Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Understanding Political Islam in Algeria: Experiences, Past and Present

Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Understanding Political Islam in Algeria: Experiences, Past and Present

Article excerpt


As a Muslim-majority country and a regional power with ambitions occupying a highly strategic peculiar position, Algeria is pivotal to U.S and Western security interests in a critical and unstable zone where the North Africa, the African Sahel, and the Middle East intersect. Henceforth, Algeria's importance derives not only from its geopolitical position, and as major producer of oil and gas but also from the example that it provides of its experience in fighting terrorism which has become a model that inspires many the world over.

The first component of the shape of modern Algeria, its ties to Islam, first developed during the 7th century, when Arabs conquered Algeria with little resistance from the local population. Then, the various resistance movements against the French Colonization gained justification not only in the name of Algeria but also of Islam, and since independence Islamist movements have made up the major opposition to successive Algerian regimes. Islamism1 as some would name it, is a very sensitive issue not only on the Algerian or Arabic scene, but at the international level too. Beyond the empirical investigation, political Islam, although a more modern concept, arising out of and from a postcolonial era, treads a different path, as opposed to what most Western political pundits and analysts conventionally think. However, the Islamist movement in Algeria is far from homogenous, pluralistic by nature. Algeria has a wide range of Islamist tendencies, illustrated by Islamist parties' different strategies towards the state, civil society and external partners. The aim of this paper is to deconstruct the political Islam phenomenon dynamics in Algeria, this framework will allow for a better understanding of the current islamization process. In addition to that, the paper purpose to comprehend and elucidate the key characteristic features of political Islam movements in Algeria.

The first part of the article bears an introductory character focusing on historical background of the Islamism in Algeria. The second part explores the history of political Islam in Algerian post colonial context, including critical analysis of National Vision Movements. Following that the latter and larger part of the study examines the dominant role Islamism played in Algerian political life following the regime's decision to allow greater political pluralism from 1989, in particular, the emergence and development period of the main Islamist political party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) which is considered and analyzed along with the dynamics determine its agenda and strategy, also, Eventually, within the scope of this part explores the Islamists descent into increasingly bloody armed struggle with the regime.


In Algeria, Islamism is a phenomenon that was from the beginning influenced by various external intellectual and religious-educational currents. In fact, such influence goes back to World War I (1914-1918) when the youth who refused to be drafted into the French Army emigrated eastwards and attended Tunisian and Middle Eastern universities (al-Zeitouna in Tunisia, al Azhar in Egypt and other religious institutions in the Levant and the Arab Peninsula)2. These self-exiled students returned after the Great War influenced by the neoreformism of Mohammed Abduh and Jamal-Din Al-Afghani. It was these students who established the Association of Algerian Ulama and planted the first seeds of Islamism in Algeria.

Thus, the importance of Islam in the struggle against the French was almost inevitable, it being difficult to conceive of any other framework in which resistance to the Christian invader could be so effectively mobilized. Going back further, Algerian historiography records a genuine nationalist figure around whose image all Algerians could unite. This is Abd al-Qadir, who fought battles across Algeria against French forces seeking to pacify the country. …

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