The general and the Islamist: military-Islamist relations in Algeria, Turkey and Egypt, By Rola El-Husseini
Since the late 1980s, Islamists who have accepted the political system of their nation have been trying to accede to power at the ballot box. Often, this has brought them into conflict with longstanding traditions of military control over national politics. This tense modus vivendi between newly elected Islamists and the military has created stalemates that only last until conditions are ripe for one or the other of the two to impose their power After the conclusion of its War of Independence with France in 1962, Algeria established a secular modernizing regime officially led by the party with revolutionary legitimacy, the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN). However, the main powerbroker in the country since the time of independence has been the military. Most Algerian presidents have been military officers. The first, Ahmed Ben Bella, was a soldier in the French army and then later in the Algerian nationalist forces. He was quickly deposed in a bloodless coup by his friend Houari Boumediene, another high-ranking military officer, who ruled from 1965 until his death in 1978. Boumediene in turn was succeeded by his protégé, a colonel by the name of Chadhli Bendjedid, who ruled from 1979 to 1992. The fourth president of modern Algeria was Liamine Zeroual, a former general who served as president from 1995 to 1999. Since that date, Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been the president of Algeria. Nominally a civilian, he was nonetheless the military’s candidate for the position. He has maintained close relations with the army (especially its intelligence branch) and his terms in office have been characterized by significant military control over the state.
The success of the Algerian regime in building a postcolonial socialist economy during the 1960s and 1970s was heavily dependent on revenues from oil. When oil prices fell in the 1980s, the substantial investments in material progress that the people had come to expect from the regime became unsustainable. Disillusioned with the regime and its ideology of secularism and socialism, many turned instead to the Islamists for answers. The Front Islamic du Salut (Islamic Salvation Front) emerged as the most important of these organizations. Islamists were not a new phenomenon in Algerian society; they had played an important role both in the resistance against French imperialism and in subsequent protests against the authoritarianism of the military leadership. By 1988, however, societal pressures had reached such a peak that the military was compelled to open the political system and allow multi-party elections. In 1991 an explosion of small parties across the country weakened the overall