Algerian Islamists’ identity Crisis

Algerian Islamists’ identity Crisis
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By Abdennour Toumi

Abdennour Toumi

Abdennour Toumi

They changed their political identity, that is to say, their strategy and political doctrine.

While the Islamists across the Maghreb were gaining power in Morocco, Tunisia — even in Libya before the end of the political consensus through general sections — they emerged as a significant alternative to the authoritarian regimes. Their emergence was similar to that of the AKP party in Turkey in 2002.

Meanwhile, their brothers in Algeria are in a political decline. This was demonstrated in the last election held in the country at presidential, legislative and municipal levels.  They seem totally lost in the confusion of electoral tests and political message.

What went wrong? Twenty-five years ago Algeria stole the headlines, creating a sentiment of hysteria in the West regarding the arrival of the Islamists to power in Algiers. The West was thrilled, Paris supported the military coup, but Washington said this is far from [us]. At that time, London played it safe, supported the coup and opened its doors to the FIS sympathizers to settle.

Cheikh Nahnah

Cheikh Nahnah

The question is, does the Algerian exception really exist?

Although the so-called Islamist project signs are vivid in the Algerian streets and the people’s daily vocabulary, it does not mean Algeria has become “Afghanistan” or a secular country. It is paradoxical as the society has become more conservative. This does not forcefully explain why the population is pro-Islamist or whether the majority of young women are wearing el-hejab.

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Amar Ghoul TAJ

Amar Ghoul TAJ

The Islamists’ establishment has been trying to capitalize on the FIS reservoir electorate for two decades without realizing their political tactics have failed them. Despite their charm to appear like the FIS of 1990-1991, whose credibility was seen by Algerians as based on the dynamic of change, it is not clear whether this change was meant to apply to the FIS project and ideals or just remove the corrupted FLN regime.

They believed they would have a land-slide victory in the May, 2012 legislative elections, like the FIS who buried the FLN in the municipal and parliamentarian election in 1990 and 1991.

Later, in March 1992, the FIS was dissolved by the Administrative Court and the party legally became history.

Abderezzak Mekari Pdt of the MSP

Abderezzak Mekari Pdt of the MSP

Meanwhile, the Algerian Brothers have been attempting to imitate the AKP in Turkey (the Justice and Development Party) which has changed Turkey’s political microcosm.  Although the AKP did not share the experience that the Algerian Islamists went through, it is clear the AKP of today is not like the party’s ancestors of the 70’s and 90’s.

After the January, 1992 coup, the Islamists were politically in total disarray. After the dissolution of the FIS, the conventional Islamist parties initiated a tactic that burned their cards, because in the eyes of the population they were opportunists like any other party.

They changed their political identity, that is to say, their strategy and political doctrine.

This was also due in part to the regime’s imperative in not allowing any political party to appropriate the “symbols” of the nation, and Islam is one of them: “Islam is the religion of the State,” Article 2, November, 1996 Constitution. As a result, the current MSP, formerly HAMAS, changed its acronym from the Islamic Society Movement to the Movement of a Peaceful Society.

The most important element in this shift regards all the legalist Islamists, who emerged in the post-FIS as Brothers who, like the AKP, belong to International Islamism.  The Turks’ Islamist leaders acted smartly in their process, engaging those of the military regime and simultaneously getting close with the population, particularly the young elite in the urban and suburban areas.

Abassi & his lieutenant Benhadj

Abassi & his lieutenant Benhadj

Also, the role and the charisma of President Erdoğan on the international stage played an important part.

This strategy is also used by e-Nahdha in Tunisia, and by Premier Ben Kiran’s government in Morocco; one could argue that the Tunisians’ and Moroccans’ political circumstances are not like the Turks or the Algerians, but in terms of strategy are closer to AKP.

Nonetheless, the January, 1992 coup resulted in the appearance of the Islamic Groups Army, who committed atrocities against civilians who had voted for the FIS in the local and parliamentarian elections. Thus between 1992 and 1998 the noun “Islamist” had a pejorative connotation in the society.

The Brothers in Algeria were quiet and paid a heavy price because of their stand against the terror of the Army Groups, despite the efforts of Sheikh Mahfoud Nahnah of the MSP to play a mediatory role between the military and its Intelligence Service branch (DRS) and the FIS leaders who were in jail.

This situation went from eradication to containment, which came with the arrival of President Bouteflika to power in 1999, who called for a national reconciliation, which was approved by referendum on September 29, 2005. Offering pardon to the radical Islamists and the army branch of the FIS members, was the answer.

A new generation was born in Algeria who knows more about FaceBook than the FIS’ book!

Algerian legalist Islamists and the AKP exist in countries that have solid secularist values, countries whose cultures have been swinging between the values of the West and the East. The Islamist Turks quickly shaped a conciliatory discourse and a somehow inclusive identity, a position they manage to hold between Kamelism and el-Bennism.

So, they found a political identity based on democratic values and economic semi-capitalism to achieve their objectives and establish themselves as a physical political force in the country and therefore in the region.

Whereas President Bouteflika in his latest tactic in his hidden war against the Islamists helped an Islamist to create a sixth Islamist party called TAJ (Rally of Algeria’s Hope).  Its Arabic acronym means “crown” and is led by his Minister of Tourism, Dr. Amar Ghoul.

Dr Ghoul made his political debut in the Algerian Brothers’ school and he joined the MSP. However, he later clashed with the MSP leadership and founded his own party open to all Algerians without any political etiquette.

As for the Islamists, the activity of the TAJ party is President Bouteflika’s tactic played as another card of Divide and Rule, not only in the Islamists’ house, but inside the black box of the regime as well. To be sure there is a tough poker game going on as to President Bouteflika’s successor.

The Arab Daily News

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Abdennour Toumi
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