Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Are Islamists or the Army the Greatest Threat to Algerian Democracy? Three Views: "God Guard Islam from the Islamists"

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Are Islamists or the Army the Greatest Threat to Algerian Democracy? Three Views: "God Guard Islam from the Islamists"

Article excerpt

Are Islamists or the Army the Greatest Threat to Algerian Democracy? Three Views: "God Guard Islam from the Islamists"

Algeria is a country where Islam is the religion of state. Its 25 million inhabitants are, like their neighbors in Morocco and Tunisia, Sunni Muslims following the Maliki rite--one of the most liberal and open in Islam.

Fundamentalism anywhere subsists on moral and material destitution.

Thirty years after the Algerian war of liberation from French colonization, daily life bore modernity's imprint. Hundreds of women had become teachers, engineers, architects, judges, members of Parliament and even Ministers. Now, however, religious parties threaten society with a return to the "abyss of the jahiliya," or pre-Islamic period.

Heartened by its huge success in the Dec. 26 first round of multi-party parliamentary elections, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), a fundamentalist party founded in 1989, for the first time overtly proclaimed its plan to create an Islamic Algerian state through strict application of the shariah, Islamic law.

Sermons in the mosques extolled Sudan and Iran as the models. Sudden death awaited the pluralist democratic experiment initiated in February 1989 with the ratification of Algeria's new constitution.

Leaflets circulated by the FIS militants revealed, among other things, that the treatment awaiting women was a negation of every recognized human right:

1) Working women should return to their homes because, according to the FIS, "woman is not a producer of material goods but a producer of men, of that essential being, the Muslim."

2) Mixing between the sexes in the schools and universities, transport, and public places would be prohibited.

3) Women who must work ought to perform their duties in restricted feminine circles.

4) Polygamy, divorce by repudiation, stoning, and flogging for adultery would be instituted.

5) Wearing the hijab (head covering) would be compulsory. This signifies not only the loss of hard-won rights, but also that the fundamentalists are determined to obstruct every aspect of the integration of women into the process of national economic and social development.

Fundamentalism in Algeria is less a political trend than the consequence of years of disastrous state policies, which have resulted in economic, social and cultural destruction. Fundamentalism anywhere subsists on moral and material destitution. The National Liberation Front (FLN), the single party allowed to wield power since 1962, generated much of this destitution.

For more than 15 years, the Algerian regime wavered between state capitalism, scientific socialism and specific socialism attached to Arab and Islamic values. That irresolution has impacted negatively both on individuals and on the different social and economic classes. The immediate consequence is more than one million unemployed, almost seven and a half million illiterate citizens and, finally, the emergence of a corrupt and rapacious nomenklatura.

Seventy percent of Algeria's population is under 30 years old. Unemployed youths took to the streets in October 1988. After bloody riots throughout the whole country, the regime then in power accepted political pluralism. Scores of political parties were recognized by the government, among them a religious one, the FIS, which was illegal under a constitution banning parties based upon religion or ethnicity.

All this is background for FIS successes in local and regional elections in June 1990 and national elections in December 1991. Of the three million FIS voters, more than 60 percent are illiterate and two-thirds are under 30. …

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