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Algerian Islamism defeated…….

According to free lance journalist Michael Totten, Algeria is on the mends, opening itself up to the West and to moderation after their long disasterous Islamist war. He was interviewed on the Glenn and Helen Reynold’s show, for podcast click here.

Totten:”Algeria is a place where Islamism is finished. Fifteen years ago, Islamism was fairly popular in Algeria, and the Islamists actually won an election. And the military voided the election, which instigated unspeakable civil war where about 150,000 people were killed. They were homegrown, domestic salafists, as they call themselves, which are basically the Wahhabis of North Africa … and their hit list was long and gruesome. I mean, it was impossible for a normal kind of person to be in the type of category in Algerian society that was not on the Islamists’ hit list. Basically the Islamists look at a very complicated Mediterranean country that was part of France for 150 years, and they said you are either just like us, you are gonna be extreme Islamists like us, or we’re going to kill you….

That war is finally over … [Islamism is] dead. It’s dead for two reasons: one because the military beat it, and the other reason is because after people had to live through this ordeal for fifteen years, those who voted in the Islamists, very naively, I think, realized that it wasn’t such a great idea after all; these people are complete lunatics. And they didn’t even take over the country and still managed to kill this many people. And so, Algerian culture has done a huge shift from being either Islamist or naively pro-Islamist, to being much, much, much more liberal and democratic than it was. The women are taking off the headscarf and they’re reorienting themselves towards Europe … it is very hopeful, and yeah, getting there, well, it was pretty bad.”


Totten also speaks about his time in Lybia, which is still locked in a Romanian styled socialist command economy that offers absolutely nothing but misery for its citizens. Eygpt faces the same struggle as Algeria, with almost 50% of its citizens giving their support to the Islamists. An Egyptian friend of Totten’s fears that the Islamists have learned from the Algerian and Iranian experiences, and will not press for too much, too soon, but the end reuslt will be the same, a stifling and deeply restrictive society. That it took Algeria 25 years to shake off their own Islamist threat, offers him no comfort, seeing the Egyptian period of Islamism lasting even longer. KGS

4 Responses

  1. I like Totten a lot, he actually goes places with an open mind and sees what there is to see, but on this he is I think very very naive and rather disingenuous. Algeria was having democratic election at the end of the 1980s and in local authority after local authority the FIS was coming to power. When it became clear that they would win nationally, the army staged a coup and took control. The “democracy” on display now is window dressing from the totalitarian junta who now have their hands so deep into the oil and gas industries they are not going to let go.

    Anyone who looks seriously in Algerian politics can see only how horribly murky it is. Most close watchers of the country believe that within a few years of the civil war starting the intelligence service was controlling certain GIA factions. The military have been accused of complicity in the horrific massacres of the late 90s, not by Islamist fellow travellers but by western and indigenous human rights activists. Even in recent years there are consistent rumours from western intelligence sources that certain GSPC commanders are run by Algerian mil-intelligence. Continued terrorism justified the type of response that the “Eradicators” within the junta wanted to use – it’s human rights abuses by the govt. piled upon human rights abuses by the GIA. It was normal Algerians who suffered when the military “beat” the Islamists as Totten puts it.

    Now the Algerian govt. plays an ugly double game where at home they talk down the terrorism as “residual”, whilst overseas – particularly in Washington – they talk it up as a reason why (after many years of US administrations not willing to touch them with a bargepole) the US should provide them with military equipment (so far only “non-lethal”) that they haven’t been able to get elsewhere.

    Algeria is a success in defeating Islamism in exactly the way Syria under Assad the elder was a success in defeating Islamism. Instead of Islamist-totalitarianism, you have secular-totalitarianism, that defrauds and robs the people they lead both of their wealth and their human rights. The west used to think that letting peoples get screwed over by their own leaders elsewhere in the world was worth it for our own security – even if we had to stare a the floor when someone said “UNIVERSAL human rights”. But the last five years shows that all this does is kick the problem a decade or so down the road, whilst ensuring that it gets bigger when it does blow up.

    As with Syria, in Algeria – my enemy’s enemy is not always my friend.

  2. Hi Toby,
    What we have here is the undesireble option of ‘which is the lesser of two evils’? I don’t doubt what you say, on the contrary, I am sure that the Algerian government is as every bit as cruel and cunning as you depict it. I am just not convinced though, that the Islamists would be any ‘less’ cruel and cunning than the secularists.

    I hate speculation as much as yourself, but I believe it’s good to hear someone who has interviewed locals who actually believe that Islamism in Algeria has losts, or is at least on the wane, and that people are once again loosening themselves up and looking West. If anything positive can happen, it’ll happen under a government that’s not an Islamist one.

    Algeria was detoured for 15 yrs., while it tackled its Islamist problem, I am glad over the defeat of the Islamists, but I am not pleased about any authortarian regime, by any stretch of the imagination. But if the country is going to ever tackle its economic and social problems(lessening the need to flee to Europe), perhaps something over time will evolve.

    I am not up to date over the role the Algerian gov’t is playing within the ranks of the GSPC, I am aware however of al-Qaeda’s increased interest to spread Jihadism in Africa. Ayman al-Zawahiri’s declaration on 10 September 2006, that the Algerian Groupe Salafiste pour la Predication et le Combat (GSPC) has joined al-Qaida, and that to me is indeed troubling. The fact that he mentions France twice in connection with the GSPC, and not Algeria, might hint to a future role the GSPC might play here in Europe…and that is bad news for all concerned.

  3. The GSPC is a weird thing. There was a lot of coverage on the this “joining al-Qaeda” – Reuvan Paz at Herzliya as normal was probably the most interesting – but the GSPC has “joined” al-Qaeda at least twice before over the last 3-4 years! All sorts of odd things have happened with the GSPC leadership, people getting “killed” then turning up giving newspaper interviews sometime later etc.

    I think there are at least 3 “GSPCs”: the Algerian terrorists in the north of Algeria and Kabilyie region. This is the main organisation. Secondly, some people in the Sahara who are probably just smugglers and criminals and probably controlled by the military; and thirdly the networks in Canada and Europe which seem to be more legacies of the GIA. These attract European “North Africans”, Algerians and Morrocans but also various other loosers and misfits. They are “terrorists” in the European sense although they don’t seem to be very good because we know quite a lot about them as cells keep getting rolled up and sent to prison. There is really very little evidence that the guerilla-terrorists in North Algeria have any influence over the foreign networks that use the same name.

    On Algerian political history: what the FIS would have done in the 1990s if there hadn’t been a coup is the great question. There were clearly division in the FIS in 1991 just before the coup – mujahadeen coming back from Afghanistan who wanted to go and fight for Saddam, and political types who wanted to show that Islamists could run a government better than secular parties. Its unsure which side would have come out on top because the Army stepped in first.

  4. Fair enough,
    The theorhetical question is rendered somewhat moot because we can’t “divine the past that didn’t happen”. It can also be said that any “utopian driven experiment” that has a social/religious or even social/secular (Marxism/Naziam being no different) element to its ideology is a recipe for disaster. What history has proven, is that these types of regimes are the most lethal.

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