Algeria’s Islamists bank on Arab Spring
In hope of putting up an impressive show in the elections, Islamists formed a bloc "Green Alliance" on March 8. The bloc is represented by three main Islamist parties: The Movement of Society for Peace (MSP), the Islamic Renaissance Movement (Ennahda) and the Movement for National Reform (El-Islah).
Going by the public mood and opinion polls conducted so far, Islamists are likely to increase their vote share to well above the roughly 20 percent which they received in the previous three elections.
However, there still exists an important question on whether this could exert greater influence on the current secular political system. I argue that despite the apparently unified Islamic message, deep divisions over political strategy remain and will likely reduce the chance of an Islamist parliamentary front working together as a unified bloc. A significant proliferation of Islamist parties along with the inclusion of many moderate Islamists with divergent political views gives weight to this assessment.
It is important to understand the motives of Islamists in Algeria to regain power after the well-known 1991 elections were annulled by the Algerian Army after a remarkable victory by the Islamist Salvation Front. It is important for them to cure the wounds of a 10-year civil war that killed up to 200,000 people. But it is important on the other hand to identify the dramatic changes that occurred to political Islam over the last 20 years. The entire Islamist movement in Algeria has been fragmented into a number of smaller parties and movements, many of which cooperated with the regime and its main policy makers, including the National Liberation Front (FLN) and the National Rally for Democracy (RND).
In addition to the fact of some Islamists being pro-regime activists, Islamist parties suffer from internal cracks that prevented them from supporting a unified candidate list. As we said about the keenness of some voters to share the experience of their neighbors who voted Islamists to power in their own country, while another segment is worried about the poor economic and political performance of Islamists in the Arab Spring countries especially in Egypt and this might lessen the earlier Algerians’ enthusiasm for an Islamist governance.
Last week, the Algerian Interior Ministry said the forthcoming elections might witness scattering of votes given a record of 44 parties participating in the elections. But what poses a challenge in front of Algeria is related to the ability of a scattered power inside the Parliament to defend its positions. More importantly, the challenge will be related to the ability of such a Parliament to help fulfill President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s earlier commitment for a gradual political and economic reform.
Hatem Y. Ezz Eldin is a political researcher based in Jeddah. He can be reached at [email protected]
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