ALGERIA: Ou Va l'Algerie?
Mortimer, Robert, The Middle East Journal
Ou va I'Algerie? ed. by Ahmed Mahiou and Jean-Robert Henry. Paris: Editions Karthala, and Aix-en-Provence: IREMAM, 2001. 384 pages. 23.75 euros.
As co-editor Ahmed Mahiou notes in the preface, the very title Ou va l'Algerie! recalls the traumas that have accompanied the evolution of the Algerian political system. In 1964, Mohamed Boudiaf, a founder of the FLN (Front de Liberation Nationale) already in exile in Morocco following his split with the Ahmed Ben Bella/Houari Boumediene wing of the triumphant nationalist movement, published a book with this title. Boudiaf, of course, would be recalled from exile to preside over the High State Committee in January 1992, only to be assassinated in june of that year, as the civil war between Islamists and the military began to wreak havoc in the country. Where, indeed, is Algeria going as it exits a decade of extreme violence without having altogether overcome what Mahiou characterizes as a "culture of popular uprising" ("culture de l'emeute" p. 32)?
This volume of essays, primarily by Algerian and French contributors, does not provide as incisive an answer as one might hope for. To be sure, a work of pure speculation would not be terribly satisfying, and several chapters deal authoritatively with the question, Where has Algeria been during the dozen or so years since the riots of October 1988 that ushered in the instability of the 1990s? Mahiou explains that the real goal of the book is to address three questions - What is the nature of the Algerian crisis? What is the solution? By what means can a solution be achieved? - in three broad domains: the politico-institutional, the economic, and the socio-cultural. While the authors offer a variety of insights into the answers to these questions, they do not cumulatively discern any clear-cut path in a particular direction. Is Algeria becoming more democratic? Is the economy becoming more efficient and productive? Is civil society moving toward any new consensus on a cultural model for the 21st century? The book is vague in providing answers to these queries.
What the book does offer, however, are several excellent chapters analyzing important facets of Algerian state and society. Part One contains four chapters on aspects of the political system. While Mahiou sees progress on the crucial issue of limiting the role of the army in politics, Nasser-Eddine Ghozali is more skeptical, seeing no end to the "pathologies" of military interventionism, clientalism, corruption, and terrorism that have marked the system. Mahiou argues persuasively that despite being "under the surveillance of the army" (p. 21), Abdelaziz Bouteflika moved to open up some new space for civilian presidential authority within Algerian politics. Yet the president's more recent crackdown upon his former prime minister and civilian rival, Ali Benflis, seems more consistent with Ghozali's view of "presidential authoritarianism" (p. 48). Ramdane Babadji analyzes the status of religion in the November 1996 constitution, seeing the text as a juridical strategy to transform Islam from an instrument of the state into a component of identity, thereby placing it in a "sanctuary" (p. …