by Yusuf Dhia-Allah (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 5, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1441)
In the discourse on Islam and politics, Algeria occupies a special place. For Muslims and those non-Muslims not pushing the Islamophobic narrative, Algeria represents a clear example of double standards. When the people elect pro-Western politicians, NATO regimes applaud this as democracy; when elections result in the victory of Islamic movements, NATO regimes unleash their local proxies to abort democracy and massacre opponents as was the case in Algeria in the 1990s and more recently in Egypt in 2013.
The West’s attitude to democracy was best articulated by Dr. Kalim Siddiqui who accurately pointed out how “for Western politicians, it is a label by which they can claim legitimacy for themselves and those they favor and condemn those they oppose. A military regime such as Algeria’s can be ‘democratizing’ while a popular revolution such as that in Iran can be ‘anti-democratic’.”
For Muslims who accept Islam as an all-encompassing way of life, mass protests in Algeria which started in February 2019 brought back some painful memories. It opened old wounds and debates. For several decades, Islamic movements in various parts of the world have been debating, through action and sacrifices, the best approach to uprooting tyranny and establishing an Islamic system of governance. The debate has centered primarily on when to opt for political jihad and when to resort to military action.
On one side, proponents focus mainly on armed struggle in establishing the Islamic system of governance. To this camp belongs groups like the Taliban and the Armed Islamic Group in Algeria (GIA). On the other side are advocates of a political process like al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon, IRPT in Tajikistan and the AKP in Turkey. Those that see the solution to be only in military struggle have been manipulated by NATO regimes, as was the case in Algeria where GIA was used to destroy the Islamic Salvation Front, the biggest and the most popular Islamic organization in Algeria. Advocates of purely political jihad have been co-opted by imperialist powers as is the case of IRPT in Tajikistan, the AKP in Turkey, or prevented from ruling by resorting to brute force against them (the Ikhwan in Egypt).
This is precisely the reason we pointed out in our analysis why the success of AnsarAllah in Yemen got the imperialist regimes and their regional puppets so worried. The Yemeni theater of struggle, through its success responded to the decades old debate in a balanced way and most importantly through actual results on the ground.
When mass protests started in Algeria last year, for informed Muslims it was a flashback to the 1990s. After five weeks of protests, the regime agreed to remove Abdelaziz Bouteflika as president. Many Muslims were surprised by the absence of Islamic socio-political organizations to lead the movement. After all, Algeria was the first Arab country where an Islamic party had swept the polls through free and fair elections. Why this absence today?
In a detailed analysis published in April 2019 for the Carnegie Middle East Center, Dr. Dalia Ghanem, explained it thus: “mainstream Islamist parties are unlikely to regain their credibility in the near future or have any considerable role in the popular movement that forced Bouteflika from office. Instead, these co-opted parties are likely to keep accepting the rules of the game to have a place in the transition being supervised by the Algerian military. While the moderate Islamist politicians have been co-opted and do not constitute a real challenge to the regime, other more grassroots manifestations of political Islam such as Dawa Salafiya are taking root in society.”
This leads to another important question: how the broader Muslim masses were co-opted after the brutal civil war? In the same policy paper, Dr. Ghanem writes that through the patronage of the Saudi regime, Dawa Salfiya in Algeria enjoys vast presence in the country’s educational and business sphere. It appears that as reward for this preferential treatment and an agreement with the Saudi regime, Dawa Salafiya discourages Muslims from voicing opposition to the corrupt regime in Algeria.
Dr. Ghanem points out how “in 2014, Dawa leaders called Algerians to perform their civic duty and unite behind then president Bouteflika… Sheikh Ferkous has explained that “strikes, sit-ins, and demonstrations, as well as all the methods inherent in democracy, are part of the habits of the disbelievers and the methods by which they behave with their governments.” In 2019, Dawa leaders urged Muslims not to participate in anti-government protests. The simplistic and Saudi-directed Dawa Salfiya movement grew due to the vacuum created by the brutal crackdown on the authentic Islamic movement that had won elections in the 1990s.
Another reason the 2019 protests did not bring about a transformational change is because the regime managed to utilize the protests to rehabilitate itself and sacrificed certain leaders as political pawns. The current regime has retained power after the civil war both through brute force and political machinations. Last year, it successfully played on people’s fears of returning to the violent years of the 1990s. Also, the regime got rid of Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia in order to prevent demonstrations from being directed against the entire regime, and keep it focused on specific personalities. This ploy worked as the masses lacked organized and Muttaqi (God conscious) leadership.
The regime’s tactics to pacify last year’s protests were best summarized by Abed Charef in his column for the Middle East Eye, where he pointed out how “the security forces have been trained to accompany and protect the demonstrators. The result is surprising: the police have been largely rehabilitated in the eyes of the public, as has the judiciary, whose participation in certain protest actions has been widely publicized. The same judges were once accused of corruption and serving as the rulers’ judicial arm.” Charef also pointed out that it was only after the military agreed to remove certain regime figures that some of the demands of the protestors were met.
Overall, the 2019 mass protests failed to uproot the system that was established after spilling the blood of thousands of innocent Algerians in the 1990s because it lacked determined and organized leadership. This is precisely why the military regime knew that by sacrificing certain figureheads, the protestors will not be able to replace them with their own leaders. They will settle for substitutes put forward by the military and the intelligence apparatus. This reality once again highlights the fact that without muttaqi leadership, mass protests in the Muslim world will not be able to uproot a corrupt and despotic system.