Why Algeria Defeated the Islamists

Article Summary
Algeria's Islamist lost the May 10 Algerian elections despite regional momentum for several reasons. It has not managed to shake its image as a violent belligerent since the country's nasty civil war, writes Mohammad Sayed Rassass, while the emergence of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika as a middle-ground figure caught the votes.

Leading figures from the Green Algeria Bloc, which includes three Islamist parties, announced on May 27 that they “expect to win 350 parliamentary seats in the upcoming elections," out of the 462 seats. Yet, when the bloc took part in the elections on May 10, which according to the international observers were fair and only included minor irregularities, it won only 48 seats. Islamist parties were only able to secure 59 seats in the new parliament.

The results deeply shocked the supporters of Algeria's Islamist trend. They were unable to mask their defeat through claims that the elections were rigged. The Islamists' defeat also shook the opponents of the Islamist movement, both within Algeria and abroad. The Islamists expected Algeria's elections to provide the conclusion to the period that has witnessed an Islamist victory over the majority of parliamentary seats in Egypt. This period has also witnessed the victory of the Islamists in the elections of both Tunisia and Morocco, which elected their first Islamist Prime Ministers.

The Algerian Islamists’ expectations stemmed from their past victories. They were responsible for the Islamist wave that swept the Arab world during the 1990s, after their sweeping victory in the June 1990 Algerian municipal and state elections.The Islamists’ victory in the first round of parliamentary elections prompted Algeria's military to carry out a coup on January 11, 1992, which resulted in the cancelation of the second round of elections. It also led to banning the Islamic Salvation Front from political action. Consequently, the country became entrenched in a civil war that lasted ten years and claimed the lives of 150,000 Algerians.

The Islamists in Algeria do not want to admit that the reason for their failure in the 2012 elections was due to rifts within their ranks, and because some elements chose to boycott the elections. Such claims seem inconsistent with the situation before May 10. Before the elections, Sheikh Abdallah Jaballah, leader of Algeria's Front for Justice and Development [FJD], which was formed by the Islamic Salvation Front [FIS], launched an electoral campaign as if he were "Algeria's Erdogan." Jaballah was let down by the voters and won only seven seats.

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One cannot explain the elections’ particular results without taking into account Algeria’s immunity to the Arab Spring of 2011. The results of the 2012 elections can be explained by Algeria's strong economy and the defeat of the Islamists during the fierce ten-year long civil war they waged against the military generals.

The emerging perception of the Islamists as saboteurs during the Algerian Civil War caused them to lose the moral superiority that they had enjoyed until 1992, after the popular uprising they led on October 4, 1988 against the military and the single-party system. The Islamists lost their glory due to their poor performance in the civil war following the January 10, 1992 coup, and their blind involvement in terrorism.  This stage also witnessed their division into the Islamic Salvation Front and the Armed Salafist Group. In 1996, the latter executed leading figures from the Front, namely Sheikh Muhammad al-Said, and Abd-al-Razzaq Rajam, who had signed the Arab Maghreb Union agreement in 1994. It is worth noting that this agreement was also signed by leading figures from the Front, who had massacred civilians and issued fatwas allowing the killing of women and children who do not share in their beliefs.

In 1999, the Algerian military supported a civilian candidate, Abedalaziz Bouteflika, for the presidency, which it hoped would allow it to rule from behind the scenes. They had already done the same with Mohamad Boudiaf during the six months that followed the 1992 coup and until his assassination in June 1992. Boudiaf’s assassination took place under mysterious circumstances. Prior to his assassination he had engaged in a number of disputes with the military authorities who had brought him to power.

After defeating the Islamists in 2002, Bouteflika managed to loosen the military’s grip over the country and became the first civilian president capable of achieving what Ahmad Bin-Ballah failed to achieve between 1962 and 1965.  Bouteflika managed to curb the influence of the military with the forced retirement of the Chief of Staff Muhammad La’mari in 2004. Bouteflika remained in adept control of Algeria’s domestic situation, benefiting from an increase in oil prices and the Algerian people’s desire for stability following the ten-year-long turmoil. This led to public to rejection of forces such as the military (1962-1988) and the Islamists (1988-1992), the country’s fierce war destroyed both sets of actors politically. Consequently, the military, who won the civil war, was unable to invest its victory into the political arena. Bouteflika, on the other hand was able to do so after 2002. While he was initially bolstered by a military that wanted to rule from behind the scenes, he succeeded in creating "civil harmony" in Algeria.

The President's Party

The above validates the success of the National Liberation Front Party in the May 10, 2012 elections. The party affiliated with Bouteflika won 220 seats, while the National Democratic Alliance [NDA], led by Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, was unable to secure more than 68 seats. The NDA was used by the military as a platform to re-launch its conflict with Bouteflika after their loss against him during the 2002-2004 elections. The party's supporters are based in Batina, Tabassah and Souk Horas. Most officers in the military as well as civil servants appointed during the 1962 post-independence stage, hail from these cities. Some have even stated that "the ‘BTS’ was ruling Algeria then" in reference to these three cities, which are inhabited by Berbers and located in the Aures Mountains of eastern Algeria.

Perhaps one could say the 2012 elections marked a point where Algeria was able to rid itself of the lingering after-effects of the civil war. The FLN’s victory represents a middle ground between both sides involved in the war, i.e. the military and the Islamists. This will be something that will bring both sides together due to their anger stemmed from the results of the May 10 2012 elections.

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Found in: islamic salvation front, ouhayia, islamists, green algeria bloc, bouteflika, algerian exception, algerian elections, algerian civil war
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