The Algerian Insurgency
ANALYSIS, 26 Jul 2010
Through 2009 we had brought to you a series briefly outlining disputes in 188 countries. Now we are happy to announce that we shall be sharing with you, every week, details of some major conflicts in different countries around the world. We hope that an understanding of the genesis and nature of different conflicts we help us in resolving these and making the world what it should be – A Heaven for all!!!
— The COVA-Confederation of Voluntary Associations team
After a century of rule by France, Algeria became independent in 1962. The surprising first round success of the fundamentalist FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) party in December 1991 balloting caused the army to intervene, crack down on the FIS, and postpone the subsequent elections. The FIS response has resulted in a continuous low-grade civil conflict with the secular state apparatus, which nonetheless has allowed elections featuring pro-government and moderate religious-based parties. FIS’s armed wing, the Islamic Salvation Army, disbanded itself in January 2000 and many armed militants surrendered under an amnesty program designed to promote national reconciliation. Nevertheless, residual fighting continues.
France declared Algeria independent on 03 July 1963. On September 8, 1963, a constitution was adopted by referendum, and later that month, Ahmed Ben Bella was formally elected president. On June 19, 1965, President Ben Bella was replaced in a bloodless coup by a Council of the Revolution headed by Minister of Defense Col. Houari Boumediene who was elected president of the republic on December 10, 1976. He died 5 years later.
Following nomination by an FLN Party Congress, Col. Chadli Bendjedid was elected President in 1979 and re-elected in 1984 and 1988. A new constitution was adopted in 1989 that allowed the formation of political associations other than the FLN. It also removed the armed forces, which had run the government since the days of Boumediene, from a designated role in the operation of the government. Among the scores of parties that sprang up under the new constitution, the militant Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was the most successful, winning more than 50% of all votes cast in municipal elections in June 1990 as well as in first stage of national legislative elections held in December 1991.
Faced with the real possibility of a sweeping FIS victory, the government canceled the second stage of elections in January 1992. This action, coupled with political uncertainty and economic turmoil, led to a violent reaction on the part of the Islamists. A campaign of terror in the country, including assassinations, bombings, and massacres, commenced. Charging the FIS with supporting or encouraging such actions, Bendjedid declared a national state of emergency, resigned, and appointed a five-member High Council of State (HCS) to run the government. The HCS officially dissolved and outlawed the FIS in 1992 and began a series of arrests and trials of FIS members that reportedly resulted in over 50,000 members being jailed.
Despite efforts to restore the political process, violence and terrorism characterized the Algeria landscape during the 1990s. In 1994, Lamine Zeroual was appointed Head of State for a 3-year term. During this period, the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) launched terrorist campaigns against government figures and institutions to protest the banning of the Islamist parties. A breakaway GIA group — the Salafist Group for Preaching and Call (GSPC) — also undertook terrorist activity in the country. Govenrment officials estimate that more than 100,000 Algerians died during this period.
Zeroual called for presidential elections in 1995, though some parties objected to holding elections that excluded the FIS. Zeroual was elected president with 75% of the vote. By 1997, in an attempt to bring political stability to the nation, the Rassemblement National Democratique (RND) party was formed by a more progressive group of FLN members. Zeroual announced that presidential elections would be held in early 1999, nearly 2 years ahead of the scheduled time.
Algerians went to the polls in April 1999, following a campaign in which seven candidates qualified for election. On the eve of the election, all candidates except Abdelaziz Bouteflika pulled out amid charges of widespread electoral fraud. Bouteflika, the candidate who appeared to enjoy the backing of the military, as well as FLN and RND party regulars, won with an official vote count of 70% of all votes cast. He was inaugurated on April 27, 1999 for a 5-year term.
President Bouteflika’s agenda focused initially on restoring security and stability to the country. Following his inauguration, he proposed an official amnesty for those who fought against the government during the 1990s unless they had engaged in “blood crimes,” such as rape or murder. This “Civil Concord” policy was widely approved in a nationwide referendum in September 2000. Government officials estimate that 85% of those fighting the regime during the 1990s have accepted the amnesty offer and have been reintegrated into Algerian society. Bouteflika also has launched national commissions to study education and judicial reform, as well as restructuring of the state bureaucracy. His government has set ambitious targets for economic reform and attracting foreign investment.
Three years into Bouteflika’s mandate, the security situation in Algeria has improved markedly. However, terrorism has not been totally eliminated, and terrorist incidents still occur, particularly in remote or isolated areas of the country. An estimated 100-120 Algerians are killed monthly, down from a high of 1,200 or more in the mid-1990s.
In 2001, Berber activists in the Kabyle region of the country, reacting to the death of a youth in gendarme custody, unleashed a resistance campaign against what they saw as government repression. Strikes and demonstrations in the Kabyle region have become commonplace as a result and some have spread to the capital. Chief among Berber demands is recognition of Amagizh (Berber) as a national language, restitution for death of Kabylies killed or wounded in demonstrations, and some type of autonomy for the region. Representatives of major Kabylie factions are in discussions with the government on this matter.
The 2002 elections in Algeria suffered from widespread public disillusionment. The eve of the election was marred by the killing of 23 people in Sendjas. Many of the Berber speaking populace boycotted the election while expressing anti-governmental views. Some secular parties did not participate, citing their belief that the government was based on fraudulent results in reference to the 1997 and 1999 elections. The 47% voter turn out was the lowest since 1962. The National Liberation Front (FLN) won 199 out of the 389 seats. The nationalistic RND fell from having 156 seats to a mere 47.
The widespread disenchanment was attributed to a dismal economy, also housing and medicine continue to be pressing problems in Algeria. Failing infrastructure and the continued influx of people from rural to urban areas has overtaxed both systems. According to the UNDP, Algeria has one of the world’s highest per housing unit occupancy rates for housing, and government officials have publicly stated that the country has an immediate shortfall of 1.5 million housing units.
Rachid Abu Turab took over as leader of the GIA after the death of Antar Zouabri in February of 2002. The change in leadership marked an increase in terrorist activies carried out by the GIA. Turab pledged to continue the increased pace, and comitted the GIA to non-reconciliation.
The civil unrest contininued and in March of 2002 the planned presidential pardoning of 5000 criminals caused a riot at Algeria’s largest prison. The prisoners were protesting their exclusion from the pardoning, which was issued by President Bouteflika in honor of the Prophet Mohhamed’s birthday. Police resorted to tear gas in order to quell the uprising. The prison is the site of a 1995 attack by the GIA which led to the escape of 1000 criminals, and still houses many convicted terrorists.
The Algerian goverment blamed a January 2003 ambush of security forces on the GSPC, and connected their actions with Al-Qaeda. The attack represented the largest such incident since 1992, reportedly between 20 and 40 people were injured. In February of 2003, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat kidnapped 32 tourists while they were traveling through the Sahara. Reportedly, the tourists were being held for ransom. The kidnapping prompted German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer to visit Algeria on March 12th to hold talks concerning the missing Europeans. Algerian authorities raided the compound where the tourists were being held on May 14th 2003, freeing 17 people. The raid resulted in the deaths of at least 9 GSPC members, and wounded several others.
The country’s 11-year civil conflict has pitted self-proclaimed radical Muslims against moderate Muslims. Approximately 150,000 civilians, terrorists, and security forces had been killed by the end of 2003. Extremist self-proclaimed Islamists have issued public threats against all “infidels” in the country, both foreigners and citizens, and have killed both Muslims and non-Muslims, including missionaries. Extremists continued attacks against both the Government and moderate Muslim and secular civilians; however, the level of violence perpetrated by these terrorists continued to decline during the period covered by this report. There were 183 civilian deaths due to terrorism in the first 6 months of 2003, compared with 313 civilians killed in the same period in 2002. These figures contrast with more than 1,000 killings per month several years earlier. The majority of the country’s terrorist groups, as a rule, do not differentiate between religious and political killings. During the period covered by this report, the majority of cases of security force and civilian deaths at the hands of terrorists were a result of knifings (particularly throat-slitting) and shootings. Terrorists, often claiming religious justification for their actions, set up roadblocks to kill civilians and security force personnel.
In February of 2003, Human Rights Watch reported that “state-sponsored disappearances have virtually stopped in Algeria.” The 2004 US State Department Report on Human Rights Practices claims that, while the country’s record remained “poor,” the government took “notable steps to improve human rights.” Foreign observers certified that elections that have taken place over the last few years have been, generally, free and fair.
In 2006, sporadic, low-intensity fighting continued between the government and the GSPC. In March of 2006 Hassan Hattab, a former leader of the GSPC, called for members to disarm and accept government offers of amnesty. On September 14th, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, called for the GSPC to remain resolute and declared a “blessed union” would unite the two groups in a fight against French and American interests. Since this alliance was forged, two attacks have taken place. On October 30th, two near-simultaneous car bombs exploded outside police stations in two towns east of Algiers. The next attack, the first against foreigners in over two years, took place on December 10. Two buses, carrying British, American, Canadian, and Lebanese employees of oil company Brown & Root Condor, were ambushed by gunmen following a roadside explosion. There has been no claim of responsibility, but the nature of the attack suggests an Al Qaeda influence.
Algeria has been an ally of the US in the War on Terror. While certainly diminished in activity, the GSPC, which is a US designated terrorist organization, remains active in the southern area of the country, with the same area known to harbor a few hundred Al-Qaida operatives.
COVA (Confederation of Voluntary Associations) is a national network of voluntary organizations dedicated to the issues of social harmony, peace and justice. The prime focus of COVA is on citizenship rights and on perspective building for harmony and peace in South Asia. Through direct programmes and by networking with other CSOs, COVA organises perspective building activities and programs, carries out campaigns, and conducts research for influencing diverse sections of civil society and the state apparatus to adopt inclusive, secular and egalitarian outlook and policies that would foster rights and secure justice and peace for all.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 26 Jul 2010.
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