Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Armed Islamist Movements and Political Violence in Algeria

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Armed Islamist Movements and Political Violence in Algeria

Article excerpt

This article investigates the formation of the principal armed Islamist groups in Algeria-the GIA and AIS-and their justification for armed struggle. Furthermore, it investigates the extent of Islamist involvement in the violence witnessed in Algeria since 1992, especially the massacres since 1997. It argues that these two groups formed as much in opposition to each other as in opposition to the state. Moreover, their violence took different forms because they adopted different justifications for jihad.

A great deal of mystery surrounds the armed Islamist movement and political violence in Algeria. Although the contours of the main groups that constituted the movement- the Groupe Islamique Acme (Armed Islamic Group, GIA) and Armee Islamique du Salut (Islamic Salvation Army, AIS)-are apparent, we have few insights into their internal formation, ideology, and degree of involvement in the horrific violence Algeria witnessed during the 1990s. We know little about how the two groups came into being, how they viewed each other in relation to the goals of the Islamist movement, and why they failed to unite against a seemingly common enemy-the Algerian military regime. The level of barbarism in Algeria, especially in 1997, generated a great deal of speculation concerning the identity and motivations of those involved in the carnage against civilians.

This article sheds light on the organizational development of the Algerian armed Islamist movement and the ideological tensions that eventually tore it asunder. A close reading of the literature generated by Islamists reveals that the two armed groups-GIA and AIS-formed in opposition to each other, perhaps more so than in opposition to the state they were fighting.1 The GIA called for a total war to establish an Islamic state; the AIS saw political violence as a means to reestablish an electoral process that had been subverted by a military coup in 1992. The formation of two separate armed camps was intended to institutionalize these competing ideologies in the Islamist movement. These opposing ideological justifications for jihad, in turn, resulted in differing patterns of violence. The expansion of violence to targets that were initially outside of the scope of Islamist grievances-intellectuals, journalists, foreigners, and civilians-can be traced to GIA's anti-system and Manichean worldview, which refused to distinguish between active enemies and neutral observers.

THE FORMATION OF THE ARMED ISLAMIST MOVEMENT IN THE 1990S

It is commonly believed that the armed Islamist movement began to organize in 1992, after a military intervention put an end to an electoral process that had promised to bring to power the Front Islamique du Salut (Islamic Salvation Front, FIS). This view is not entirely correct. The armed movement began to take organizational form as early as 1990, but especially after the June events of 1991.2 Although the FIS was a front that combined myriad organizations, a number of groups and personalities opted to stay outside of the FIS largely because they did not believe that an Islamic state could be established through elections and democracy. These groups held titles such as Amr bi-l Ma `ruf wa Nahi `an al-Munkar (Commanding the Good and Prohibiting the Forbidden), Takfir wa'l Hijra3, Jama`at al-Sunna wa'l Shari'a (Group of the Sunna and Shari'a), and Ansar al-Tawhid (Supporters of Unity). Along with these groups, there were a number of notable individuals that opted to stay outside of the FIS and were subsequently to make their mark on the armed movement. These included experienced fighters such as the "General" Abdelkader Chebouti4, Mansouri Meliani, and Azzedin Ba'a, all of whom were part of the 1980s Mouvement Algerien Islamique Anne (MAIA or MIA), better known as the "Bouyali Group", after its founder and leader Mustapha Bouyali.5 Those apposed to the electoral option did take part in FIS's demonstrations and rallies, but they often participated with their own slogans and banners. …

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