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

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