Tolstoy said that happy families are happy in the same way while unhappy families all have their own particular stories of unhappiness (a subject Tolstoy himself knew very well). We might extrapolate that all stable countries are in some ways stable in the same way (though that is an oversimplification), but certainly all unstable countries have their own ways and means of instability. Few countries are more unstable or unhappy at the moment than Algeria, and many are tempted to extrapolate from it lessons for the whole Arab world. This is unwise, yet there are significant lessons from the collapse of the Algerian polity.
The announcement October 31 by President Lyamine Zeroual that presidential elections will be held before the end of 1995 followed a previous announcement that efforts to initiate a dialogue with the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) had failed. That marked the collapse of what many had seen as a last chance to avert even worse bloodshed. And already the bloodshed is bad enough: the government has acknowledged that over 10,000 have died in the nearly three years of fighting (as opposed to some 4,000 it had previously admitted), and in late October Reuters quoted a French official as saying that the situation in Algeria is now as bad as it was at the peak of the long and bloody war of independence against France.
Zeroual announced on September 13 that three senior FIS leaders had been freed outright while the two top leaders-Abbasi Madani and Ali Belhadj-had been released from Blida prison and transferred to house arrest. The government move-which came at the end of a period of quiet negotiation and messages passed back and forth between the presidency and Madani-is one which has been called for by several of the secular opposition parties, including the once-dominant National Liberation Front (FLN), but which had been resisted by the military-backed government until recently. But there are many questions about the ability of FIS today to bring about any kind of ceasefire, since most of the recent and bloodiest violence has been attributed not to FIS but to the Islamic Armed Group (GIA), a more radical force unlikely to follow the lead of the moderate FIS leadership. Even the FIS rank and file, after two and a half years underground, may no longer be amenable to guidance from their traditional leadership, who until September had been sealed off in Blida prison, unable to communicate with their followers. The FIS fighting wing, the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS), if excluded from the talks (if talks begin), might well reject the leadership of their long-imprisoned one-time chiefs.
Many observers had urged talking to FIS for a long time, though not everyone in Zeroual's own government appeared to welcome it. Six days after the release was announced, government spokesperson Leila Aslaoui, who was also secretary of state for family and solidarity and a former minister of youth and sports, resigned from her posts, apparently in protest of the accommodation with the FIS leadership. Like other senior women in government, she apparently believes that a FIS government would mark an end to political rights for Algerian women.
Another dissenter was Armed Forces Chief of Staff Mohamed Lamari, who was in Paris "for health reasons" after the release and is known to favor a hard-line approach with no negotiations whatsoever with the Islamists. Another sign that the dialogue efforts have failed was the announcement that Lamari had been promoted to lieutenant general at the same time Zeroual announced that he had been unable to initiate a dialogue with FIS. Many expect that Lamari may even be named defense minister, a post Zeroual has retained for himself.
As this was written, it was too early to be certain that Lamari's presence (if true) in France was connected to his opposition to the opening to FIS, but it did suggest that there continues to be a split within the government and army and security services over how hard a line to take, despite the failure of the security forces to bring the insurgency under control. Not only has the government failed to contain the violence, but 1994 saw a dramatic deterioration in an already bad security situation.
Installed early in the year, President Liamine Zeroual has sought to shift the approach taken by his predecessors toward one of greater dialogue. Despite initial suspicions that Zeroual's "moderation" was merely a "good-cop/bad-cop" ploy, his determination to find some common ground with nonviolent forces, secular or Islamist, appears real. In April he managed to oust Prime Minister Redha Malek, a favorite and an ally of the hardliners in the military and security services. He has implemented long-overdue economic reforms aimed at improving the devastated economy, opened a dialogue with those secular opposition parties willing to talk, and finally in September, after months of overtures in both directions, sought to engage FIS in at least some sort of dialogue. But he still faces opposition within his own ranks, just as FIS negotiators-if a dialogue actually reaches the stage of negotiation-may face rejection by a rank and file swayed by the more intransigent message of the GIA. Already following the release of the FIS leaders, there have been instances of brutal killings (including beheadings) by radical Islamists presumed to belong to GIA and continuing assaults by security forces on alleged Islamist strongholds.
The severity of the situation can scarcely be underestimated. Much of the West's attention has been focused on the attacks, sometimes brutal, against foreigners, including some mass killings. These have been aimed at a wide variety of foreigners-French, Russian, Chinese, Croatian, even. Tunisian-and at the time of writing totaled over 70, more than 10 times the number of foreigners killed by Islamist violence in Egypt. But the toll has been heaviest on Algerians themselves. The armed Islamists of GIA, the AIS and other groups have attacked a range of targets including security services and army barracks, while others-presumably on the extreme wing of the Islamists-have killed unveiled schoolgirls, Catholic nuns and innocent civilians. Official accounts, never very comprehensive, had suggested about 4,000 dead by September 1994, but the former ruling party, the FLN, announced on September 7 that at a meeting with President Zeroual two days earlier involving five secular opposition parties that were beginning a dialogue with the government, the president had revealed that the dead numbered over 10,000 and the total cost to the economically strapped country over 70 billion Algerian dinars (over $2 billion). Ten thousand dead is not a security problem, it is a civil war. The government finally seems to have conceded that it cannot exclude FIS from dialogue, but this awakening comes at a time when it may be too late to deal only with the relatively moderate and long imprisoned traditional leadership. Those willing to talk may not be able to deliver peace, while those who continue to fight may not be willing to talk.
It is worth reviewing the course of the Algerian crisis so far, in order to understand how what could have been one of the most promising of Arab states-an oil producer with a genuine industrial base and a fairly educated populace-degenerated into anarchy. In doing so, however, it is important to steer clear of the fallacy of assuming that Algeria is either a model of the course likely to be followed by other countries in North Africa and beyond, or a warning against the dangers of democratization. It is also important to understand that the possible scenarios for the future are not as they are often stated, a choice between continuing military rule or a takeover by FIS. There are increasing signs that the future might be worse than either of these alternatives: a collapse of the country into local enclaves, ethnic and regional entities paying lip service at best to national union. The significance of the deepening divide between Arab Islamists and Berber activists has been largely overlooked in most U.S. analyses, but the confrontations between Berbers and Islamists have been frequent and disturbing. While many seem to fear that Algeria will be ''the next Iran,'' the model (insofar as any model is ever valid in such a case) might prove to be Lebanon or Afghanistan.
WHAT IS ALGERIA?
It is important to remember that, unlike Egypt or Morocco, there is no longstanding historical entity called ''Algeria.'' The Arabic term al-jazair meant the city of Algiers and the regions ruled from it. Other areas were known by the names of their major cities, or loosely lumped under the imprecise rubric al-Maghrib al-wusta, the "Middle Maghreb," the areas between Tunis and Morocco. The Berber mountains rarely had much in common with the mercantile cities of the seacoast (the "Barbary Coast"), and to this day the Berber/Arab cleavage is much greater than in other North African countries, with extremely active Berber identity movements aimed at preserving their language and culture intact. In fact, the Berbers became the allies of the Francophone elite and the Europeanizers, since both saw Arabization as an enemy.
Algeria is not, of course, the only Arab country lacking a deep historical identity. Iraq is a creation of the post-World War I era, but it has consciously identified with the Mesopotamian past, though the ancient cultures only occupied part of the modem republic. Syria has identified itself with both the earlier civilizations of the Levant and the birth of the modern Arab nationalist movement. Saudi Arabia, a recent creation, has blended the traditions of the House of Saud with the prestige of guarding the holiest cities of Islam. Each has found a way of creating a national identity for itself.
One could make a case that one of Algeria's problems was its choice of rubric for expressing its national identity. During the long years of FLN rule, Algerian identity was expressed not through the revival of some ancient culture or identification with a single national leader (as with Bourguiba in Tunisia), but through the glorification of the heroic and successful struggle against France. There is no denying that the Algerian war of independence is a major factor in the history not only of Algeria but of the whole Arab world, and that it continues to be the central element in the memories of those who fought in it or lived through it-not just in Algeria but in France, where the Algerian war is a centerpiece of modern history. But Algeria gained its independence in 1962, 30 years before the 1992 elections, and about two-thirds of Algerians today are under 30. Failed and misguided economic policies had discredited the FLN as a vanguard of the future, and the party could not capture the imagination of young people who did not remember the war against France. The FLN had no answer to the classic political question of ''but what have you done for me lately?"
FROM 1988 TO 1992
In 1988 the time bomb exploded. The October riots marked the first real challenge to FLN domination, and it was a profound one. What must have shocked the ruling elite was the fact that the most violent opposition was centered in the very areas of Algiers that had been the mainstay of the "old" FLN, the poorer quarters of the city. While the riots were to some extent spontaneous, the influence of firebrand preachers like Ali Belhadj was also clear. Political Islam showed its strength in an Arab country once strongly devoted to socialism, secularism and other "Western" dogmas.
President Chadli Bendjedid responded with promises of political and economic reform. Both faced strong resistance in the ruling establishment. The old guard of the FLN were resistant to dramatic change, and the army (which had provided both Houari Boumedienne and Chadli Bendjedid for the presidency) was conservative and cautious about social change, as well as dedicated to the secularist traditions of the state. Army recruits were forbidden to wear "Islamist" beards, for example.
Political reform actually outpaced economic reform, and therein may lie one of the major errors in the Algerian effort at transformation from an authoritarian state to a democratic one. The basic economic crisis had barely been addressed, and the old guard largely remained in power. The FLN was clearly unpopular, but few alternatives emerged. There were literally dozens of parties-nearly 50 at one point-that emerged and were recognized and in many cases created newspapers. But most were little more than debating societies around one or another old politician (or new one). Others adopted various ideological platforms from communist to social democratic. But very few had any real domestic constituency, organizational infrastructure or mass appeal. The exceptions were the FLN (lacking much mass appeal but possessing the power of patronage and an organizational base), the FIS (possessing both) and the Berber movements, by definition limited to a geographic and ethnic constituency. One sign of the problem was the fate of Ahmed Ben Bella. The country's first president and one of the "historic leaders" of the FLN had been living in Europe since his ouster in 1965. He came back expecting to have a strong chance to return to his old job, but when his much publicized and choreographed ferry landing took place, there were few young people to greet him. To Algeria's largely under-25 population, Ben Bella was as remote as Franklin Roosevelt would be to young Americans today if Roosevelt had been virtually purged from official history books. It was a reminder that the old guard were irrelevant to the new, underemployed and desperate younger generation.
In retrospect, the dangers of such a polarization are apparent (as they were to some at the time). Only the FLN and FIS really competed in the Arab sectors of the country. For those dismayed, disgusted or disillusioned by years of FLN incompetence, there were few credible alternatives. Some have criticized the legalization of FIS-the new constitution actually banned parties based on religion-but there was no denying the power of its constituency. And so FIS won control of the major municipalities in the 1990 municipal and regional elections.
Some felt that if FIS were given enough time in charge of local municipal councils before national elections were held, it would discredit itself. In fact, the beleaguered government did postpone the parliamentary elections from early 1991 until late that year. Although some FIS councils did occupy themselves with closing wineries or keeping bikinis off the beaches, and replacing Bendjedid's picture with quotes from the Quran, others did a credible job of meeting payrolls. And the commitment and dedication of religiously motivated followers helped in some cases: if the bureaucratic machinery for picking up trash broke down, volunteers stepped in. The results of local FIS administration were mixed but not the unmitigated disaster secularists had predicted.
As national elections approached, the FLN and other secular forces began to question the FIS commitment to democracy (though to be fair, the FLN was a very late convert to the idea of multiparty competition). And certainly FIS included many preachers who spoke disdainfully of Western bourgeois democracy and insisted that God's word must take precedence over the popular will. FIS was an umbrella organization of Islamists, ranging from the professorial Abbasi Madani through his firebrand deputy Ali Belhadj to an extreme wing that rejected any dealing with the secular state or participation in its institutions. Secularists raised the question of whether FIS, once in power, would yield it if it lost the next election; or would it declare that God's law superseded the will of the people?1
Of course, the answers can never be known; even if FIS comes to power now, it is not the FIS of 1991-92. When FIS won a plurality of seats in the first round of elections at the end of 1991 and seemed about to win a solid majority, perhaps even a big enough majority to amend the constitution, the military pulled the plug on the democratization process.
FROM JANUARY 1992 TO THE COMING OF ZEROUAL
On January 12, 1992, just before the second round of the elections, President Chadli Bendjedid "resigned," in what was not even a particularly veiled intervention by the military. A state of emergency was imposed and a High State Council (HCE in its French acronym) created to collectively run the country. On March 4, FIS was banned, and in July its two top leaders, Madani and Belhadj, were sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The HCE never made a very good effort at pretending to be anything other than a front for the military and security services. Not only did they hold key seats, but the parallel High Security Council clearly held real power. The longtime military boss and defense minister, General Khaled Nezzar, was universally credited with being in charge. The new "president"-really chairman of the council-was Mohamed Boudiaf, who had been living in exile in Morocco since the 1960s and was clearly brought back as a sign that the recent leadership of the FLN was out.
In fact, though some accounts in the American press suggested that the new government was essentially the FLN ruling with the army, only a handful of old FLN leaders (as opposed to the ubiquitous onetime members of the party) backed the new regime. The army, which was always waiting in the wings anyway, had recognized the FLN's increasing irrelevance and ousted the party along with Chadli Bendjedid (who by then had quit the FLN to rule the above party).
Early on, incidents of violence began to be felt. With the "moderate" FIS leadership in prison, the umbrella was effectively removed and the more radical elements asserted themselves. These included the "Afghans," Algerian Islamists who had trained with the Afghan resistance and now had returned to use their guerrilla skills at home, and those extreme Islamists who believe that the secular state itself is jahili (like the age of ignorance before the Prophet came) and must be fought.
Instead of one Islamist movement under one clearly defined, legal leadership, the government found itself fighting a variety of Islamist movements committed to a range of goals, from restoring the democratic process and the electoral results to destroying the secular state entirely and creating a caliphate. The armed wing of FIS, the AIS or Islamic Salvation Army, was one player. Before long the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) emerged from the radicals, many of whom had opposed FIS participation in the electoral process to begin with, seeing it as a deal with the devil.
But sailing was never smooth within the ruling council either. Boudiaf, presumably brought back to be a harmless figurehead, may have had ideas of his own. In any event, he was assassinated very publicly, while giving a televised speech on June 29, 1992. Ali Kati, head of an organization of veterans of the war of independence, became the new president, but as with Boudiaf, only the president of a collective council dominated by the army. In the wake of the assassination, the country actually canceled its thirtieth anniversary-of-independence celebration. Sid Ahmed Ghozali resigned as prime minister soon after.
Algeria never really exploded; rather, a slow burn grew into a spreading flame. Kati never showed much leadership, but he had probably been chosen precisely because he would not. (Boudiaf's assassination remains a bit of a mystery. The assassin allegedly came from within the security services. But for whom was he working? Islamists or hardliners in the security sector who feared Boudiaf's efforts at negotiation?)
THE ARMY'S ROLE
Future historians may view 1993 as the crucial year in the descent of Algeria from an insurgency into civil war, but there are few real benchmarks to indicate the deepening crisis. In March the government began to open contacts with the (secular) political parties. The aim was to create a "national dialogue" aimed at restoring democracy-under the right conditions and with the right limitations. Most of the political parties, including the FLN, were quite reluctant, belying the notion that the FLN was somehow the force behind the High State Council. The truth is that the FLN had long been little more than a creature of the army. Boumedienne and Bendjedid both came from the army (as colonels in the days when the Algerian army, still in its revolutionary phase, had no generals). Benjedid in particular had feuded with the army high command on numerous occasions and reshuffled it frequently. But the army remained the underpinning of the FLN, while not sharing in its official leadership. What really happened in January 1992 was that the army supplanted the FLN, ceasing to tolerate the civilian party as its figurehead.
That the present FLN is not the same as the onetime ruling body of the past is readily apparent from the fact that its main spokesman and secretary general, Abdelhamid Mehri, is not a figure from the Ben Bella and Boumedienne years, but an old revolutionary who originally had links with the liberal faction of Messali Hadj and only really re-entered FLN political life under Chadli Bendjedid. Mehri, however, probably has little influence over the (now irrelevant?) old guard of the FLN. Today's FLN is not the old FLN, in other words, but an opposition party with a secularist alignment and liberal approach to democracy. Today's FLN has for months supported government dialogue with FIS and rejected government efforts to create a secularists-only national dialogue. The occasional Western report that still sees the present Algerian regime as a continuation of the FLN is thus without any basis in fact. (None of this is meant to suggest that the present FLN has any broad constituent support in Algeria today: that is untestable without elections.)
But the army was not a monolith. The game of deciding which general believes in which approach has been much played by analysts, and the interpretation given here is at best an approximation to the likeliest interpretation. For the first period of the military rule there was little doubt that the dominant figure was General Khaled Nezzar. But Nezzar has also been ill for some time, reportedly suffering from a potentially terminal disease, and spending much of his time in Europe receiving medical treatment. In July 1993, while remaining on the High State Council and High Security Council himself, he resigned his crucial post of minister of defense. His replacement, more or less universally assumed to have been anointed by Nezzar himself, was Liamine Zeroual.
The choice of Zeroual was, to say the least, a surprise. Though a veteran general with a good record (and an impressive mustache), Zeroual had fallen out with Chadli Bendjedid after serving as deputy chief of staff (when Nezzar was chief of staff) and ground forces commander. He had been "retired" by Benjedid in 1989 to a diplomatic post in Bucharest and then returned home to a quiet retirement, though he is only 53. Zeroual's return suggested that Nezzar was seeking a successor outside the immediate line of succession below him and was accompanied by other retirements and reshuffles in the senior high command. It was the first hint that Zeroual might be in line for something even bigger. In November 1993, the government set up a National Dialogue Commission to try to create a "National Conference" between the government and the (secular) opposition. The results, at least at first, were not very satisfactory for the government's goals. With the security situation deteriorating and foreigners becoming targets, there was little enthusiasm for signing on to support what appeared to be a sinking ship.
By early 1994, the government's scenario was more or less shredded. The political parties, significantly including the FLN, were having none of the National Conference idea. The minor parties that did sign on were too obviously peripheral to be credible. Yet one purpose of the National Conference had been to create a ''legitimate'' secular government to replace the High State Council, which was due to go out of existence.
THE EVENTS OF 1994
The year 1994 began with bad auguries. In one week in January, 300 people died, the largest number acknowledged in a single week to that time, largely because of an attack on a military post. On January 19, the government, still technically headed by Ali Kati, released some of the Islamists detained in the "security centers," dismal desert concentration camps in the Sahara. It was the first sign of trying to find some kind of modus vivendi with the less violent Islamists. Originally pledged to choose a president to replace the High State Council by the first of the year, the government postponed the deadline to the end of January. Efforts to persuade a senior figure from the FLN or other secular parties to take the presidency were widely reported, and supposedly the government had determined on former FLN foreign minister, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. But Bouteflika apparently rejected the offer. Eager to meet its own deadline, the High State Council abolished itself and chose Liamine Zeroual as president. An apparent plan to name several vice-presidents evaporated: Zeroual was to rule as sole president, not as head of a collective. Furthermore, he insisted on keeping the Defense Ministry himself, giving him continuing control over the military.
Zeroual's accession received mixed reviews. He began his term by declaring that he favored dialogue: including dialogue with Islamists. But he was also known as Khaled Nezzar's chosen successor, and it was clear he could not have obtained the presidency (especially without a High State Council to limit his authority) without the support of the still-intact High Security Council, dominated by Nezzar. Skeptics thought he was the "tough cop" masquerading as the "good cop" to flush out the enemy.
Zeroual also got off to a bad start because of events outside his control. The National Conference, which had embarrassingly been renamed the National Consensus Congress, never included any major parties; it rubber-stamped Zeroual's election but had little real credibility. In January the government had killed the leader of GIA (and would kill his successors in turn during the year), but each time a new radical leader emerged. And then, in February, came the worst news yet: a major escape from the high-security Tazoult prison in the Aures mountains. The government admitted that at least 900 prisoners, some 280 of them under death sentences, had been sprung from the mountain prison. FIS announced that 1,684 prisoners had been freed, 350 under death sentences. In either event, it was clearly an inside job, with prison guards clearly involved. The Islamist forces who broke the prisoners out were able to control the roads up the mountains and bring numerous trucks up the roads without apparent opposition. Although the government has claimed to have recaptured large numbers of the escapees, the breakout showed not only that the security forces themselves may be penetrated by Islamists Gust as the GIA is apparently riddled with security-force informers), but also that hundreds of men under sentence of death and thus with absolutely nothing to lose were again free and presumably armed.
Initial cynicism about Zeroual began to weaken in March and April. By then, the attacks on foreigners had increased, the bloodshed was intensifying throughout the country, and the Islamists were beginning to speak of "liberated zones" in several key areas. Even the Algerian press (far less vigorous or free than in 1990-91) began to openly report the differences within the government. By mid-March 1994, there were widespread reports that Zeroual was quarreling with his prime minister, Redha Malek (a civilian diplomat and former ambassador to Washington and foreign minister, but by all accounts a hardliner opposed to any talks with FIS). A senior Algerian official in the Foreign Ministry, Mourad Bencheikh, director general for American affairs, visited Washington and told journalists (oddly on the record) that these stories were untrue, also denying stories that the dinar was about to be devalued.
Then the government devalued the dinar by 40 percent, introduced extensive economic reforms (very long overdue), and persuaded the IMF to provide a $1 billion standby loan. It also liberalized foreign trade, raised coffee and sugar prices by about half, and pushed through a dramatic liberalization that some had called for five years earlier.
HARDLINERS AND PRO-DIALOGUE MEN
By most accounts, the government had by March split along some unpredictable lines. According to many versions, though not all, Khaled Nezzar (still ailing, still spending most of his time in Europe) continued to back Zeroual's pro-negotiations position. One story appearing in March in Algeria's French language El Watan and other sources claimed that Nezzar actually flew back from Switzerland to back Zeroual in a critical three-day meeting about the future. (El Watan, by the way, opposed Zeroual and urged the army to intervene.)
The devaluation and economic reforms were announced April 10. The next day, Prime Minister Redha Malek "resigned," despite assurances a few days earlier of "constant coordination" between Zeroual and Malek. (Malek has since become an outspoken critic of Zeroual's efforts to open dialogue with FIS.) Malek was replaced with Mokdad Sifi, a technocrat with few visible allies (unlike Malek's clear allies in the military).
What happened? Of course none of the participants were openly explaining, so the French, the Arab observer and, to a lesser extent, the still somewhat open Algerian press speculated widely. Clearly there was a division within the military. If a consensus can be arrived at, it is something like this: Zeroual generally favored dialogue, as did his brother-in-law, General Tayyeb Derraji, and some other senior military men. So did the secular opposition, including the FLN. Opposed to them were General Mohamed Lamari (or Laamari), already mentioned, the chief of staff of the armed forces, Colonel Selim Saadi, then the interior minister (replaced when Redha Malek was replaced), the chief of military intelligence General Mohamed Medyen, the gendarmerie commander General Abbas Ghazayel, and the political adviser in the Defense Ministry, General Mohamed Touati. They were allied with the (then) civilian prime minister, Redha Malek.
The fall of Malek also led to the fall of Saadi as interior minister, the key figure behind the crackdown on the Islamists. There have been some other reshuffles since, but most of the players remain in place. As noted at the beginning of this article, Lamari reportedly turned up in France at about the same time that the FIS leaders were released, for "health reasons." Some reports have suggested that General Touati, despite his lack of a really senior security title, is the real "brains" behind the hardliners.
Clearly the March/April conflict resulted in a victory for the "dialogue" men, but a limited one: Lamari and others remained in opposition and in their key posts. One question is the position of Khaled Nezzar. Several accounts say he backed his protégé Zeroual in the March confrontation and suggest he has shifted to a more moderate position. Others still assume he retains his longtime opposition to Islamist agendas. (These are not opposite positions: he may believe that a negotiated settlement is preferable to a FIS victory.) His illness is presumably progressing.
Zeroual's apparent victory did not lead to immediate or dramatic changes. Rather he found somewhat more success at reopening dialogue with the secular opposition. Meanwhile the violence accelerated. The GIA, which may have had two or even three of its commanders killed so far has never been open to negotiation. It considers the regime a work of the devil only to be destroyed, not negotiated with.
But movement was apparently going on behind the scenes. On August 8, it was announced that the dialogue with the secular opposition would resume on August 21. Some of the parties that had boycotted previously, most notably the FLN itself, this time showed a willingness to meet. And the party most vigorously opposed to any accommodation with the Islamists, the Berber-oriented Rally for Culture and Democracy, which had seen one of its marches in Algiers bombed by presumed Islamists and had been openly confrontational, totally rejected the new dialogue. Five parties, including the FLN, did initiate the dialogue.
In the same time period, Abbasi Madani had responded to the government's quiet overtures with a letter reportedly stating that, given the opportunity for genuine dialogue with the government, FIS would be willing to talk and seek peace. It was not the promise of a ceasefire, and Ali Belhadj reportedly said that the armed wing of FIS (the AIS) must be included in any talks. On September 6, the five key figures still imprisoned at Blida-the three released a week later, plus Madani and Belhadj-reportedly joined the five parties in the National Dialogue (which includes, as noted, the FLN) in demanding that the armed wing, the AIS, be included in the dialogue. On September 13, the release of the three subordinate figures and the transfer of Madani and Belhadj to house arrest was announced. In the following days it was made clear that they would have access to their followers. (But if under house arrest, how many of the armed wing would be willing to risk a meeting?) The main Berber groups remained opposed. After weeks of behind-the-scenes efforts to move the process forward, and reports that the FIS leaders were unable to speak for their armed wing, Zeroual on October 30 declared the process a failure. With Lamari's promotion, it seemed clear that the hardliners were again in the ascendant.
These moves may not have exhausted the efforts at dialogue, but there seemed little reason to be optimistic. The Berbers have opposed any Islamist role for a long time because Islamist politics demands the continuing linguistic Arabization of the country, which threatens the lingering and struggling Berber identity. Said Saadi's Rally for Culture and Democracy seems to be gaining ground over the old Berber Socialist Forces Front (FFS) of Hocine Ait Ahmed for just these reasons. Ait Ahmed's group has sought to be a national secularist force; Saadi's is much more blatantly Berber nationalist.
The Berber stronghold in the Kabylie has become a fortress against Islamist politics, and conflict along its borders is not uncommon. The bombing of a Rally for Culture and Democracy march in Algiers was reported in the West as an attack on "secular forces opposed to fundamentalism'' and the like, but it was really a major shot in the growing Arab-Berber conflict.
The resignation of Leila Aslaoui and apparent dissent by General Lamari showed that the secularists never accepted the opening to FIS. With the apparent collapse of the overture to FIS and Lamari's promotion, they would appear to have won at least this skirmish with the more dialogue oriented Zeroual. Certainly the Berbers have not: On September 21, the Berber Cultural Movement (MCB) declared a strike in Tizi Ouzo and Bejaia (the main Berber towns of the Kabylie) demanding that Tamazight (the Berber language) be recognized alongside Arabic as an official language. This is not just a cultural issue: It was no doubt a direct response to the new overtures to FIS, since Islamists tend to be total Arabizers, opposing the use of French (the colonial language) or Tamazight (the language of "paganism").
Is there hope? One hopes there is always hope. But the Algerian government has moved, almost without exception, to fight the last battle and surrender to the defeat before last. By the time the government (though, of course, not the same men) came to talk to the FIS leaders who won the elections of 1991-92, those men had been marginalized by years in jail and years of government confirmation of the radical image of a secular state that sought to destroy not only Islam but the popular will. The GIA, which the French press now says is headed by Qawasmi al-Sharif, is most likely a group of autonomous cells .that, when necessary, can come together for the sort of impressive operation seen in the breakout from Tazoult prison early in 1994 but then fades back into the landscape. The armed wing of FIS, the AIS, is hard to characterize: It denies involvement in the brutal attacks on civilians or foreigners and demands a role in the forthcoming talks. Since FIS is more likely to talk than GIA, a role for AIS may be essential, though it may be as hard to accept as talks with the IRA were for Britain.
The future of Algeria while unclear, is far from encouraging. If the government had done in early 1992 what it has done in late 1994, there might have been no civil war. But then it probably would have given FIS the benefit of the doubt, and the army would have waited until FIS tried to purge it to overthrow the regime. The FIS of 1992 may have seemed threatening, but what remains of a devastated and persecuted FIS will be far less amenable to the principles of Western-style democracy than it might have been then.
Comparisons elsewhere are pointless. Neither in Tunisia nor Egypt has there been any reasonable probability of an Islamist movement winning a genuinely free election with a majority as opposed to a plurality. In Algeria in January 1992, that was the likely though not certain outcome, since the elections never occurred. Anyone claiming to believe in democracy cannot but regret the failure of the Algerian process, though one may wish the Algerians had not rushed quite so headlong into an unfettered, winner-take-all election when the economy was in such disastrous shape.
Whatever one feels about events then, events now cannot but be deplored. Only a few scenarios present themselves. One, that the security forces and army will somehow prevail, seems to have been ruled out by events on the ground. It requires one to believe in the state as an entity, over regionalism, religion, tribe or other identity. Another, that FIS will take over by force as the Islamist movement did in Iran in 1979, is yet to be proven-and FIS is probably not the force that would lead the march on the presidential palace. FIS itself has been shattered by the state, though its supporters continue to fight hard. A third, that a coalition government including FIS will replace the present military regime and that elections will then be held (which may or may not bring FIS to sole power), may be the best possible solution, but it is far from easily achievable. It is a Western "liberal" solution, with all the implied strengths and (more important here) weaknesses. A disintegration into a polarized war between all secularists and radical Islamists is essentially what pertains now. The worst case may not be the least likely but the most: The current war between Berbers and Islamists could be the beginning of a Lebanon-style disintegration of the state into small warlord states based on local territories, with the central government having less and less ability to control the situation. One cannot in a short article define everything that went wrong in Algeria. One certainly cannot suggest a recipe for restoring a state now seemingly on the brink of destruction. And one cannot-must not-be deluded that Algeria's experience is directly applicable to any other state. Just as Algeria is not the next Iran (the two countries have little in common, and Islamist politics in one is not the same as in the other), so the events in Algeria will not determine the future of Tunisia or Morocco or (most certainly not) Egypt.
Still, Algeria is an important country that apparently has failed. Political Islam is one of the instruments contributing to or, perhaps more precisely, benefitting from that failure. One may learn much from the case study, so long as one does not extrapolate irresponsibly.
1 These questions are looked at in my article, "Revivalist Islam and Democracy: Thinking about the Algerian Quandary," Middle East Policy, vol. I, no. 2, 1992, pp. 16-22.