A proper understanding of the Islamic challenge in Algeria and comparing the Algerian experience to Morocco and Tunisia is urgent. Not only is the Maghrib different than the Mashriq (Arab East), but experience within the Maghrib itself is highly varied.
Algeria’s sudden, wholesale adoption of a Western-style political liberalization program in 1989-91 was unprecedented in the Arab world. It included the unqualified legalization of explicitly Islamic political parties. No other Arab regime had dared to make such a move. The consequence was the implosion of the Algerian polity.
Algeria became a place conforming, ironically, to Moroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissi’s definition of the gharb (West): a place where “all terrors are possible.”(1) Sweeping victories by the new Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) in municipal and then the first round of parliamentary elections, triggered a military coup in January 1992 which deposed President Chedli Benjedid, canceled elections before the second round of parliamentary voting, and arrested thousands of Islamist activists. The state quickly descended into chaos. Years of brutal warfare between Algeria’s military authorities and armed Islamist groups took an estimated 60,000 lives and ripped the already tattered fabric of Algerian society. The current situation is an uneasy, unstable stalemate, though the Zeroual regime clearly maintains an upper hand. (2)
ROOTS OF THE CONTEMPORARY CRISIS
The ideological roots of modern day Islamic fundamentalism are not solely recent: the ideas of the salafiyya current of Islamic reform and purification were present in pre-Protectorate Morocco among both the `ulama and various sultans, (3) and became widespread in the Maghrib in the era between the two world wars. One can argue that more than in the Mashriq, Islam was one of the core values for Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian nationalist movements that opposed European domination. In Algeria, the crystallization of a modern national identity between the two world wars was considerably shaped by the Islamic reformist movement led by Shaykh `Abd al-Hamid Bin Badis. The movement promoted both the purification of Islamic practices from “polytheism” (maraboutic practices) and creation of an educational network that would stress that Islam and the Arabic language, and not French culture, are at the core of modern Algerian identity. (4)
Similarly, salafi activity in Morocco played an important role in shaping the nationalist movement, personified in the 1920s by `Allal al-Fasi, the religio-nationalist leader of the Istiqlal party. (5) Likewise in Tunisia, Islam “as a component of Tunisian identity and a legitimizing value…suffused the first generation nationalist movement [in the decades prior to World War I] and…persisted even into the age of Bourguibist secularism.” (6)
In contrast to the general salafi current, political Islam in North Africa was not a “pan” movement. Nor, again in contrast to the Mashriq, was pan-Arabism a competing ideology. Thus, the legitimacy of the state in North Africa has never been in doubt: “The state appears more as an appropriately adjusted transfer of technology than as an alien institution.” (7)
State power grew exponentially during the post-independence generation, intruding decisively into every sphere of society. However, in the words of the Tunisian scholar Abdelbaki Hermassi, by the 1980s, policies once seen favorably as constituting the etatization of society increasingly began to look like the privatization of the state as small numbers of individuals accumulated great wealth from their privileged positions. This occurred at a time of austerity imposed by international financial institutions. (8) Also, the resources available for development were sharply cut by the post-oil boom economic contraction. The effect was felt across the Arab world, among both petroleum-based economies, including Algeria, and “labor-exporters” like Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia. What resulted was the obvious inability of Arab regimes, maghribi and mashriqi alike, to deliver the social, economic, political and psychic goods to their expanding, increasingly youthful, urbanized and literate populations. This failure caused a profound sense of crisis (azma) among wide sectors of their populations and endless debate among intellectuals over what should be done (spawning a cottage industry, or azmatology, in the words of Muhammad Guessous, a Moroccan sociologist). (9)
The Maghrib’s proximity to Europe rendered its youthful population (two-thirds under 30 years of age) especially vulnerable to psychic dislocation, especially since North Africa had already been widely penetrated by the gharb (primarily France) during the prior 150 years. The proliferation of satellite dishes and powerful television transmitters brought images of Europe’s material glitter into people’s living rooms, raising expectations and prompting demands that had no chance of being fulfilled, thus opening the way to profound disillusionment. In Mernissi’s words, [W]hat strikes me as a sociologist (when visiting a Muslim country) is the strong feeling of bitterness in the people–the intellectuals, the young, peasants. I see bitterness over blocked ambition, over frustrated desires for consumption–of clothes, commodities, and gadgets, but also of cultural products like books and quality films and performances which give meaning to life and reconcile the individual with his environment and his country….In our country (Morocco) what is unbearable, especially when you listen to the young men and women of the poor class, is the awful waste of talent. “Ana daya`” (“My life is a mess”) is a leitmotif that one hears constantly. (10)
The crisis, which took root during the 1970s and gathered strength during the 1980s, spawned a new kind of dissent, articulated most forcefully by Islamist movements. They spoke not only on issues or strategies of development but on matters concerned with justice and cultural identity. (11) Given the dual legacy of popular-maraboutic Islamic practice and the Maghrib’s penetration by the modern gharb, it is not surprising that Maghribi salafists-fundamentalists often found themselves alienated from their own societies and thus sought guidance and inspiration from outside the Maghrib: e.g., the Egyptian-based Muslim Brotherhood, Iran’s Islamic Revolution, and Sudan’s Hasan al-Turabi. This interaction marked a departure from pre-modern historical patterns.
Despite the strongly similar development patterns of their Islamist movements, the specific socio-political and historical circumstances of the three Maghrib states varied widely. This produced a disparate state-society/regime-opposition dynamic which, in each case, produced very different political outcomes. Consider Morocco: apart from Saudi Arabia, no other Arab regime has so thoroughly draped itself in Islam’s mantle. King Hassan II, who has reigned and ruled since 1961, is constitutionally the Amir al- Mu’minin–the Commander of the Faithful–deputized by virtue of his descent from the Prophet Muhammad to lead the Moroccan Islamic Umma in all matters, both temporal and spiritual. (12) His own erudition in religious matters, displayed in dialogues with religious scholars on Moroccan television, reinforces this dual role.
One can argue against the oft-made claim that the monarchy is the central religious institution of Moroccan life and that Hassan’s longevity rests less on blind obedience and belief in his special sacredness (baraka) than on his astutely wielding the levers of power at his disposal, including repression. (13) As Hasan himself told his biographer, “One doesn’t maintain order by wielding croissants.” (14) At the same time, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Moroccan regime has been a relatively successful “modernizing monarchy” because it aitself in Moroccan political and socio-cultural traditions. This enabled it to avoid some of the harsher social, political and psychic dislocations of revolutionary Arab regimes. (15)
One of these realities is the institution of the monarchy itself: the ruling Alawite dynasty is almost 350 years old. At the same time, as I. W. Zartman argues, the monarchy under Hasan has evolved through interaction with society. (16) Part of this involved Hasan’s modification of religious traditions to reinforce his legitimacy. (17) More prosaic factors promoting relative political stability include a liberal economy and multiparty politics. Hasan has described his political strategy as “homeopathic democracy,” a process of controlled, well-managed change that maintains social peace while promoting economic development and the general welfare. His ultimate declared goal is a “bipolarized democracy,” in which two parliamentary blocs will alternate in power, with the monarch serving as the ultimate arbiter and source of authority.
The results of this approach have been mixed. The well- established opposition parties, led by the Istiqlal and Union Socialist d’Forces Populaires, scored impressive gains in the 1993 parliamentary elections. However, Hasan failed in his efforts to entice them into a central role in the government, due to their unwillingness to serve alongside the all-powerful Interior Minister Driss Basri as well as their own internal divisions. Hasan clearly hoped the August 1997 parliamentary elections would pave the way for their agreement to take office.
More interesting than the snail-paced change of parliamentary life has been the growth in recent years of authentic “civil society” elements. Labor unions have become increasingly combative; human rights groups have bucked considerable pressure to make their voices heard; women’s organizations attained 1 million signatures on a petition to change the mudawanna, Morocco’s personal status law, which discriminates against women in many areas. (18) Of related interest has been a significant lowering of the population growth rate from 3% per annum in the early 1970s to just over 2% in 1995, and a corresponding halving in the average family size. (19)
The downside of Hasan’s controlled change strategy is that his reliance on existing economic and political elites carries a danger of stagnation, a lack of attention to social and economic distress, and disaffection among the educated classes. The slow pace of change undoubtedly breeds cynicism among the latter and does little to make the urban poor feel empowered. His IMF-directed policies of structural readjustment, involving debt rescheduling, subsidy cuts, liberalizing capital movements and beginning to privatize state firms, have won considerable praise from the Paris Club governments and international and commercial lending agencies. The budget deficit, which in the early 1980s reached 12% of the GDP, was cut to less than 2% in a decade, foreign investment rose fourfold between 1988 and 1992, and annual growth rates were impressive. On the micro-economic level, however, the picture was quite different. Gaps between rich and poor, in a society where the average per capita income is just over $1,000, further widened; urban unemployment is at 20-30%, and two years of severe drought in 1992- 93, followed by the “drought of the century” in the winter of 1994- 95, exacerbated the plight of rural areas and reinforced long- standing trends toward migration to urban areas. The last two years have again demonstrated Morocco’s overdependence on climatic vagaries: bountiful rains in the winter of 1995-96 produced a record 11% growth rate in 1996, while the failure of late winter rains in 1997 is expected to curtail this year’s growth rate. (20)
Like many Middle East governments, Hassan initially gave budding Islamist movements some freedom of action in order to balance opposition from the radical left. But though he continues to allow non-political activities, since the 1970s he has severely restricted their ability to operate politically while adopting a strategy of manipulation and cooptation. The regime’s efforts to control Islamism were made easier by the fact that Moroccan Islamists are not homogenous. One researcher counted no less than 23 politicized religious associations in the early 1980s. However, these are generally grouped into three trends. By summer 1996, three weekly newspapers representing the three main trends had a combined circulation of 40,000. (21)
One of these trends has been explicitly reformist but not overtly political, concentrating on matters of individual piety and righteousness, and criticizing corruption. As such, it has been the least restricted. The leading figure of this trend, before his death in the late 1980s, was an elderly mosque preacher in Tangier, Fqih al-Zamzami. Venerated by peddlers, laborers, and shopkeepers, cassettes of his sermons are sold in most cities. His three sons have tried to follow in his path. (22) At the other extreme was a small group, al-Shabiba al-Islamiyya; (Islamic Youth), drawn mostly from student and high school movements, which advocated the regime’s violent overthrow. Its leader, `Abd al-Karim al-Muti`, is in exile somewhere in Europe. Some of the group,led by `Abdallah Benkirane, chose a non-confrontational, reformist posture similar to that advocated by Zamzami. In recent years, under the banner of the Harakat al-Islah wal-Tajdid bil-Maghrib (HATM; Movement for Reform and Renewal in the Maghreb), they have sought to become overtly involved in the political process, while retaining their pragmatic approach. (23)
The best-known Moroccan Islamist figure is `Abd al-Salam Yasin, a former Education Ministry school inspector who leads the outlawed al-`Adl wal-Ihsan (Justice and Charity) movement. Yasin’s followers are more educated and more radical than Zamzami’s. Yasin openly challenged Hasan’s legitimacy–and that of any monarch in Islam–back in 1974. He later admitted to having prepared his burial shroud for the occasion. (24) (Instead, King Hassan felt confident enough not to have him executed and merely kept him under various forms of detention for most of the time since then.) During the Gulf War, 30,000 of Yasin’s followers mustered under their own banner as part of a massive anti-war march, providing the only public indication of their strength. In December 1994, the government briefly eased Yasin’s house arrest but swiftly reimposed it when Yasin declined to refrain from political sermons. The authorities’ effort to coax Yasin into working within the system indicates their recognition of the Islamists’ potential strength and the need to defuse it by cooptation. Yasin’s cause has been taken up by opposition political parties and human rights groups.
An incident in the summer of 1994 provided evidence that Morocco was not entirely immune to radical, violent Islamic currents of the kind manifesting itself in Algeria and Egypt. On August 24, two Spanish tourists were shot to death in the lobby of a hotel in Maarakesh, the first, and so far only violent attack against foreigners. The government immediately blamed the Algerian intelligence services for being behind the perpetrators, precipitating renewed Algerian-Moroccan tensions and the closing of their land frontier.
Two weeks later, four alleged perpetrators of the act were arrested. They turned out to be a group of young French-Moroccan and French-Algerian fundamentalists, possibly connected to the remnants of Muti`’s al-Shabiba al-Islamiyya, who in the late 1980s organized themselves into a group to advance the cause of Islamic revolution. Their activities included receiving weapons training in Peshawar, Pakistan near the Afghan frontier, smuggling weapons to Algerian Islamists via Morocco, and a number of robberies in France to support themselves and the cause. (25) Their alleged head, Tariq Fellah, a Moroccan, was arrested in Germany in December 1994 (a diperson, `Abd al-Ilah Ziyad, also a member of al-Shabiba al-Islamiyya, subsequently claimed he had organized the hotel attack during his trial in France). In January 1995, the group of 4 plus 14 others went on trial in Fez for the shooting plus other violent acts carried out during 1994. Three of the eighteen were sentenced to death (the sentences have not been carried out); the others to sentences ranging from six months to life imprisonment. Official Algerian involvement was never confirmed, and the affair pointed more to the common danger posed by Islamist radicals to both the Moroccan and Algerian regimes.
At the same time, the swift arrest and trial of the group confirmed anew that the Moroccan Islamists current ability to pose a serious challenge to the regime is extremely limited. Nonetheless, Islamist activities, particularly on university campuses where they came to control nearly all the student unions and periodically clashed violently with leftist groups, were publicly acknowledged by at least one government minister as constituting a worrisome development. (26)
Tunisia’s Islamists have enjoyed a higher international profile than their Moroccan counterparts but suffer from even greater repression. As in other cases in the Middle East, the Tunisian Islamists’ protests can be seen partly as a response to socio-economic dislocations stemming from the complex processes of modernization and development. Also contributing is the existence of a clogged political system. However, the most important factor has been the “psycho-social alienation” that has resulted from the predominant Western liberal model of modernity. (27)
This model has been the objective of President Habib Bourguiba since the state became independent in 1956. (28) Notwithstanding Bourguiba’s efforts to legitimize his policies in Islamic modernist terms, his initiatives brought more secularization than in any other Arab country. For example, the Personal Status Code, which guarantees equality between men and women in matters of divorce and forbids polygamy. A second example is the relatively large number of women in managerial and executive positions. President Zayn `Abidin Ben `Ali, who assumed power in November 1987, softened some of Bourguiba’s strident secularism and put more emphasis on Tunisia’s Arab-Islamic heritage. The regime permitted Islamists to run in elections as independents in 1989. Officially, they captured around 14% of the vote, came close to winning a majority in several urban areas. Some have claimed that the real percentage attained by Islamist candidates was 30-32%. (29) The regime quickly took notice and cracked down harshly, banning the newly formed Islamist Nahda (Renaissance) Party and taking advantage of some Islamists’ violent acts to imprison thousands of activists. Stern reprimands from international human rights organizations did not deter the regime.
For now, Ben `Ali rules Tunisia with a firm hand and, unlike in Morocco, guided political pluralism is only in its infancy: all but 19 of the 163 seats in Tunisia’s parliament elected in 1994 are held by the ruling Rassemblement Constitutionnel Democratique. This is an improvement, since the previous parliament contained no opposition deputies. Economically, the Tunisians have followed a similar course to Morocco, instituting structural reforms and obtaining good results. Tunisia’s small population, reinforced by the lowest rate of population growth in the Arab world, educated middle class, high rate of literacy, relatively high percentage of women in the work force and European orientation make the state a less fertile ground for Islamists than other countries in the region. Nonetheless, the groundswell of support for Islamist movements during the 1970s and 1980s indicates that Tunisia is not immune from region-wide currents.
Like their counterparts elsewhere in North Africa and the Sunni world in general, Tunisia’s Islamists have been influenced by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the teachings of Sayyid Qutb and Pakistan’s Mawlana Mawdudi. (30) Nonetheless, there was considerable talk during the 1980s within Islamist circles of developing a specific “Tunisian Islam.” (31) Part of the rationale was the rejection of the predominant Islamist view that legitimacy is solely divine and instead supporting the idea of popular will as the source of legitimacy. (32) The Islamic notion of shura (consultation), declared Rashid Ghannushi, the movement’s leading figure, legitimizes multi-party politics, alternation in power and the protection of human rights. (33) In November 1995, Ghannushi and a group of non-Islamist exiled opposition members, including former prime minister Muhammad Mzali, published a joint communique appealing for democracy in Tunisia via the election of a parliament representing a diversity of views and political parties. (34) The problem, Ghannushi stressed, was the repressive Ben `Ali regime and most Arab governments, for that matter, which rejected all notions of civil society (al-mujtama` al-madani). Ghannushi’s avowed goal to promote a modernist-Islamic synthesis oppoxinb the Tunisian regime’s “superficial modernity,” makes him one of the more interesting and original of contemporary Islamist thinkers. (35)
To be sure, his views are not entirely congruent with Western liberal values. As he said in one interview, state-building must begin with recognition of the umma’s Arab and Islamic identity. Without first agreeing on this central pillar, the “cultural context” of state-society relations, there can be no stable, legitimate authority. (36) Once the identity question is solved, he continued, democracy can be practiced. (He did not address the place in society of those without an Arab-Islamic identity).
Ghannushi frequently speaks from his London exile of the need to open a dialogue (hiwar) with the West, rejecting the “clash of civilizations” notion put forth by both Samuel Huntington and numerous Islamists. At the same time and in contrast with other Tunisian Islamists, his rhetoric has become increasingly radical in recent years. (37) His condemnations of the allegedly perfidious Western domination of the New World Order, praise for Sudan’s regime as a state founded on Islamic concepts and efforts to promote the cause of Algeria’s FIS have weakened his credibility and appeal to Western governments. In a wide-ranging conversation with the New York Times, he repeatedly placed primary blame for excesses committed by Islamic regimes on Western “rejectionist attitudes,” and justified the murder of Arab and Muslim intellectuals who had embraced secularism, referring to several as “the devil’s advocate…Pharoah’s witches. The educated who put their brains and their talent in the service of an oppressive regime have made their own decisions. They must bear the responsibility for their choice.” (38)
Ghannushi has also repeatedly emphasized that Western hostility to Islam is due to the activities of Zionism, which, in order to retain aid and support, is striving to convince the West that following the collapse of communism and the failure of Arab nationalism, Islam is the new evil force in the world. (39) Speaking in closed sessions at radical Islamic conferences, his rhetoric was even more fiery: “Zionism does not only target Arabs and Muslims. It targets goodness…the entirety of values that have crystallized in humanity. Every evil in the world, the Zionists are behind it. This is no exaggeration. There are so many evils in the world, and behind which are the Children of Israel.” (40)
Speaking in May 1995 at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Ghannushi expressed the hope that the Algerian crisis would soon be resolved in the Islamists’ favor. This would be followed by a “swift end” to the deadlock in Tunisia, “either as a result of an initiative by the regime itself, which we would prefer, or due to a massive popular pressure, which is more likely to happen. H, should Algeria continue to bleed slowly, the political situation in Tunisia will move in the same direction, but slowly too.” (41) It seems that Ghannushi may have been overly optimistic. The immediate future for the Islamists in Tunisia does not appear to be a promising one.
As for Algeria, nowhere was the azma more acutely felt. The socio-economic dimension is obviously crucial in explaining Algeria’s slide into chaos. A generation of misguided, mismanaged “state capitalist” policies, the worldwide slump in the hydro- carbon sector beginning in the mid-1980s, rampant corruption, rapid population growth and high unemployment all fueled the breakdown of the ruling FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale) regime and the Islamists’ rise. Taken alone, however, a socio-economic explanation for Algeria’s woes is insufficient. From a historical perspective, the sudden, dramatic swing to the Islamist camp and resulting war for Algeria’s soul is the latest chapter in a pattern of extreme changes and dislocations marking Algerian history: the general absence in pre-colonial times of a relatively strong central authority and unified political tradition (as compared to Morocco); the colonial power’s thoroughgoing destruction of existing elites; the terrible bloodletting during the 1954-1962 war of independence, not just between Algerian Muslims and the Europeans, but within the Muslim community as well. Finally, a mobilizing, revolutionary ideology and authoritarian leadership in the newly independent state left no room for other visions or political activity.
Throughout the post-independence years, the ruling authorities in Algiers, like counterparts elsewhere in the Maghrib and Mashriq, sought to manipulate Islam in the regime’s service. (42) Measures taken included the enactment of a personal status code in 1984 adhering closely to Islamic precepts, banning alcohol in some cities, making Friday the day of rest, promoting religious education in schools and implementing an Arabization program in schools and public institutions. At the same time, the FLN regime, under Houari Boummedienne and then Chedli Benjedid, sought to wed Islam to the governing socialist revolutionary ideology and block any independent Islamic political activity whether urban-reformist or rural-popular. (43) Algerian Islamists had to go to Tunisia, Morocco or Cairo for proper Islamic training because Algeria lacked an Islamic institution of high caliber. (44) It is thus not surprising that Algeria has not produced Islamist theoreticians comparable to Khomeyni, Turabi, or Ghannoushi. Indeed, the “thinness” of Islamist clerics in numbers and learnedness, (45) might make it tougher for Islamists to govern effectively should they gain power. This scenario is quite different from Iran, where the religious classes were able to establish sophisticated networks of power quickly, even down to the neighborhood level. book Notwithstanding the regime’s efforts to monopolize and manipulate Islam, signs of an Islamic revival outside of authorized state structures were widespread during the 1970s and 1980s. (46) Violent clashes between leftists and radical Islamists occurred on university campuses; Mustafa Bouyali, an ex-FLN fighter in the war of independence, attempted to promote an armed insurrection in the countryside between 1984-87; and the regime placed hundreds of activists in detention, including a number of the future founders of the FIS. Islamists also expanded their activities in the social welfare sphere at the neighborhood level. (47) Nonetheless, nearly all observers believed that the authorities had matters well in hand. The literature analyzing Algeria during the period is devoid of any reference to `Abbasi Madani, the most prominent personage of the soon to be established FIS, or any sense that the Islamists had reached a critical mass. (48) To be sure, one cannot demand clairvoyance, and the situation did become increasingly more dynamic and fluid after 1988. Nonetheless, it is a fact that scholars and observers, many of them “secular-modern” Algerians, were slow to recognize the budding power of the Islamists.
This tendency continued even following the FIS’s successes in the 1990 municipal elections. Many sought to explain away the movement’s successes as a mere protest against a discredited and corrupt FLN regime, which to a large extent it was, or as the result of voter apathy or the boycott of municipal elections by other political parties. But what in the end stands out as most salient was the FIS’s ability to repeatedly mobilize large-scale support in competitive, highly-charged electoral contests, even after its top echelon was imprisoned in June 1991, and then in its capability to mount a sustained armed uprising beginning in January 1992. The two more moderate, “gradualist” Islamist parties, Hamas, led by Mahfoud Nahnah, and al-Nahda, headed by Shaykh Abdallah Djaballah, were completely overwhelmed by the FIS and won only minimal support in the 1990 and 1991 elections.
One keen observer of Algeria, Hugh Roberts, explains the FIS’s appeal in the context of modern Algerian history. In ideological terms, he states, the FIS has developed the Islamic aspect of the FLN’s governing vision, rather than repudiating it entirely. (49) In fact, the FIS explicitly claims to be the new bearers of the FLN’s torch, and the authentic inheritors of the FLN’s legacy. The FIS-FLN connection is further strengthened by the fact that Shaykh `Abbasi Madani, first among equals of the FIS leadership, was an early member of the FLN, and was even imprisoned for his activities for most of the 1954-62 period. Also like the FLN, the FIS maintains a sort of collective leadership, befitting its status as a “front” and helping it to gather together a number of streams and groups belonging to Algerian Islamism. But what is most important is that the FIS constituted a political body which gave primacy to political action over religious activities. (50)
Its two most prominent figures prior to their imprisonment in June 1991, Madani and Ali Belhadj, epitomize FIS’s two faces. Madani, in his mid-60s, has a doctorate from the Institute of Education at the University of London. He has been unswerving in insisting on establishing an Islamic state governed by the shari`a and on the need to reinstitute allegedly Islamic norms, such as the separation of men and women in the workplace. Nonetheless,, his tone prior to imprisonment was relatively benign and his commitment to political pluralism, while ultimately tactical, at least left room for a dialogue with other political forces in Algeria. He told an interviewer that pluralism was absolutely necessary for a just society. “We are not angels…we make mistakes….There were different views and opinions even among the Prophet Muhammad’s associates….We’ll make Algeria a Hyde Park not only for free expression but also for choice and behavior.” (51)
While Madani was talking about Hyde Park, Ali Belhadj, a 28- year-old preacher based in a mosque in the overcrowded Bab el-Oued quarter of Algiers, was exerting a powerful appeal on the masses of deprived, frustrated youth. His militant message was unadorned: combat the “French” (meaning the secular forces in Algeria), transform Algeria into an Islamic state immediately, by elections, if possible, and by force if the authorities reject the peaceful transfer of power, and exact retribution on all those who have committed crimes against the people. (52)
If the FIS’s mobilizing capacity in the street and electoral arena was impressive, no less significant has been the Islamists ability to survive a brutal crackdown by the Algerian military authorities since January 1992, and to inflict heavy punishment of their own. One can partially ascribe the Islamists’ resilience to its very nature as a “front”, attracting not just Ph.D.’s like Madani preachers like Belhadj and intellectuals of the so-called “Algerianizatiocurrent”, but also ex-army officers; radical militants who had already served prison terms for violent anti- regime actions in the 1980s as part of the Bouyali group; various jama`at (societies) whose spiritual and military leader, Shaykh `Umar al-`Alami, was killed by the security forces in April 1993; members of the takfir wal-hijra group, (53) modeled after–and perhaps–connected to the Egyptian radicals of the same name; and the so-called “Afghans,” Algerian veterans of the Afghanistan war against the Soviet-backed regime in Kabul.
The armed struggle against the regime has been conducted by two loosely organized bodies. The larger is the l’Arme Islamique du Salut (AIS), known until May 1994 as the Mouvement Islamique Arme (MIA), which functions as the FIS’s unofficial armed wing. The other, smaller armed Islamist coalition of different armed networks, is the Group Islamique Arme (GIA). As the war dragged on, the FIS became increasingly desirous of an alliance with non- Islamist forces and willing to engage in dialogue with the regime. In January 1995, FIS representatives took part in a dialogue of eight opposition parties in Rome and signed on to a joint statement calling for the “progressive return of civil peace,” based on the relegalization of the FIS and freeing of jailed FIS activists in return for a gradual end to violence and its rejection as a means to attain power, negotiations for establishing a transitional government to prepare for multi-party elections and formation of an independent commission to investigate abuses of human rights. (54)
By contrast, the GIA is “purist” in its advocacy of unbridled violence and rejects any suggestion of dialogue with the regime. It has been responsible for some of the more shocking acts of murder and terror during the civil war. These have included burning schools, the slitting of “immodestly” dressed women’s throats, car bombs in crowded city streets, the hijacking of an Air France jetliner, the systematic killing of journalists and the targeting of other representatives of Western culture such as intellectuals, athletes, scientists and musicians. (55) Their approach may be said to constitute an Islamic version of Frantz Fanon’s teachings on the cleansing, purifying properties of violence or, alternatively, of the Khmer Rouge’s vision of how to build a new society. The differences in approach between the GIA and the FIS led to sharp disagreements and even open warfare between them in 1995. (56)
Decentralization among the armed groups renders the Islamists more prone to infighting. This was especially so in the case of the so-called “war of the leaders” during 1993, pitting the MIA’s `Abelkader Chebouti against the GIA’s `Abdelhaq Layada. Following the latter’s arrest by Moroccan authorities in the Algerian- Moroccan border area and subsequent handing over to the Algerian authorities, Chebouti gained the advantage. However, one report described this as a double-edged sword, since Layada was likely to repay Chebouti’s alleged betrayal in kind. (57) As it happened, Chebouti was subsequently killed by government forces.
Decentralization or even fragmentation may be a weakness for the Islamists. In March 1995, the FIS National Shura (consultative) Council sought to overcome the problems engendered by a lack of military structure by appointing Madani Merzaq, an Afghanistan veteran and former prayer leader, as the AIS “national emir” [commander]. However, the appointment was not accepted easily, causing some defections among GIA field commanders. (58)
At the same time, decentralization is also a strength, complicating the authorities’ efforts to defeat the Islamists. The number of Islamist fighters may reach 10,000; they clearly have considerable backing within the population, often reinforced by the harsh repressive measures of the authorities.
Questions have been raised about how much control the Islamist civilian leadership exerts over the AIS. One of its leading commanders, Sa`id Makhloufi, for example, was removed from the FIS Higher Council in July 1991, owing to his utter opposition to the democratic process as a way to create an Islamic state. Chebouti, though close to Ali Belhadj, was never a member of the FIS or its Consultative Council. Merzaq also seemed to be positioning himself as a rival to Shaykhs Madani and Belhadj. One of Madani’s preconditions for a true dialogue with the regime is that the entire FIS leadership, including the military wing, be pardoned and allowed to engage freely in consultations among themselves. The regime has rejected this demand and consequently, its efforts to conduct a substantive dialogue with Madani have foundered.
As for the GIA, its leaders have been repeatedly killed by security forces, and the GIA’s current inner workings remains shrouded in mystery. Further complicating the picture is the widespread belief that the GIA is thoroughly penetrated by the regime’s intelligence units. Some have gone so far as to blame those in the regime opposing a dialogue with the Islamists for some of the GIA’s violent acts. Another case of Middle Eastern conspiracy theories at play? (60) Perhaps. But there are important components of the regime, both military and civilian, led by chief of staff Mohammed Lamari, Gens. Nezzar and Belkheir, and former PM Redha Malek, who suspect that President Liamine Zeroual’s pursuit of dialogue with the Islamist political wing will inevitably lead to an eventual Islamist takeover. Known as the “eradicators,” they advocate a policy of crushing the Islamist threat by whatever means necessary and may well threaten Zeroual’s hold on power.
Still another complicating factor is increasing unrest in the Berber stronghold of Kabylia, the only area where the FIS failed to triumph in the 1991 elections. An Islamist triumph, or even a deal between the regime and FIS, is viewed by many Kabylians as threatening their own interests, which center on demands for the recognition of Tamazight as an official language alongside Arabic, the right to promote and develop Tamazight culture, secularism, democracy and perhaps even communal autonomy. Given the current crisis, self-conscious Berber activism increasingly seems like at least a proto-nationalist current. In response, the Zeroual regime has made concessions regarding the recognition and propagation of Berber culture which, however unsatisfactory Berber activists deem them, would have been unthinkable during the 1980s.
By now it should be evident that a successful “reinvention” of the Algerian political community is a long way off. Even if the intermittent efforts at dialogue eventually bear some fruit, ending violence and assembling an interim national pact or power-sharing arrangement are herculean tasks. What is left of the state–the military and security apparatus, bureaucracy, civilian politicians, still possesses considerable coercive power. So do the Islamists. Despite the numerous political parties, the January 1995 Rome declaration does not yet portend the emergence of a democratic “third force” able to occupy the middle ground between a noxious, repressive regime and an equally noxious, radical opposition. Nor do the small, more moderate Islamist alternatives to FIS have any real political following.
Throughout the civil war’s first years, most observers continued to believe the Islamists would eventually gain the upper hand. One possible alternative was the partial disintegration of the political system and state structures and the emergence of multiple power centers in different regions, a kind of “warlordism”. Up until now, however, the military’s ability to survive and maintain power during years of bloodletting vividly contrasts with the Iranian military’s disintegration during the Shah’s last days. One key variable to watch will undoubtedly be the regime’s ability to block any attempts at disrupting the petro- chemical complexes which give it the finances necessary to stay afloat (again the Iranianexperience comes to mind). Another crucial variable will be the position of the Western powers, particularly France. Algerian-French relations have always been brittle, a legacy of their historically tortured relationship. Tensions between the Algerian regime and French government rose anew in December 1994-January 1995, following the hijacking of an Air France jet in Algiers by Muslim militants, subsequent flight to France and eventually its storming by French commandos. The event occasioned bitter mutual recriminations by both officials and the media. To the Zeroual government’s dismay, the Rome agreement by Algerian opposition groups drew a favorable reaction from French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. (61)
Both French and American officials hoped that stimulating renewed political dialogue would help to jump-start the process and reduce violence. At the same time, an active policy of support for dialogue could erode the regime’s strength. As it happened, French policy since 1995 under Jacques Chirac has been geared to bolster Algeria’s authorities, even at the expense of increased Islamist terrorism inside France itself. France continues to perceive the existing regime as the lesser of two evils. Along with Spain and Italy, France fears a massive wave of Algerian emigration across the Mediterranean in the event of an Islamist triumph, a scenario to be avoided at all costs.
An Islamist FIS triumph, should it come, will surely embolden Islamist groups in other countries. At the same time, there is enough evidence of diversity within the Maghrib to avoid a simplistic application of that old domino theory concept. Much will depend on the Islamist leadership’s attitudes and behavior after coming to power. Undoubtedly, it would be beset by the enormous task of consolidation and stabilization of power. Such a task, to be sure, did not prevent Islamic Iran from simultaneously looking outward and adopting a revisionist foreign policy. Again, however, the differences in the two sets of circumstances outweigh the similarities. Morocco neither poses the kind of threat or provide the kind of opportunity for Algeria that Iraq did for Iran. The FIS leadership does not contain anyone with the stature of Khomeini; and Algeria does not possess the geopolitical weight of Iran.
Moroccan-Algerian relations would likely be tense in the event of an Islamist triumph. To be sure, there was never any love lost between Morocco and the FLN regime, and the Moroccans have always expressed confidence that they are immune from the kind of upheaval besetting Algeria. Moreover, Morocco’s King Hasan has already hedged some of his bets, suggesting that it would have been preferable had the Algerian electoral process been carried out to its conclusion if only to point out the fundamentalists’ inability to fulfill their promises. (62) Nonetheless, Hasan’s own combination of Islam, monarchy, and modernity is anathema to Algeria’s Islamists. An Islamist government is unlikely to forget Morocco’s cooperation with the Algerian authorities in tracking down and extraditing Islamist guerrillas using Morocco as a sanctuary, most notably the GIA’s Layada. (63) One can envisage a continuation of the traditional Algerian-Moroccan rivalry for regional preeminence.
Tunisia may be more vulnerable, given its small size, long border with Algeria, dependence on tourism (a target of Islamist extremists in Egypt), and the encouragement which a FIS triumph would give Tunisia’s Islamists. Tunisia’s vulnerability was demonstrated in a February 1995 cross-border attack by Algerian Islamists in which a number of Tunisian border policemen were killed. Since then, Algerian and Tunisian security forces have cooperated in trying to root out Islamists on both sides of the frontier. Tunisia has eagerly sought support from other Arab regimes in combatting Islamic extremism, particularly in the annual meetings of Arab interior ministers. Even more important, Western countries’ support for their traditional Moroccan and Tunisian allies will be vital if they are to stave off Islamist challenges. The regimes in Tunis and Rabat have been made more determined to keep firm grips on power and block Islamist political activism by the Algerian experience.
The level of political stability in North Africa during the next decade will undoubtedly be influenced by the outcome of the Islamist-regime confrontation in Algeria. Still, in retrospect, Algeria has always been sui generis in the Arab world. It had the least distinct historical identity in pre-colonial times of any of the Maghrib’s geopolitical units, and indeed perhaps of most of the Arab lands. It experienced the most thorough colonization, the most brutal, violent independence struggle, the application of the Soviet/Eastern European model of development and political organization, and now, the most comprehensive collapse (Lebanon excepted). Other Arab regimes never imitated Algeria’s model of development. Nor did Algeria ever really project power beyond its borders, apart from the vacuum in the Western Sahara. If historical patterns are any guide, perhaps an Islamist triumph in Algeria, if it is to come, will have less of a revolutionary impact in the region, at least initially, than one might expect. One can also expect that its neighbors, together with regimes in the Arab world and Western governments, will seek to contain an Islamic Algeria with a combination of blandishments and inducements.
In any case, the real challenge facing Arab regimes in the Maghrib and beyond will continue to come from within. The degree of mutual aid and succor among the Islamists (more of an Islamic “global village” than an “internationale”), (64) while not negligible, does not represent an irresistible force. Modern states, singly and in alliances, possess considerable capacities of their own.
1. The gharb, Mernissi writes, is the place of darkness and the incomprehensible, always frightening. Gharb is the territory of the strange, the foreign…the place where the sun sets and where darkness awaits. It is in the West that the night snaps up the sun and swallows it; then all terrors are possible. It is there that gharaba (strangeness) has taken up its abode. As she also points out, in Arab-Islamic spatial terms, the land of the setting sun, the Far West, is al-maghrib al-aqsa, with not dissimilar connotations. (Fatima Mernissi, Islam and Democracy: Fear of the Modern World, Reading, Mass., 1992, pp. 13-14.)
2. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities (London, 1991).
3. Momamed El Mansour, “Salafis and Modernists in the Moroccan Nationalist Movement,” in John Ruedy (ed.), Islamism and Secularism in North Africa (London and Washington, D.C.: Macmillan, 1994), pp. 61-2.
4. Jamil M. Abun-Nasr, A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 334-5.
5. Ibid, pp. 38-91; Abun-Nasr, ‘The Salafiyya movement in Morocco: the Religious Bases of the Moroccan Nationalist Movement,’ in Albert Hourani (ed.), St. Antony’s Papers, Middle Eastern Affairs, No. 3. (London, 1963); Mansour, “Salafis and Modernists.”
6. Michael Hudson, Arab Politics: The Search for Legitimacy (New Haven, 1977), p. 379.
7. Remy Leveau, ‘Reflections on the State in the Maghreb,’ in George Joffe, (ed.), North Africa: Nation, State and Region. (London, 1993), pp. 247.
8. Abdelbaki Hermassi, ‘State and Democratization in the Maghreb,’ in Ellis Goldberg,Resat Kasalen and Joel Migdal, eds., Rules and Rights in the Middle East (Seattle, WA. 1993), pp. 106-7.
9. Kevin Dwyer, Arab Voices (London, 1991), p. 15; Ali El- Kenz, Algerian Reflections on Arab Crises (Austin, TX, 1991).
10. Mernissi, p. 56.
11. Hermassi, pp. 111-12.
12. Remy Leveau points out the irony that the term amir al mu’minin did not appear in the initial text of the 1962 constitution. Ironically, “it was the representatives of the [political] parties who reintroduced divine right among the instruments of power.” (‘Islam et controle politique au Maroc’, cited in Francois Burgat and William Dowell, The Islamic Movement in North Africa (Austin, TX, 1993), p. 167, n.3.
13. Henry Munson, Religion and Power in Morocco (New Haven and London, 1993), makes such a cogent argument, taking issue with Clifford Geertz’s classic Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia (New Haven, 1968).
14. Hassan II: Le Memoire d’un Roi. Entretiens Avec Eric Luarent, (Paris, 1993), p. 103.
15. Along the lines laid forth by John Entelis, Culture and Counterculture in Moroccan Politics (Boulder, 1989). The term “modernizing monarchy” is taken from Hudson’s Arab Politics (note 5).
16. I. William Zartman, King Hassan’s New Morocco,” in The Political Economy of Morocco, I.W. Zartman, ed. (NY, 1987), pp. 1- 33.
17. Elaine Combs-Schilling, Sacred Performances: Islam, Sexuality and Sacrifice (NY, 1989).
18. M. Al-Ahnaf, “Maroc. Le Code du statute personnel,” monde arab Maghreb-Machrek, No. 145, july-sept. 1994, pp. 11-12.
19. For an analysis of these trends, see Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, “Population Growth and Family Planning in Morocco,” Asian and African Studies, 26/1 (March 1992), pp. 63-80.
20. Mohammed Tozy, ‘Champ et contre champ politico-religieux au Maroc,’ cited by Burgat and Dowell, p. 170.
21. Al-Majalla, 23-29 June 1996.
22. Munson, pp. 153-58.
23. Emad Eldin Shahin, ‘Under the Shadow of the Imam,’ Middle East Insight, January-February 1995, pp. 42-43.
24. Burgat and Dowell, pp. 166-67.
25. For the details of their activities, see Jeune Afrique, January 12-18, 1995.
26. See the statement by Driss Khalil, the Minister of Higher Education, that certain Moroccan universities were “confronting a wave of Islamic fundamentalism.” Agence France Press, 24 April 1995.
27. Susan Waltz, ‘Islamist Appeal in Tunisia,’ Middle East Journal, Vol. 40, No. 4 (Autumn 1986), pp. 651-70.
28. Nikkie Keddie makes the important point that Bourguiba’s policies, e.g., the adoption of the Personal Status Code in 1956, were not simply blind imitations of Western codes (unlike Ataturk in Turkey), but contained features from the shari`a. Keddie, ‘The Islamist Movement in Tunisia,’ The Maghreb Review, Vol. II, I (1986), p. 26.
29. Burgat and Dowell, p. 234.
30. For the essence of their thinking and activities, see Yvonne Y. Haddad, ‘Sayyid Qutb: Ideologue of Islamic Revival,’ and Charles J. Adams, ‘Mawdudi and the Islamic State,’ in John L. Esposito (ed.), Voices of Resurgence Islam (NY, 1983), pp. 67-133; and Emmanuel Sivan, Radical Islam (New Haven, CT, 1985).
31. See statement by Ahmad Enneifer, one of the Tunisian “progressive Islamists” who separated from Ghannushi, in Burgat, pp. 217-18.
32. Norma Salem, ‘Tunisia,’ in Shireen T. Hunter, (ed.), The Politics of Islamic Revivalism (Bloomington, Ind., p. 164.
33. ‘Rached Channouchi: Penseur et Tribun,’ interview, Le Cahiers De L’Orient, no. 27, (1992); The Observer, January 19, 1992, quoted in Shahin, ‘Tunisia’s Renaissance Party,’ Middle East Insight (January-February 1995).
34. Marie Miran, “Tunisia,” in Bruce Maddy-Weitzman, ed., Middle East Contemporary Survey (MECS), Vol. XIX, 1995 (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, forthcoming, 1997), pp. 630-31.
35. For a detailed study of Ghannuushi’s thinking on key issues, see Khaled Elgindy, ‘The Rhetoric of Rashid Ghannushi,’ Arab Studies Journal (Spring 1995), pp. 101-19.
36. Al-Shira`, October 1994 – MSANEWS, July 8 1995.
37. Michael Collins Dunn, “The Al-Nahda Movement in Tunisia: >From Renaissance to Revolution,” in Ruedy, (ed.), Islamism and Secularism in North Africa, pp. 149-65.
38. New York Times, January 9, 1994.
39. Al-Shira`, October 1994 – MSANEWS, July 8, 1995; text of speech at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, London, May 9 – MSANEWS, May 23, 1995.
40. Speech at conference of Islamic Committee for Palestine, cited by S. Emerson in testimony of House International Relations Committee, Subcommittee of Africa, April 6, 1995.
41. MSANEWS, May 23, 1995.
42. Mohammed Tozy, ‘Les tendances de l’islamisme en Algerie,’ Confluences Mediterranee, No. 12 (Automne 1994), pp. 51-54.
43. Boutheina Cheriet, ‘Islamism and Feminism: Algeria’s ‘Rites of Passage’ to Democracy,’ in John P. Entelis and Phillip C. Naylor (eds.), State and Society in Algeria (Boulder, 1992), pp. 171-215; Mohammed Tozy, ‘Islam and the State,’ in I. William Zartman and William Mark Habeeb (eds.), Polity and Society in Contemporary North Africa (Boulder, 1993), pp. 108-09, 199-20.
44. Ibid, p. 180.
45. According to the Minister of Religious Affairs (in 1981), three-fifths of the imams in official mosques were not sufficiently qualified to comment on the Qur’an and the Sunna accurately. Vatin, p. 112. Cf. Michael C. Hudson, ‘The Islamic Factor in Syrian and Iraqi Politics,’ in Piscatori (ed.), pp. 73-97.
46. Jean-Claude Vatin, ‘Popular Puritanism Versus State Reformism: Islam in Algeria,’ in James P. Piscatori (ed.), Islam in the Political Process (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 99-101.
47. Rabia Bekkar, ‘Taking Up Space in Tlemcen: The Islamist Opposition in Urban Algeria,’ Middle East Report, Vol. 22, No. 6 (November/December 1992), pp. 11-15.
48. Mohammed Arkoun, “Algeria,” in Hunter (ed.), pp. 171-86.
49. Hugh Roberts, ‘A Trial of Strength: Algerian Islamism,’ in James P. Piscatori (ed.), Islamic Fundamentalisms and the Gulf Crisis (Chicago, 1991), p. 144.
50. Remy Leveau, Le sabre et le turban (Paris, 1993), pp. 194- 97; Roberts, “From Radical Mission to Equivocal Ambition: The Expansion and Manipulation of Algerian Islamism, 1979-1992,” The fundamentalism Project, vol. 4.
51. Al-Watan, June 22 – FBIS-NES, Daily Report (DR), June 27, 1990.
52. Roberts argues forcefully that Abassi’s and Belhadj’s vies complemented rather than contradicted one another. For the richest, and at times most provocative analysis of regime-Islamist dynamics in Algeria up until the 1992 military coup, see Roberts, “From Radical Mission to Equivocal Ambition,” pp. 428-489.
53. The name evokes the Prophet Muhammad’s rejection of infidel society and exodus with his followers from Mecca to Medina in the year 622.
54. Le Monde, 13 January; Financial Times, 14-15 January 1995.
55. Meir Litvak, “Algeria,” MECS, 1995, p. 223.
56. Ibid., pp. 227-29.
57. For various, and often contradictory accounts of the activities and organizational aspects of the Islamist groups, see al-Watan al`Arabi, 30 April, 25 June – Joint Publication Research Service (JPRS-NEA), 13 May, 30 July; al-Majalla, 12 May; Intelligence Newsletter, 3 June; Le Nouvel Afrique Asie, 9 May – JPRS-NEA, 27 May 1993.
58. Litvak, pp. 226-27.
59. See, e.g. analyses by Qusay Darwish, al-Sharq al-Awsat, quoted in Mideast Mirror, July 13, 1994, and by Muhammad al-Shawi, al-Wasat, 25 July, quoted in Mideast Mirror, July 22, 1994.
60. Daniel Pipes, `Dealing With Middle Eastern Conspiracy Theories,’ ORBIS, Winter 1992, pp. 41-56.
61. Financial Times, January 3 1995; Le Monde, January 18, 1995.
62. Le Figaro, February 22. quoted by Radio Rabat, February 22 – DR, February 24 1992; Al-Sharq al-Awsat, 13 January – DR, 14 January 1993.
63. Al-Hayat, 11 June – JPRS-NEA, 9 July 1993; see also the criticism of Morocco’s treatment of FIS activists in its territory by a Parisian-basFIS leader (Reuters World Service, June 3, 1994).
64. I owe this distinction to Dr. Martin Kramer.
* Thanks to Remy Leveau, Francis Ghiles, Norman Stillman, Gideon Gera and Ofra Bengio for their constructive comments at different stages in the preparation of this article. Naturally, I alone am responsible for any shortcomings in the final product.
Earlier versions of this article appeared in Religious Radicalism in the Greater Middle East, Bruce Maddy-Weitzman and Efraim Inbar (eds.), (London: Frank Cass, 1997), and a special issue of Terrorism and Political Violence, 8/2 (Summer 1996).
Dr. Bruce Maddy-Weitzman is a Senior Research Associate at the Moshe Dayan Center of Middle Eastern and African Studies, Tel Aviv University. He is author of The Crystallization of the Arab State System, 1945-1954 (Syracuse UP, 1993), editor of the Center’s annual Middle East Contemporary Survey (Westview Press), and co-editor, with Efraim Inbar, of Religious Radicalism in the Greater Middle East (Frank Cass, 1997).