Although recent commentaries suggest that the doctrinal seeds of extremist Islam were planted in Egypt through the writings of Hassan Al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb1, Algeria, in fact, is the first Arab country that had experienced this brand of extremism. During the seventies, Houari Boumediene, the second president of Algeria, contained the Islamic movements through social and economic development strategy that based on boosting the agricultural sector, heavy industrialization, and expanding opportunities for education2. He succeeded in maintaining a single-party state, and relative security, by shifting the government focus from political to the economic development. Even though there was growing dissent, regarding his economic and education policy decisions, these cleavages did not prevent him and his friends from becoming the driving force of policy-making.3
Nevertheless, with the serious economic decline following the fall in oil prices in the 1980’s, efforts at promoting development failed and the debt increased. Under Boumediene’s successor, Chadli Bendjedid, the government proved unable to implement efficient strategies to stop the debt spiral and failed to control the process of economic readjustment. Wages were frozen, prices soared, food commodity’s speculation raised, and soon, basic foodstuffs such sugar and milk were becoming increasingly rare. As a result, the rentier peace and the authoritarian modernization model that was established since the independence, had been challenged by the political opposition, both liberal-secular and Islamic, that began to reclaim the political participation. In such dire circumstances, the government had no choice other than to amend the constitution and accept a multiparty system.
The state-society rupture : toward the radicalization of social grievance:
Unfortunately, although both opposition movements were opposed to the autocracy, they stood as rivals in their efforts to mobilize support. They made no attempt to coordinate their efforts. While the liberal militant party failed to obtain large social support, The Islamic Front of Salvation (“FIS”) under the leadership of Ali Belhaj and Abbas Almadani4 scored a major electoral victory. The Islamic movement deliberately exploited the traditional-conservative nature of the social periphery, and the economic deterioration, to successfully gain unconditional support from both rural and urban segments of the country. The accumulated support was not limited to the poor population, rather the Islamic movement attracted people from wide array of socio-economic backgrounds. Nevertheless, the wage earners selling only their labor, constituted a considerable portion of that support. Despite Boumediene’s efforts to transform those wage earners into an important social actor in the society, they could not adopt the class conscious needed to offset the military hegemony, nor could they develop a collective sense of solidarity. Thus, a large part of them preferred to engage with the FIS. However, it is important to acknowledge the remarkable efforts of the trade union leaders in their attempts to face the FIS as well as the oppressive policies of military during the war5.
The FIS protests burst onto the scene in 1990, cementing Islamic presence and its political manifestations. In cities and countryside alike, the Algerian people participated vigorously in protests. The images and videos of Algiers during this time are shocking and express the profound social unrest that the country was living. Thousands of people crowded in large squares, listening to speeches of Ali Belhaj and his followers, and screamed in unison “Allah Akbar”. The Mosques became the centers of social and political mobilization. Consequently, the state ideology was challenged and the legitimacy of dominant elite was eroded. Continuer la lecture de « The FIS Ex-militants in Algeria : from combat to re-integration »
- Both of Egyptian origins, Hassan Al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb’s books and texts played a dominant role in the formulation, organization, and diffusion of fundamentalist Islam. The first is the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood; the second is the most influential thinker and philosopher identified with radical Islam. The best work on the Muslim Brotherhood is Richard Mitchell, The Society of Muslim Brothers (London 1969); for an outstanding compilation of the writings of Sayyid Qutb, see Albert J. Bergesen editor, The Sayyid Qutb Reader: Selected writings on politics, religion and society (Routledge 2008). After studying in the US, Qutb returned to Egypt where he joined hands with President Nasser in his fight against British colonial rule, only to become a victim of Nasser’s purges of the Muslim Brothers (Ikhwan). Al-Banna was assassinated in 1949.
- John Ruedy, Modern Algeria: the origins and development of a nation (USA: Indiana university Press, 1992), 216-220.
- Interview with Ahmed Talib Al-Ibrahimi, (ex-minister at Boumedien’s government), presented by Ahmed Mansour, part 06 and 07, Aljazeera, available in; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7BYyZD2Ru3o.
- Abbas Almadani was a professor of psychology at the university of Algiers, and Ali Belhadj was a professor of Arabic.
- Unfortunately, some trade union leaders and technocrats who refused the new system and the FIS, were the victims of violence and exclusion from both sides. I had many interviews with trade union leaders which were dependent to Alhadjar factory in Annaba before the privatization process. They struggled hard to protect the factory’s production from the military, especially during civil war. Interview with Yakoubi Mahmoud, (one of the pioneer leaders of trade union in Alhadjar, Annaba) 10-12-2008