hassner, eds. Vents d'Est-Vers l'Europe des Etats de droit? (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1990), p. 116.

(67.)The main proponent of this view is the Algerian scholar, Lahouari Addi, "L'Algerie: le derapage," Le Monde Diplomatique, February 1992. The same argument is developed in his "Religion and Modernity in Algeria," Journal of Democracy, 3, 4 (October 1992): 75-84. Olivier Roy makes the same point. See his interview in L'Evenement du Jeudi (Paris), No. 432, 11-17 February 1993, p. 64. "In Algeria, the FIS should have been allowed to come to power. If we deny the popular vote, the Islamist protest vote is strengthened. It is by governing that the integralists would have demonstrated their carelessness."

(68.)Addi, op. cit.

(69.)On the nature of Islamism, one should refer to Muhammad Said Al-Ashmawy's outstanding book, L'Islam politique, translated from Arabic and prefaced by Richard Jacquemond (Paris: La Decouverte, 1989), initially published under the revealing title L'Islamisme contre l'Islam; Olivier Roy. L'Echec de l'Islam politique (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1992). Millions of practicing Muslims in Algeria are opposed to Islamist ideology and to violence and, for various reasons, were opposed to the creation of the FIS.

(70.)Mohammed Arkoun, "Islam: un conflit de modeles," Courrier de l'UNESCO (June 1992): 34.
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Author:Zoubir, Yahia H.
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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