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Joffee Report on Zaoui

By / 1 January 2003

REPORT: AHMAD ZAOUI

 

 

By Emile Joffe : Wednesday 1st January 2003 My name is Emile George Howard JOFFÉ and I have been asked to provide a report on an application for political asylum in New Zealand made by Ahmad ZAOUI . I have never met Mr Zaoui and cannot therefore comment on his personal claims except insofar as they have been confirmed by the public record or other reliable sources. I should like to emphasise that these comments are made for the sole purpose of aiding the Tribunal to reach its decision and are not intended to be understood as seeking to argue in support of or deny the applicant’s own claims. I do have considerable knowledge of the situation in Algeria that lies behind his claims and I shall refer extensively to this in the comments that follow. I consider that I am competent to make these comments as I have studied Algerian and North African affairs since 1973 and have written extensively on them.

Until the end of February 2000, I was the Director-of-Studies at the Royal Institute of International Affairs and I am now attached to London and Cambridge universities. I am the director of the Centre for North African Studies at the Centre of International Studies in the University of Cambridge. I also hold a research fellowship at the Centre for International Studies at Cambridge University where I also teach a postgraduate course on contemporary North Africa and the Modern Middle East component of the History Tripos degree. I have specialised in North African affairs for the past twenty years, taking a particular interest in Algeria since 1986. I am the visiting professor in the Geography Department at King’s College in London University, as well as having held a visiting fellowship at the Centre for International Studies in the London School of Economics and Political Science up to October 2001. I am also an associate fellow of the Royal United Services Institute of Strategic Studies . Currently I am a visiting scholar in the history department at the University of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia.

I was also, inter alia , a founder member of the editorial board of the journal, the Journal of Algerian Studies , which is published by Frank Cass & Co. I am also founder and co-editor of the Journal of North African Studies with Professor John Entelis and was, until March 2001, co-editor of Mediterranean Politics with Professor Richard Gillespie, a journal which I helped to found. I have published widely on matters connected with Algeria in the media and in academic journals, as well as commenting regularly on them on radio and television in Britain and abroad. Amongst the publications most relevant to this issue are the following:-

“Terrorism and Fundamentalism in the Middle East”, in Thomas C. & Saravanamuttu P. (eds)(1989), Conflict and consensus in South/North security , CUP (Cambridge)

“International law, conflict and stability in the Gulf and the Mediterranean”, in Thomas C. & Saravanamuttu P. (eds)(1989), The state and instability in the South , Macmillan (London)

“Iran, the southern Mediterranean and Europe: terrorism and hostages”, in Ehteshami A. & Varasteh M. (Eds)(1991), Iran and the international community , Routledge (London)

“North African responses to the Gulf crisis” in Anon (1991), North Africa: economic structure and analysis , EIU Regional Reference Series, The Economist Intelligence Unit (London)

“The Maghrib” in Sluglett P. & Farouk-Sluglett M. (eds)(1991)(revised 1995), The Middle East: the Arab world and its neighbours , Times Books (London)

“The Western Arab world”, in Nonneman G. (Ed)(1992), The Middle East and Europe: an integrated communities approach , Federal Trust for Education and Research (London)

“Reactions in North Africa to the conflict in the Gulf”, in Gow J. (Ed)(1993), Iraq, the Gulf conflict and the world community , Brasseys (London)

“Democracy in the Maghrib”, in Jawad H. (ed)(1994), The Middle East and the New World Order , MacMillans (London) and St Martin’s Press (New York)

“The European Union and the Maghrib”, in Gillespie R. (ed)(1994), Mediterranean Politics Yearbook , Pinter Press (London)

“Algeria: the failure of dialogue”, in Chapman S. (ed)(1995), The Middle East and North Africa 1995 , Europa Publications (London)

“Low-level violence and terrorism”, in Aliboni R., Joffé G. and Niblock T. (eds)(1996), Security challenges in the Mediterranean region , Cass (London)

“Algeria’s foreign policy and the New World Order: the tragic loss of a revolutionary ideal”, The Journal of Algerian Studies , 1 , 1 (1996)

“Islam in the Maghrib and Maghribi Islam”, in Rosander E.E. & Westerlund D. (eds) (1996), Islam in Africa and African Islam , Hurst & Co (London)

“Algeria: army and government”, Islamic World Report , Summer 1997.

(with Luis Martinez and Abdelkader Abderrahim) (2000), Crisis in Algeria; not over yet , International Crisis Group (Brussels)

The Algerian economy , (2001) International Crisis Group (Brussels)

“The role of violence within the Algerian economy”, Journal of North African Studies , 7 , 1 (Spring 2002)

The current situation in Algeria

The crisis in Algeria, which started in October 1988 with massive riots, followed by three years of confused political and economic reforms in a new, formally democratic environment, was irredeemably worsened by the interruption of the legislative electoral process in December 1991, followed by the army-backed coup in January 1992. The army’s fears had been that the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS – Jabha Islamiyya li’l-Inqadh ), Algeria’s major Islamist political party, would win the elections outright and convert Algeria into an Islamic state [1] . Within a year, the Islamist movement had moved into clandestinity and open hostilities between the army-backed regime and clandestine armed groups had begun. One of the clandestine groups, the Mouvement Islamique Armée , later to become the Armée Islamique du Salut (AIS – Jaysh Islamiyya li’l-Inqadh ), specifically directed its attacks against the security forces; the other, the Groupes Islamiques Armés (GIA – Jama’at Islamiyya Muslaha ) turned on the population, announcing in 1994 that it would attack foreigners, security personnel and civil servants, and Francophone intellectuals. Subsequently it widened its scope of targets to cover all those who did not actively support its objectives.

In the years that followed, up to 1999, an officially-admitted 100,000 persons died – the true figure is probably closer to 150,000 – and up to 20,000 persons “disappeared” [2] whilst in custody. Although the death rate, which had run at around 1,000 persons a month, fell in the wake of the election of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April 1999 and a partial amnesty was declared between June 1999 and January 2000 [3] , it shortly thereafter began to rise again, although it was also temporarily suppressed in December 2001 by a sustained security force campaign – which could not be indefinitely sustained, particularly as it showed meagre results. Since then it has settled into a level of 100-to-200 persons a month, partly because of security force action and partly because of a change in terrorist tactics which appear to be more concerned with creating secure urban and rural redoubts than with simple terrorising of the local populations. As a result, the security forces have now switched to dismantling terrorist support networks and reducing these redoubts instead, although this has had little appreciable effect on the level of violence, which continues to oscillate around the norm stated above.

An indication of these changes emerged at the start of 2002, when a new campaign of violence began in major cities, which had been relatively calm for the previous year. The capital itself was subjected to a major bombing campaign, with at least twenty bombs being planted in the city during January alone (Le Matin , 31.01.2002). This continued until August when the group responsible was arrested, with the last attacks taking place in early June a year. There was a similar rise in violence elsewhere, particularly in Kabylia and in Algeria’s second largest city, Oran. Violence is now carried out by the old GIA, which has not disbanded, although it was disabled by the loss of its leader, Antar Zouabri [4] , in mid-February (Le Matin, 15.02.2002) and which was held directly responsible for the bombings in Algiers (Le Matin , 29.01.2002), and another group that split off from it in December 1997 and adopted the former AIS agenda of targeting the security forces – the Groupe Salafiyyiste pour la Predication et le Combat (GSPC – Jama’a al-Salafiyya li’d-Daw’a wa’l-Jihad ). Twenty-one soldiers were killed by one Islamist group, linked to the GIA but calling itself, confusingly, the Groupe Salafiyyiste pour le Combat , at the start of April 2002 (El-Watan , 02.04.2002) and military losses have escalated again in the early part of 2003, with a sixty-member army detachment being put out-of-action in January. The result is that Algeria continues to be governed under a state of emergency, by a regime that depends on the armed forces for its survival.

In recent months, the GSPC has entrenched itself in its strongholds around Skikda and Collo in the east of the country and in Western Kabylia in the centre, with another branch in the central Sahara where it is believed to be responsible for the spectacular kidnapping of 31 tourists in February and March 2003. It has also begun to penetrate into the Mitidja plains around Algiers and there are fears that it might soon penetrate the capital. The GIA, on the other hand, after an apparent period of quietism, has remerged in the Saida-Mascara region and in the remote parts of Relizane, Chlef and Tissemsilt provinces. It also seems to have adopted new tactics, targeting the security forces and paramilitary units, rather than engaging in the wholesale massacres of the past, although these still do occur. It has become, in other words, much closer to the GSPC and there are fears, at present scarcely voiced, that the two groups may unite. Were this to have occurred, the security forces in Algeria would face a completely new situation which might be beyond their capacities to control. Indeed, in late January 2003, the Algerian army suffered the greatest losses it has ever experienced in a single day when an elite team of sixty commandoes was ambushed in mountains in the Batna region and lost 49 men dead and eleven seriously injured!

Quite apart from organised violence of this kind, the last year has seen an outbreak of spontaneous violence all over the country which is not directly connected with political Islam. This reflected the appalling conditions in which most Algerians live, over 10 per cent of the 30-million strong population is in shanty-towns and the country’s housing stock, at 4 million units, is 2 million short of demand and very dilapidated. Algeria has one of the highest rates of occupancy in the world, at 7.5 persons per housing unit. The recent earthquake in the Kabylia-Algiers region, in which 2218 persons died and over 10,000 were injured in mid-May 2003, underlined the problems for it was the most recently built structures that collapsed, underlining the massive corruption that exists in the construction sector.

This spontaneous violence has been mirrored, over the past twenty four months by organised violence in Kabylia where the local population is demanding administrative autonomy after a shooting incident on April 16, 2001. Demonstrations have been organised by informal, tribally-based village councils – the archs – and, up to the start of Ramadan 2003, had been able to force out a series of concessions from the regime. Trouble has subsided in recent weeks, particularly after the failure of a planned march on the capital, Algiers, on December 10, 2002. Feelings are still raw, however, and violence could erupt at any moment, especially as there are no meaningful contacts between the protesters and the government, despite official hints to that effect and many leaders of the movement have been sent to prison.

Even though the Algerian authorities claim to have tamed violence, the evidence is that this is not the case, even though news reporting of violence is carefully controlled by the government as the state of emergency has been renewed for the thirteenth successive year. Although Algeria has been able to reinforce its diplomatic image as a result of the events of September 11, 2001 by pointing out that international terrorism is a reflection of the difficulties its own government has faced since 1992, the expected material support, especially from new allies, such as the United States, in addition to long-standing supporters, such as France, has not materialised. Indeed, regime and army anxieties on this issue are now substantial and official fingers are beginning to be pointed at the United States for not supplying promised military equipment. Algeria has gone out of its way to support the war on terrorism, claiming that the clandestine movements and the FIS itself were merely symptoms of the global malaise that has allowed the al-Qa’ida to flourish. It believes that it has persuaded European states of its analysis and has collaborated closely with the American government. Now it expects a pay-off in terms of military equipment.

The role of the army and the security forces

The sad fact is that the majority of the civilian losses in this conflict have been caused by security force action [5] . The 180,000-strong armed forces themselves are backed up by a 25,000-strong gendarmerie which comes under military authority and a mass of paramilitary militias, the Gardes Communales and the Gardes légitimes d’auto-défense , also known as the “patriotes ” which include some 200,000 men under the control of local authorities [6] . The intelligence function is provided primarily by the ubiquitous securité militaire service (more correctly now known as Direction des Renseignements de Securité – DRS), formally under the control of the interior ministry but in reality under the control of General Mohamed ‘Tawfiq’ Mediène, which is completely unaccountable for its actions and has always been so. The regime, too, is dominated by the army, with three generals – Mohamed Lamari (the chief of staff), Mohamed Mediène and Mohamed Touati (presidential military adviser and the so-called “intellectual” of the military) – controlling the civilian government, with the support of the grandees of the regime, retired generals Khalid Nezzar (former defence minister and responsible for the 1992 coup) [7] and Larbi Belkhair (former interior minister and suspected of responsibility of the assassination of President Boudiaf in 1992) [8] .

The importance and arbitrary power of the military and the security services cannot, therefore, be under-estimated. The quintumvirate mentioned above have made and broken presidents ever since 1991 (Chadli Bendjedid (1979-1992), Mohamed Boudiaf (1992), Liamine Zerouel (1994-1998) and Abdelaziz Bouteflika (1999 until the present) and have, at will, redrawn Algeria’s constitutional system. Until recently, they had been contemplating a further reconstruction of the political scene, involving a suspension of all political activity for three years and then a managed restructuring of the political parties within a secular governmental system. Now, however, they claim that they do not want to be involved in the day-to-day management of the past and will withdraw to the barracks. Nobody really believes this but there may be less direct meddling in political decisions. The reality of power, however, will remain with the army command. This absolute power is at its most acute within the security services [9] who are notorious for the habitual, continuous and severe abuse of human rights that they practice.

Attitudes towards political Islam

It is also clear that the authorities maintain an acute and unchangeable hostility towards the various Islamist movements in Algeria. The FIS, of course, continues to be banned and has virtually disappeared as an organised party since March 1992 when the ban came into force, although it still has a skeletal organisation structure and massive informal support. Its proposed replacement, the Wafa party, was banned, even though it met every requirement of the latest electoral law at the start of 2001 and was led by a highly respected former minister of education and foreign affairs, Ahmad Talib Ibrahimi [10] .

Only one movement based on political Islamic principles, the Harakat al-Mujtama’a is-Silmi (HMS – the Movement for a Peaceful Society, originally known by the acronym HAMAS), has been continuously allowed to operate as a legal political party and then only because it supports regime objectives. Yet, on occasion, its members have also been arrested and severely ill-treated by the security forces and its leader, Mahmoud Nahnah, one of the founders of the Algerian Islamist movement in the 1980s, has also been victimised. In 1995, for example, he was allowed to stand in the presidential elections of that year but he was excluded from the 1999 presidential elections, although the criteria for a candidacy to be accepted had been the same in both cases. Furthermore, his exclusion was also based on information that was untrue, relating to his role in the independence struggle for Algeria. He faced a major threat to his position since, in November 2001, he admitted supplying up to thirty groups of Algerian volunteers to the mujahidin in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Since it is illegal for political parties and leaders to entertain relations with foreign governments, Mr Nahnah faced the threat of crippling legal action although, in the event, nothing was done, probably because the publicity in itself was felt to have adequately discredited him.

His party suffered heavily in the legislative elections on May 30, 2002 in which his support base massively decayed, to be overtaken by another Islamist party, the Islah . In these elections, incidentally, the Kabylia did not vote, in protest at what its population considers the government-imposed violence there – a similar boycott was imposed by the archs on the local elections on October 10, 2002. The result has been that the two major secular opposition parties, the FFS and the RCD, are now excluded from national politics since they supported the legislative boycott. The RCD also supported the municipal boycott, although the FFS did not and has formal representation at municipal and provincial level, as a result.

The other formerly legal Islamist movement, the Hizb an-Nahda , was broken up in April 1999 during the presidential elections which brought Abdelaziz Bouteflika to power as president [11] . The Hizb an-Nahda was a moderate Islamist movement, founded in Constantine in 1980 by Abdallah Djaballah [12] . It was inspired by the ideology of the Egyptian Ikhwan Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood), although it was not linked to this movement. Although it enjoyed good relations with the FIS after 1988, it continued to be a separate party and embraced political pluralism. In the wake of the army-backed coup in 1992, it was allowed to continue an autonomous legal existence but was subject to continual pressure to support the regime. This became particularly strong after January 1995, when it was one of the co-signatories to the Sant’ Egidio Platform (see below) and thus declared itself to be opposed to the Zeroual presidency’s plans for a new constitution.

Eventually, in the run-up to the presidential elections in April 1999, it split as a result of a government-backed initiative within the party’s central committee and now no longer exists as a viable political force. Its militants are often viewed by the regime as FIS sympathisers and treated accordingly. Mr Djaballah created a new Islamist party, the Mouvement pour la Réforme Nationale (MRN), also known as al-Islah , but faced great difficulties in view of official hostility although, in a personal vote for Mr Djaballah during the legislative elections in May 2002, his party was returned to the parliament as the largest Islamist movement there. It now acts as a permanent Islamist opposition to the government inside the Assembly.

The Algerian Islamist movement

The conventional view is that the virtual civil war of the past twelve years has been the consequence of the threat to established government posed by a political movement based on the exclusivist principles of political Islam which succeeded in winning a substantial majority of the vote in democratic elections. As a result of its fears about the implications of such a victory, not least because the movement, the FIS, had threatened to reform the Algerian constitution along sectarian lines, the army stepped in as the guarantor of the constitution and aborted the democratic process. The state then faced a virtual Islamist insurrection which it has only recently controlled.

There is an alternative narrative, in which the incompetence and corruption of the established political and military elite – effectively a nomklatura , which because of its occult access to economic benefit which it sustains through political repression is also effectively a mafia and, because of its wide links to the French army in which many of its senior officers served, is also popularly considered to be the hizb fransa (Party of France) – generated a populist response which chose the most available and appropriate cultural and ideological paradigm, that of Islam, to express its outrage and then faced official and violent repression as a result. The virtual civil war that followed was predominantly a populist response to such repression which has now degenerated into a stalemate in which any opportunity of genuinely democratic government has been lost by the intransigence of the ruling elite and the alienation of the mass of the population. As a result, Algeria faces a prolonged period of repressive government shrouding itself in a democratic veil – the “façade democracy” of which many Algerians complain – in which human rights abuses continue unabated, as does populist violence. However, insofar as the Islamic paradigm is seen – largely incorrectly – as the core of the problem rather than as a symptom of it, the nature of the Algerian Islamist movement is essential to an understanding of this complex conundrum [13] .

Political Islam in Algeria has a long and honourable history. It developed as a consequence of the wider Islamic response to European colonialism and technological superiority that had to be confronted in the nineteenth century, as the Ottoman empire decayed. By the 1860s, this response had become codified into the Salafiyya movement, promoted by Jamal al-Afghani, which argued that Muslims should look into the traditions of early Islam, typified by the Rashidun caliphate, to find the inspiration through which to meet the intellectual and technological challenge of the West. His ideas, which were inherently a modernist response to the shock of European intervention in the Islamic world, were immensely influential and were popularised throughout the Arab world by individuals such as Mohammed Abduh in Egypt and Chekib Arslan in Lebanon. In Algeria, they inspired the first wave of the use of Islam as a rallying point in trying to rebuild a sense of political and moral autonomy within the context of French settler colonialism there, in the wake of the visit by Mohammed Abduh to Algeria in 1903.

The early days

The Algerian islah (reform) movement began in the 1920s under Shaykh Abdulhamid Bin Badis who had been inspired by Mohammed Abduh and, in 1930, it was codified in a political association, the Association des oulemas algériens , committed to reforming Islamic practice in Algeria in order to assert a sense of Algerian identity based on being an Islamic society within the context of the wider Muslim community, in contradistinction to the secular assimilationism of intellectuals such as Ferhat Abbas who was quite prepared to accept integration of Algeria into France, provided that Algerian personal and religious status could be preserved. The nascent Islamist movement in Algeria, therefore, was also an expression of Algerian particularity. In this respect it differed from the very similar Islamic reform movement created in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, the Ikhwan Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood) which also drew its doctrines from the earlier Salafiyya movement but now set them within a specific political context [14] .

A further reason for its creation was the missionary activity in Algeria, encouraged by Cardinal Lavigerie and by the “White Fathers” – a Trappist order – that was particularly active during the 1920s and 1930s and was seen by Muslims as an attack on Islam itself [15] . Furthermore, most converts were made in Kabylia, amongst the Berber population there, as part of France’s policies of dividing Berber and Arab populations in Algeria. The Trappists have continued a presence in Algeria in the wake of independence in 1962 but do not now proselytise. They now engage in providing social services, particularly in their monastery in Tibherine – which is where the 1996 massacre of seven of their number took place [16] . Under the independence agreement, the 1960 Evian Accords, Christianity and Christian sites are protected in Algeria and the best tangible evidence of the Christian presence in the country is provided by the church of Notre Dame de l’Afrique, just outside Algiers where many of the Berber converts are commemorated. This coincidence of Berbers with conversion to Christianity has added to a popular conviction in the Arabophone parts of Algeria – picked by the extremist religious groups – that Berbers are not true Muslims [17]

The movement sought to re-Islamise Algerian society through social work and reviving religious practice, rather than through active political commitment – which would have been impossible in the colonial context. However, although Bin Badis died in 1940 and was succeeded in the association by Shaykh Bashir al-Ibrahimi, the father of Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi (see above), the Algerian reform movement soon became caught up in more overtly political activity as Algerian nationalism came ever more openly into conflict with the French colonial authorities. After the Sétif massacres in 1945, which marked the beginning of the overt struggle against French colonialism, secular nationalist movements filled the political arena and the Islamic movement was marginalized, but it continued to enjoy a wider dimension of support throughout Algeria as the natural vehicle for the expression of Algerian collective Muslim identity. Thus, although marginal in political terms, its significance for nationalist ideology was paramount and the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) that became the vehicle of the war against France explicitly claimed to be an Islamic movement as well as a movement for national liberation.

After independence

In the wake of the war for independence, which ended in 1962, socialist ideas dominated inside Algeria’s new collective political life. However, the role of Islam was never far behind and the new ruling elite, particularly after the 1965 coup, which brought the army commander, Houari Boumediènne, to power, made space for a formal Islamic role within the state. Education was often placed in the charge of ministers known for their piety and commitment to Islamic values and the role of Islam in the new Algerian identity – as an Arabo-Muslim state – was supported. At the same time, the slightest hint of Islamic political interest was stamped on and a formal political role for Islamic thinkers was marginalized. An Islamic association was, nevertheless, permitted and the Al-Qiyam organisation was established in the early 1960s by Malek Bennabi, a charismatic journalist and intellectual, and Mohammed Khider, one of the nine chefs historiques of the Algerian revolution. It was subsequently suppressed by the Boumediènne regime which brooked no rivals for power, even implicit ones, but which adopted much of its social agenda [18] .

The Islamic movement, however, became a rival within the decade because of two factors. One was the push by the Boumediènne regime for the Arabisation of Algerian collective administrative and intellectual life. One of the consequences of French colonialism had been to make French, rather than Arabic, into the administrative and intellectual language for the country and, as part of the process of nation-building, there was a conscious programme to reverse this. The Arabisation programme, however, required a large number of teachers that Algeria did not possess, so Egyptians were brought in instead. They brought with them the Ikhwan Muslimin , so that the first appearance of the Muslim Brotherhood as a coherent organisation in Algeria dates from this time, under the name of the Jama’at al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin (The Association of Muslim Brothers).

The movement had to make itself felt against the indigenous Algerian Islamic movements that had very similar agendas to its own and that harked back to the original Association created by Bin Badis in 1930, also from the principles of the Salafiyyist movement. Indeed, Algerians themselves never really distinguished between the Brotherhood and movements such as those that now developed from the old Al-Qiyam which had finally been banned in 1970. The new movements, known in Algeria collectively as the Ahl ad-Dawa’a (The People of the Call), now emerged in opposition to the powerfully centralised state that the Boumediènne regime had created and, up to the end of the 1970s, quietly amassed their support base within the population, particularly amongst the urban poor and lower middle classes.

Indeed, as popular discontent mounted with the Algerian experiment in political and economic development towards the end of the 1970s, the Islamist movement received ever-greater support, in part augmented by the relative leniency shown to it by successive governments. At the same time, its popularity was increased by the Arabization programme undertaken in the late 1970s and early 1980s to counter the persistence of French as the major language and culture for Algeria. However, those who were Arabophone in terms of education and training found themselves disadvantaged in terms of employment and isolated in terms of culture because of the continued dominance of French as a commercial language and because of the role France continued to enjoy in Algeria’s wider cultural context. They were therefore drawn towards the authenticity of an Islamic alternative – something which was encouraged by the fact that many of the teachers employed in the Arabization programme were Egyptian and linked to the Ikhwan Muslimin , as mentioned above.

By 1984, the movement had its own leaders – Shaykh Nahnah, today the leader of HMI-Hamas, and Shaykh Sahnoun, alongside Shaykh Soltani, who died in that year. Although his death, at his home in Hussein Dey on the outskirts of Algiers, where he was held under house-arrest, had been kept out of the news, within a few hours the surrounding streets were flooded with 25,000 mourners, indicating the depth of support that already existed in the capital for the Islamist movement. It also had its own ideologues. Shaykh Soltani had published a widely read attack on the Boumediènne regime, and Malek Bennabi was also widely read as Algeria’s own theoretician of the Islamist movement throughout the region. And the movement had its martyrs, which further increased its social prominence. In the wake of the Berberist riots of April 1980, clashes between Berberophone and Arabophone students in Algeria’s universities, which effectively set Francophone secularists against Arabophone Islamists, had resulted in deaths and arrests, particularly in 1981 and 1982. The government responded to these incidents with considerable brutality, sentencing those involved to long prison terms.

At the same time, the authorities also continued to try to placate Islamist supporters, appointing officials who were sympathetic to the underground movement and its values to senior positions in government, especially in ministries connected with religious issues, and encouraging the widespread construction of mosques. Since, in Algerian law, mosques came under state control only when their construction was completed, many Islamic activists left new mosque buildings deliberately uncompleted so that they could be used as centres for education and propaganda outside official monitoring and control. By the end of the 1980s, a majority of mosques were uncontrolled, a situation which persisted up to 1992, when the new post-coup regime brought in regulations that ended this anomaly. In addition, the authorities tried to adjust Algerian legislation to match Islamist concepts of public morality and social order. Thus, in 1984, the Chadli Bendjedid regime introduced new family legislation which undermined the independent status of women and reinforced their normative inferior role in accordance with more conservative interpretations of sharia religious law.

During the 1980s and particularly between 1984 and 1988, government ambivalence towards the Islamist movement allowed the movement to garner more popular support, particularly in poor urban areas where the level of youth unemployment was as high as 30 per cent of the youth labour force (and 70 per cent of the Algerian population were below the age of thirty). In 1986, as mentioned above, in a precursor of the 1988 riots, trouble broke out in Constantine. Islamists did not initiate the disturbances, which had begun among students protesting at living conditions; but, by their end, Islamists were prominent in controlling and directing the rioters and they emphasized the need for the public segregation of men and women, particularly in the context of student residences where conditions had been at the root of the disturbances.

At the same time, the more extreme members of the Islamist movements began to question the legitimacy of the Algerian state on the grounds that the FLN had originally capitalized on Algeria’s Islamic heritage to justify its call to arms against French colonialism. Yet this legacy and source of legitimacy had been abandoned, once Algeria became independent, so that the FLN had no right to claim a revolutionary legitimacy that properly belonged to their vision of the Islamic movement, in their eyes. They also had the experience of the struggle in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation in the 1980s, which had been led by extremist Islamist groups with American and Saudi support. In the mid-1980s, therefore, a clandestine group, led by Mustapha Bouyali – a former FLN militant during the war for independence and subsequently a gendarme – emerged in the Blida-Boufarik area and launched attacks on the security apparatus of the Algerian state. Although the group was eliminated in 1987 and Mustapha Bouyali himself was killed, whilst his supporters went to prison, they were released in 1989 and some became, not only members of the FIS (see below) but also founder-members of the armed clandestine Islamist resistance after the army-backed coup in 1991-92.

By 1988, therefore, although the Islamists were as surprised as the government when the riots that brought Algeria’s single-party state to an end exploded, they were ready to garner the fruits. Some leaders, such as Shaykh Sahnoun and, initially, Shaykh Nahnah, were determined to avoid direct political involvement. They formed the Rabita al-Islah wa’l-Irshad (The Movement for Reform and Guidance) as a national association designed to influence the political process without taking direct part in it. Others, however, led by Abbassi Madani, who had been an FLN activist during the war for independence, were determined to seize the opportunity. One of the results was the creation of the FIS in 1989. It was the subsequent success of the FIS that persuaded Shaykh Nahnah to reform the Islah wa’l-Irshad into a formal political party, first known as Hamas and subsequently as the HMI, after the electoral law was changed in 1997 to exclude political parties that referred, inter alia , to religion or language in their platforms or names. Shaykh Sahnoun refused to join him in the formal political arena.

The Front Islamique du Salut

As mentioned above, the FIS was not the only Islamist political party. Hamas , however, sought to participate in the formal political scene as, in effect, Algeria’s own branch of the Egyptian Ikhwan Myslimin , for Shaykh Nahnah had formal links with the Egyptian organisation’s international branch. An-Nahda , which was created in the Constantinois (the High Plateaux region of central Algeria which extends to Sétif), had a carefully worked out programme that sought to Islamize political life in Algeria and which was also based on the ideas of the Ikhwan Muslimin , but also accepted the democratic option. It was never, however, been prepared to collaborate with the regime. In this respect it had been very different from Hamas, whose leader stood in the 1995 presidential elections. The Hamas party also enjoyed minor governmental representation as a result of its cooperation with the regime, while the an-Nahda movement suffered continual harassment and the arbitrary arrest of its cadres for refusing to comply with regime demands for cooperation until it decided to accept the constitutional reforms introduced in 1997 [19] .

The FIS was, however, something more than an Islamist party, although it was certainly concerned with political action. Unlike these others, it sought to create a movement that brought together as many members as possible, whatever their specific political platforms, and which, furthermore, challenged the claim of the FLN to embody the legitimate inheritance of the Algerian revolution. As was often said in Algeria, ‘Le FIS est le fils de l’FLN’–’The FIS is the son of the FLN’. As part of this catholic appeal, it attracted adherents of three major Islamist currents to its banner: the Salafiyyists who had been the backbone of the original Islamic movement; the Djazara’a group , sympathizers with the ideas of Malek Bennabi who sought a specifically Algerian Islamist solution [20] , unlike the universalism of the Salafiyyists ; and the Afghanistes , Algerians who had fought with the Mujahidin in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviet Union, as well as a much larger number who sympathized with the Mujahidin and their neo-Salafiyyist ideas. In this respect, the FIS was quite different from an-Nahda or Hamas .

Since each of these groups had a different agenda, it is not surprising that the FIS found it very difficult to evolve a specifically Islamist political programme. No detailed economic programme was ever suggested; much of the platform as put forward for the 1990 municipal and 1991 legislative elections was concerned with public order and public morality – a theme which brought together a wide measure of public support. Otherwise it was devoted to a sustained attack on the corrupt values and practices of the old FLN regime and of the consequences of secularism and French influences in Algeria. It should also be borne in mind that much of the growth in FIS support occurred during the crisis over Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and, although the movement had relied on the Gulf states for part of its original financial support, the movement quickly divined the popularity of pro-Iraqi sentiment amongst the population and exploited it.

Despite the legal creation of the FIS on 1 March 1989, its party platform contravened the new electoral law that expressly banned political movements based on language, region or religion. Nevertheless, its wide political base ensured that it rapidly became a mass movement, claiming for itself the revolutionary legitimacy that had, until then, been the prerogative of the FLN and the Algerian army. In municipal elections in June 1990 it won a crushing victory, gaining control of 856 of Algeria’s 1,541 municipal councils and 31 of 48 provincial assemblies. It gained 55 per cent of the vote, completely humiliating the FLN, which gained only 32 per cent of the vote and won control of 487 municipal councils and 14 provincial assemblies.

This success was to be repeated, albeit less convincingly, eighteen months later when much-delayed legislative elections were held. The FIS won 188 of the available 232 seats in the National Assembly outright in the first stage of a two-stage election, and was expected to win eventual control of the Assembly, but its share of the votes cast had dropped significantly and its share of the overall available votes had fallen to only 25 per cent of the total. Nonetheless, it was clear that the FIS would be able to form a government and, much to the anxiety of the regime, it threatened, too, to call for an Islamic state in Algeria. And it would have more than the necessary two-thirds majority in the Assembly necessary to legislate changes to the constitution to achieve this. This situation immediately brought it into head-on collision with the fundamental tenets on which the Algerian state had been based and revived fears among the country’s military leadership that Algeria’s revolutionary ideals, and their vested interests in the status quo, would be threatened.

The army had been an integral part of the Algerian regime up to 1988 – indeed, it had, in effect, been the regime! In the wake of the riots and in view of Chadli Bendjedid’s promise to reconstruct the Algerian state under a strong presidency within a multiparty political system in 1989, in which the army would have to role of guaranteeing the integrity of the state [21] the army had officially withdrawn from politics but retained the right of intervention if it believed the constitutional position to be threatened. This it was to do on two occasions. The first was in June 1991, during FIS demonstrations against a new electoral law which essentially gerrymandered electoral boundaries to the FIS’s disadvantage against the FLN. Then the army unilaterally arrested the movement’s leaders, Abbassi Madani (now under house arrest after a brief period at liberty during the summer of 1997) and Ali Bel Hadj (still in prison in Blida). They were subsequently sentenced by a court in Blida to twelve years in prison – he is due for release in June 2003.

The FIS tried to respond to these changed political circumstances; with one faction of the movement wishing to find an accommodation with the regime to avoid further repression, even if that meant the loss of its political programme. The other faction was determined to maintain its political role as guaranteed under the constitution and fight the promised legislative elections on that basis. At an important party conference in Batna towards the end of the year, the compromisers were trounced and the party elected Abdelkader Hachani, a former prominent Djezar’a member, as its leader. The compromisers eventually accepted positions in government in the aftermath of the coup. Yet, even then, fears about the regime’s intentions over the legislative elections persisted and it was only two weeks before the actual vote that the FIS decided that it would actually fight the elections. Its fears were to prove to be fully justified as the army was determined not to accept any outcome that gave the FIS a prominent political role in the future.

Thus, in the aftermath of the first round of the electoral process in December 1991, it simply aborted the electoral process, turned out the president and appointed its own collective presidency. The army also turned against the FIS, determined to eradicate it from political and social life. By the beginning of March 1992, the FIS had been declared illegal and, by the middle of the year, there were isolated outbreaks of violence. Up to 12,000 FIS militants were arrested and interned in prison camps in the Sahara for varying periods of up to two years. Within the year, clandestine violence had become widespread and extended to urban areas, with the Islamist opposition controlling considerable areas of the country. Violence, in any case, was eventually to become the currency of real political debate in Algeria, both for the governing regime and for the clandestine opposition derived from the FIS. This situation continued up to the end of the 1990s and, despite attempts by the Bouteflika regime to find a basis for national reconciliation after the presidential elections in April 1999, continues to be the case up to the present day.

The clandestine opposition

The real danger to public order in Algeria, however, developed after the army-backed coup in January 1992, particularly when clandestine Islamist resistance emerged in 1993. The civilian population soon faced a particular danger, not from the FIS or its successors, the Mouvement Islamique Armé (MIA – Harakat Islamiyya Muslaha ) and the Armée Islamique du Salut (AIS – Jaysh Islamiyya li’l-Inqadh ) which sought to force the new regime to restore the electoral initiative disrupted by the coup, but from the GIA. Both movements, however, insofar as they espoused violence, looked back to an earlier paradigm, the Bouyali movement in the 1980s, which had been created by a former FLN activist and mujahhid from the war for independence, Mustafa Bouyali. As pointed out above, Mustafa Bouyali considered that the FLN had betrayed its trust and that an authentic Islamic solution was the only way forward for Algeria. He, therefore, organised a group in the maquis and mountains around Blida, to offer a challenge of violence against the state. Although he was killed in 1987 and his followers were imprisoned, his reputation was to inspire those who, in 1992, believed that violence was the only way forward. Indeed, some of his lieutenants were to lead the new groups, particularly the GIA.

The development of the armed groups

The GIA (Groupes Islamiques Armés – Jama’at Islamiyya Muslaha ) was commanded by a series of leaders who became steadily more extreme in their views and policies and were progressively eliminated by the army, whilst, at the same time, suspicions steadily grew within the Islamist movements that it had been profoundly infiltrated by the military security system, the DRS. Its origins are located in the army-backed coup in 1991 and the subsequent repression of the Islamist movement. Locating the outbreak of violence is difficult; some authors point towards the an incident in February 1992 when six policemen were killed in the casbah of Algiers, others argue that it was an incident in Guelma when a police station was attacked in early 1992. Whatever the actual incident, the first sign of an organised Islamist opposition was the spontaneous development of isolated armed cells throughout the country. The nucleus of the new movement appeared, however, in the Algiers region when Mansour Miliani, a former Bouyali activist, took over a group of Afghanistes in January 1992.

Miliani had originally been close to Abdelkader Chebouti, another Bouyali activist who, like him, had been arrested when Bouyali was killed and who had also been released from prison by President Bendjedid after the October 1988 riots. Ahmed Chebouti rejected the extremist vision of the Afghanistes , supporting the FIS objective of restoring the electoral process. He eventually became a founder member and leader of the MIA (Mouvement Islamique Armé ) which subsequently, became the AIS. Although Miliani himself was arrested in July 1992, after actions including an attack on the Amirauté in the heart of Algiers the previous February, the group survived because it linked up with a second group of activist youth who sympathised with its views and objectives. This group, created by Mohamed Allal, who was killed in September 1992, effectively took over the leadership of the combined group, now known as the Groupe Islamique Armé and led by Abdelhak Lyada who had originated from Allal’s group.

By this time already, the breach with the MIA, led by Abdelkader Chebouti, was complete, after the failure of an attempt at unifying the clandestine Islamist opposition in September 1992. Instead, the group went its own way, rejecting any suggestion of fusion with the MIA except on its own terms. The MIA, however, continued to broaden its contacts and, in March 1993, it formed links with other independent organisations, including Said Mekhloufi’s Mouvement pour un Etat Islamique (MEI). The GIA itself continued a violent ant-FIS and MIA campaign and began a series of high-profile attacks, coupled with threats against the security services, government servants, school teachers, Francophone intellectuals and foreigners. In 1993 it publicly warned these groups that they were at risk and began a campaign of violence.

Abdelhak Lyada was arrested in July 1993, to be followed, after a confused power-struggle, by Djaafar al-Afghani and, in February 1994, by Cherif Gousmi. Despite the rapid turnover in its leadership, the group continued to be distinguished by the violence and profile of its attacks and this attracted much support, particularly from the autonomous urban-based groups that began to emerge, linked to the trabando networks (see below). Its hostility towards the FIS constantly increased, with strident attacks on FIS and MIA leaders and threats against them. By May 1994, the GIA was at the height of its power and attracted support from yet other autonomous groups and from the more activist FIS members who sought more effective ways of confronting the regime. This brought under its wing the MEI, the FIDA (Front Islamique du Djihad Armé ) and former FIS leaders such as Mohamed Said and Abderrazak Rejam. The MIA, in response to this development, reformed itself under Madani Mezrag into the AIS, recognising the GIA, now the Groupes Islamiques Armés , as its major threat.

However, with the death of Cherif Gousmi in November 1994, the new-found unity fell apart as a result of the growing extremism of the GIA itself. The movement itself became even more intolerant of dissent and increasingly targeted the FIS itself, claiming responsibility for the murder of Abdelbaki Sahraoui, a highly respected founder-member of the FIS, in Paris. Between September 1995 and November 1994, the new head of the GIA, Djamal Zitouni, eliminated putative rivals, including most of the FIS leaders who had rallied to him. By now, there were intense suspicions that the GIA was heavily infiltrated by the DRS and that most of its high-profile operations were directed by the regime to discredit the Islamist movement overall. Indeed, in the past two years there have been several accounts from participants in the regime’s anti-terrorist operations, suggesting that the GIA had been “turned” and was effectively now a counter-terrorist operation, integrated into the military strategy of the regime [22] .

The result was that many of the groups that had allied themselves with the GIA in 1994 now broke away in disgust at its internecine violence and the increasing extremism of its rhetoric and actions. The breakaway groups, many of whom sought links with the AIS instead, included the MEI, the Mouvement Islamique pour la Dawa et le Djihad (MIDD), under Mustapha Kertali, and the Ligue Islamique pour la Dawa et le Djihad (LIDD), under Ali Benhejar. The latter two groups only coalesced later from individuals whom had split off from the GIA in disgust – the MIDD in July 1996 and the LIDD in February 1997. These groups joined the AIS and, when in October 1997, the AIS declared a unilateral ceasefire with the army, they followed suite and took advantage of the civil concord law in January 2000 to end the armed struggle against the regime. Zitouni himself was killed in July 1996 – either by GIA dissidents or by the DRS, and was succeeded by Antar Zouabri [23] until he was killed in mid-February 2002. Under Zouabri, the extremism and violence of the GIA became completely indiscriminate, leader to the horrific massacres of 1997 and 1998 – although, once again, great care must be exercised over these incidents as it is quite clear that the greatest beneficiary from them was the Algerian state. There is considerable indirect evidence of state involvement and some direct evidence as well, which is discussed below. First, however, it is necessary to consider what was the intellectual and doctrinal justification for these practices.

The justification

In essence, the group has carried on the tradition of the extremist groups that go back to “Afghaniste” and extreme neo-Salafiyyist traditions of one branch of the Islamist opposition created in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The original GIA had argued that the Algerian state was irredeemably tyrannical (taghut ) and corrupt (hughra ) and had to be replaced by force through its destruction, an attitude that was easily distorted to authorise the programme of indiscriminate killing. Before this happened, however, in an attempt to disrupt and weaken the state, the GIA leadership warned in 1994, as mentioned above, that it would target civil servants and security force personnel, together with foreigners and francophone intellectuals, particularly journalists. Over 70 journalists have died since1994, together with almost as many foreigners, while over four hundred schools have been burned to the ground, with many of their teachers killed. The total cost to the Algerian state of this damage, quite apart from the loss of life, is estimated at around $20 billion. The numbers of civil servants who died are not known, but the many false road blocks, manned by GIA militants – often within urban areas because police control was so weak – provided an ideal opportunity for “exemplary punishment” of those whose identity cards revealed them to belong to one of the forbidden categories. Military personnel and persons working for the Algerian armed forces – even if not undertaking military service – were preferred targets. Foreigners, too, were selected targets, largely because they were kufar , infidels, and disturbed the uniformity of Islamic practice that the GIA sought. The few converts to Christianity in the country were particular targets because of Islamic views over apostasy [24] . This was worsened by the fact that many converts were also Berber and Berbers have been considered by some Islamists as persons who cannot be true Muslims because of their use of tamazight or French as their means of communication, rather than Arabic.

The GIA also went on to argue that many Algerians themselves were corrupted by their own history and that it was legitimate to eliminate such corruption because they were apostate. The group’s activities degenerated into apparently mindless violence and a series of horrific massacres in 1997 and 1998, notable for a complete failure on the part of the authorities to intervene and for intense suspicions that there had been official complicity in some of these incidents – both to discredit the Islamist opposition and for reasons of personal gain. This pattern of activity now seems to be repeating itself, for the latest massacres have no obvious purpose except to inculcate fear or form part of some arcane feud within the regime that is played out through the GIA which, as described below, is severely infiltrated by the security forces.

The original justification for this lay in the generalised ideology adopted by the extremist mujahidin in Afghanistan and is closely linked to the concept of jhad – usually understood to mean “holy war”. In fact, the word comes from the Arabic verb “to strive” and in its original meaning reflected the striving for inner purification. A subsidiary meaning also meant the strive, first to extend the world of Islam – the dar al-Islam – and, secondly, to defend it. In its original meaning of striving, it is also linked to the concept of ijtihad , the

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