Algerian Opposition Isn't `Fundamentalist'

Article excerpt

WESTERN fear of Islamic fundamentalism seems to have blinded analysts to the motives behind the latest Algerian unrest. The question is, are those Algerians fundamentalists or Islamists? To understand the turmoil in Algeria, we have to grasp the difference between the two terms.

Fundamentalist Islam is a way of life. It is a belief system in which the social and the political are inseparable.

When fundamentalism is state-sponsored, it focuses mainly on the social aspects and is used as a way of preserving the political status quo. In the cases of Saudi Arabia and Iran, the emphasis has always been on forcing women to wear veils and making men go to mosques.

The purpose is to invade the private sphere of the citizens and keep them from questioning the government's legitimacy. While some fundamentalists are extremely political, their agenda habitually confuses political and social issues. That is, they want the political power to force their social norms on everyone, wealthy as well as poor.

Islamism, on the other hand, emphasizes the political realm and allows social issues to be resolved privately by its followers. Islamism is not a way of life but rather a political movement aimed at combating both corruption and fundamentalism. As a political movement, it is closer to Latin American liberation theology than to the fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia or even Iran.

The animosity between Saudi-sponsored fundamentalists and the Islamists of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia during the Gulf crisis confirmed this distinction.

The Algerian protests are Islamist rather than fundamentalist. This is the case in all the Maghreb countries (Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco). The leaders of this movement, like Abbas Maddani in Algeria, Al Ghanoushi in Tunisia, and Al Turabi in the Sudan are Western-educated intellectuals rather than religious leaders. Their ideas are political, with a commitment to democracy and fair representation of all social groups.

In Algeria, Maddani has attracted more followers than the governing party because of the reformist program he proposes. His program attracts many French-speaking and French-educated Algerians for two reasons.

First, the promotion of political Islam is an attempt to establish their unique identity. Many of Maddani's followers were ill-treated while they were working in France. …

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