Sunday, May 18, 2008
A scan of recent news, undertaken in order to start looking into the situation in this part of our world, reveals two key contemporary issues: Exploitation of its resources by an elite on the one hand; and "insurgency" by some of its suffering people on the other.
These are intertwined issues. They are not really "new" issues; they're long running, central issues in this part of the world. An understanding of some of the modern history of the peoples of this place is necessary to get a firm grip on the situation there today.
In Arabic, this country is known as Al-Jaza'ir, meaning "the islands." It's a reference to four islands which once lay off the coast of the city of Algiers (al-jazā’ir banī mazghannā, the islands of the tribe Bani Mazghanna).
To some of its Berber population, calling themselves Imazighen (meaning "free men" in the Tamazight language), this land is known as Dzayer part of Tamazgha.
Possession to plunder
To the French, whose forebears invaded the port city of Alger (Algiers) in 1830 and then engaged in a decades long and particularly violent colonial conquest, this land was first called "French possessions in North Africa" before being called "Algeria" by General Soult in 1839, and later still an "integral part of France." The land, that is, was made "integral" to the homeland of the invading French; not the people of this land, for they were denied French citizenship. Worse than that; French colonialial administration under the régime du sabre (government of the sword) resulted in the "disappearance" of about a third of the Algerian population.
How did such a great proportion of the population perish?
Plundering by colon (colonisers); violence done to the indigenous people to enable it.
French authorities took possession of the beylik lands even before the French made the decision to annex Algeria. Europeans had poured into Algiers after it fell to the French invasion force in the summer of 1830. The plundering had begun.
To name but one example of it, the French soldier-politician Bertrand Clauzel and others formed a company to acquire agricultural land. They subsidised the settlement of that land by European farmers, triggering a land rush. Commercial interests with influence in the government also began to recognise the prospects for profitable land speculation in expanding the French zone of occupation. Their greed seemed unsatiable.
The colons sought to exploit the country's agricultural resources for the benefit of France (the concept of l'Algérie Française - French Algeria - becoming ingrained in the French collective mind), but this colonisation proved costly. In 1834, when France annexed the occupied areas of Algeria, it had an estimated Muslim population of about four million. France needed to mobilise large numbers of troops and it was reaping meagre benefits to begin with.
A number of deputies at the National Assembly called for the troops to be withdrawn from Algeria. Others suggested that they stay and occupy only a limited amount of territory (that grabbed so far). A third group advocated colonisation and full-scale war, claiming that repeated raids were necessary to destroy the power of the resistance leader `Abd al-Qādir al-Jazā'irī and ruin the tribes
that supported him.
`Abd al-Qādir, recognised as amir al muminin (commander of the faithful) by Algerian tribal elders in 1832, had quickly gained the support of tribes throughout Algeria. A devout and austere marabout, he was also a cunning political leader and a resourceful warrior he proved himself effective in applying the tactics of asymetrical warfare and was successful in uniting the tribes against the French. He set about building a territorial Muslim state based on the communities of the interior but drawing its strength from the tribes and religious brotherhoods.
For nearly a decade, `Abd al-Qādir scored many victories against the French invaders. By 1839, he controlled more than two-thirds of Algeria.
`Abd al-Qādir stands out as one of the most significant national heros of Algeria, and is often considered the founder of the Algerian state, not only because of his political actions, but also because his schemes for education brought consciousness of independence to the people of Algeria. He was also noted for his chivalry; and it is said that on one occasion he released French captives simply because he had insufficient food to feed them.
Yet the French in Algiers viewed with concern the success of an Algerian Muslim government and the rapid growth of a viable territorial state that barred the extension of European settlement. They wanted his "insurgency" defeated. By 1840, the French supporters of policies of colonisation and full-scale war had gained the upper hand. Colonial conquest accelerated and the means employed were atrocious. The French army stole harvests and livestock and destroyed orchards; massacred or deported villagers en masse; raped women and took children hostage.
Alexis de Tocqueville toured the land under conquest and reported his view in 1841. He supported colonisation in general, and in particular the colonisation of Algeria:
As far as I am concerned, I came back from Africa with the pathetic notion that at present in our way of waging war we are far more barbaric than the Arabs themselves. These days, they represent civilization, we do not. This way of waging war seems to me as stupid as it is cruel. It can only be found in the head of a coarse and brutal soldier.
Indeed, it was pointless to replace the Turks only to reproduce what the world rightly found so hateful in them. This, even for the sake of interest is more noxious than useful; for, as another officer was telling me, if our sole aim is to equal the Turks, in fact we shall be in a far lower position than theirs: barbarians for barbarians, the Turks will always outdo us because they are Muslim barbarians.
In France, I have often heard men I respect but do not approve of, deplore that crops should be burnt and granaries emptied and finally that unarmed men, women and children should be seized. In my view these are unfortunate circumstances that any people wishing to wage war against the Arabs must accept.
I think that all the means available to wreck tribes must be used, barring those that the human kind and the right of nations condemn.
I personally believe that the laws of war enable us to ravage the country and that we must do so either by destroying the crops at harvest time or any time by making fast forays also known as raids the aim of which it to get hold of men or flocks.
Whatever the case, we may say in a general manner that all political freedoms must be suspended in Algeria.
Also indicative of the prevailing attitude of the French colonialists about that situation is a passage from a letter written by Lieutenant-Colonel de Montagnac on 15 March 1843:
"All populations which do not accept our conditions must be despoiled. Everything must be seized, devastated, without age or sex distinction: grass must not grow any more where the French army has put the foot. Who wants the end wants the means, whatever may say our philanthropists. I personally warn all good militaries which I have the honour to lead that if they happen to bring me a living Arab, they will receive a beating with the flat of the saber... This is how, my dear friend, we must do war against Arabs: kill all men over the age of fifteen, take all their women and children, charged the buildings with them [i.e. probable allusion to military brothels], send them to the Marquesas Islands or elsewhere. In one word, annihilate all that will not crawl beneath our feet like dogs."
A couple of years later Alexis de Tocqueville returned to Algeria and carried out a systematic survey of the military situation, of the state of the country and its inhabitants - both natives and colons. He wrote again about the "Algerian problem," openly advocating racial segregation between the European colonists and the "Arabs." The French colonial state, as he conceived it and as it took shape in Algeria, was a two-tiered organisation, quite unlike the regime in mainland France. It introduced two different political and legal systems which, in his analysis, were based on racial, cultural and religious distinctions. According to de Tocqueville, the system that should apply to the colonisers would enable them alone to hold property and travel freely, but would deprive them of any form of political freedom, which should be suspended in Algeria:
"There should therefore be two quite distinct legislations in Africa, for there are two very separate communities. There is absolutely nothing to prevent us treating Europeans as if they were on their own, as the rules established for them will only ever apply to them."
Within a few years nearly all of northern Algeria was under French control and then the occupied lands were declared "an integral part of France". In 1848, the French made Algeria a département attached to France.
Later, the loss of the lands of Alsace-Lorraine to Prussia (in 1871 after the Franco-Prussian War) led to pressure on the French government to make more land in Algeria available to colons. Soon, both the amount of land "aquired" and the number of colons had doubled, and tens of thousands more unskilled Muslims were uprooted from their land, some wandered into the cities or to colon farming areas in search of work.
Naturally, from the very beginning of the French colonial conquest there was an Algerian resistance (or, depending on perspective, an "insurrection" aka "insurgency"). The French faced an "insurgency" for more than 50 years; indeed, in some ways it could be said the resistance against foreign rule over this land ran for more than a century. There was the three Jihads of `Abd al-Qādir al-Jazā'irī (the first hero of Algerian independence); the resistance of Lalla Fatma N'Soumer; and Mohamed ben Abdallah (aka Bou Baghla). There were pitched battles in 1849, 1851, 1852, 1853,1857, 1864, 1870, and 1871 and again in 1881. And the Algerian Moussebilines - young unmarried people- volunteered to die for their cause. They swore not to fear any danger. They were initiated at a ceremony, a prayer for the dead was said for them, and they officially gave their lives to the country.
Consequently, to maintain their control the occupiers resorted to the tools of oppression. In 1871, in the aftermath of the Kabyle rebellion (launched under the leadership of Muhammad al-Muqrani), French authorities imposed stern measures to punish and control the whole Muslim population. France confiscated more than 5,000 km² of tribal land and placed the Kabyle under a régime d'exception (extraordinary rule).
By 1881, a Code de l'Indigénat (a set of laws creating, in practice, an inferior legal status for natives of French Colonies) officialised discrimination, creating specific penalties for indigenes, undermining their social structures and enabling continued appropriation of their lands.
By the 1880s the European population of Algeria was more than 350,000. The process of refoulement, the "thrusting back" of the native population away from fertile and productive areas, carried out since the earliest days of the conquest, continued and indigenous people were forced into "relocation" camps in the desert, so as to make room for colons and their new towns and villages.
Algeria in the late 1800s was a country with few traditional elites as the social structure, which had been established over centuries, had been completely destroyed by the French military and civilian/colon governments. Gone was the millet system; gone were the Koughloughis, the makhzen tribes, and influential sherifs.
So it was for much of the 19th century, and into the 20th, that the policies of the French government toward the Algerians alternated between benign neglect and harsh repression. It certainly tended towards the latter whenever resistance to French rule was re-energised. And, so it was that in all that 19th century colonial occupation, the Francophone culture forced on the place by colon did not trickle down from the upper levels, and the population native to the colonised land deeply resented the awarding of their communal and confiscated land to immigrants from foreign lands.
At the turn of the century Europeans held about 30% of the total arable land, including the bulk of the most fertile land and most of the areas under irrigation. By 1900, Europeans produced more than two-thirds of the value of output in agriculture and practically all agricultural exports. And it was a period when poverty among Muslim Algerians was widespread, with many forced to seek work on European "owned" farms at extremely low wages.
Inflation, brought on by European speculators, had diminished the purchasing power of poor Muslim Algerians and they'd long been denied any political power. To make matters worse, the colonial regime imposed more and higher taxes on Algeria's Muslim majority than on the European colons who were profiting from the long plundering of Algeria.
In 1909, for instance, Algerian Muslims, who made up almost 90% of the population but produced 20% of Algeria's income, paid 70% of direct taxes and 45% of the total taxes collected. And colons controlled how these revenues would be spent. As a result, colon towns had handsome municipal buildings, paved streets lined with trees, fountains and statues, while Algerian villages and rural areas benefited little, if at all, from tax revenues.
The underprivileged majority population in Algeria finally began to make itself heard during the 20th century when a new generation of local resistance leadership emerged at the time the Western (European/Imperial) world was headed toward a "Great" War. Three movements emerged and they grew to maturity during the 1920s and 1930s.
One movement, originating from the period before World War I amongst a small but influential class of évolués (Algerians whom had managed to gain an education in French colon form), was expressed through a loose movement given the name Jeunesse Algérienne (Young Algerians). Algerians were French subjects but not French citizens (hence Algerians embodied a significant exception to the established French republican 'model' that -- for men at least -- combined nationality and citizenship), and so theirs was a "nationalism" developed out disappointment in not receiving full equality with the French, even after they'd "evolved" to better assimilate into the imposed French colonial culture.
The Jeunesse Algérienne pursued gradualist, reformist tactics, shunned illegal actions, and as "assimilationist" were prepared to consider permanent union with France if the rights of Frenchmen could be extended to native Algerians. Indeed, in 1908, Jeunesse Algérienne delivered to France's then Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau, a petition expressing opposition to a proposed policy to conscript Muslim Algerians into the French army. A deal was offered. If the state granted the Muslims full citizenship, the Jeunesse Algérienne opposition to conscription would be dropped.
In 1911, in addition to demanding preferential treatment for "the intellectual elements of the country," the group called for an end to unequal taxation, broadening of the franchise, more schools, and protection of indigenous property. Their calls did not cut through the French colonial imperative.
In May 1913, a limited form of selective conscription was applied to the Muslim population of Algeria. Then, during World War I, 173,000 Algerians (80,000 conscripted) served the French in the Armée d’Afrique ; and 36,000 were killed.
Whilst the Jeunesse Algérienne were the Algerian equivalents of the political class who led their countries to independence in most former European colonial territories, they had no such chance in Algeria. Their roots in Algerian society were too shallow and the colon resisted even small reformist measures that might have led, however slowly, to piecemeal and peaceful liberation.
The fact that Jeunesse Algérienne were overwhelmingly from the Muslim middle and professional classes separated them from their impoverished countrymen. Their secularism caused suspicion towards them from the rest of the largely conservative Muslim population and traditional leadership. They were not viewed as being as "authentic" as the more traditionalist Islamic elites. Their accommodationist stance also made them seem as if they were a fifth column. It was not to Jeunesse Algérienne that most Algerian Muslims looked to when they felt they needed to take political action.
Algerian Muslims mostly turned to another of the movements to emerge, Vieux Turbans (Old Turbans' , which had been inspired by the religious Salafi school of thought founded in the late 19th century in Egypt by Sheikh Muhammad 'Abduh (a student of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani) and his own most prominent disciple, Muhammad Rashid Rida. Their motives were reformist; religious and cultural. They were certainly not assimilationist or accommodationist; indeed they could not be, for to obtain French citizenship, Algerian Muslims were required to renounce their Muslim identity.
To dent any self-doubt among the Muslims, Vieux Turbans promoted pan-Islamic ideas, recalling the glories of both Algeria’s Islamic past and those of the wider Muslim world. They established free Islamic schools that stressed Arabic language and culture as an alternative to the schools for Muslims operated for many years by the French. Islam was made a sort of marker of identity for most of the people of Al-Jaza'ir.
For many Algerians, and especially those who sympathised most with the Vieux Turbans, "Islam had become consciously or unconsciously the principal repository of the collective personality and the ultimate psychological bulwark against total domination by the Christians." Whereas Jeunesse Algérienne opposed the French colonial administration for its legal hypocrisy and inequality, Vieux Turbans opposed it because they viewed it as a "Christian occupation" of a "Muslim land". This perspective was shared by many Algerian Muslims, who viewed their inferior status to the French settler establishment as being one of religion; because they were Muslims they were turned into a community of proletarians. Had they been Christians, the logic went, they would not be so poor, nor would they have been abused in the manner in which they were.
In 1924, Shiekh 'Abd al-Hamid Ibn Muhammad Ibn Makkee Ibn Baadees as-Sinhaajee (aka 'Ben Badis'), famed for the motto, "Islam is our religion, Arabic our language, Algeria our fatherland," began publishing al-Muntaqidh (The Censor), which had the twin objectives of promoting the internal renewal of Algerian Islam and of protecting it against the many forms of secularist attack emanating from the colonial world. After 18 issues had been published, the occupying French authorities stopped it (in November 1925). Ostensibly the French censored Ben Badis' paper because an article supported the Rif rebellion in Morocco. Ben Badis replaced al-Muntaqidh with the monthly al-Shihab (The Shooting Star).
In the 1920s the colon population grew by more than a quarter million. Most of the immigrants were now from Russia, mainly Jews and Armenians escaping the aftermath of the Russian civil war. A major characteristic of the earlier settler society in Algeria was its antisemitism. In the early twentieth century, antisemitic colon newspapers flourished in Algeria, and numerous colon politicians from major cities were elected on antisemitic platforms. European antisemites in Algeria also tried to incite Algerian Muslims to act against the Jews, but without great success.
In attempting to renew Algerian Islam, Ben Badis and his colleagues were necessarily critical of an existing Islamic establishment they held responsible for Algerian Islam's sorry state. Sometimes they targeted the state-salaried ulama who staffed the official sponsored mosques. Far more frequently they attacked the marabouts (holy men) and the mystic brotherhoods and zawiyas whose unorthodox versions of Islam were deeply ingrained in popular culture and dominated the countryside where the great majority of Algerians lived. Since the official clergy were agents of the state and many of the zawiya leaders had been co-opted by it as well, attempts at religious renewal could not help but bear considerable political significance.
By 1931, some of the zawiya sought an agreement with Ben Badis' followers on the basis of a common program of religious and moral renewal. They created the Association des Uléma Musulmans Algériens (AAMU) with Ben Badis as its leader. In 1933, French authorities forbade Ben Badis and his reformist allies to preach in official mosques. This move and similar ones sparked several years of sporadic religious unrest. A veritable war of religion in Algeria over the next four years culminated with the assassination in 1936 of the official Malikite mufti of Algiers.
Ben Badis pronounced "that this Algerian nation is not France, cannot be France, and does not want to be France . . . [but] has its culture, its traditions and its characteristics, good or bad, like every other nation of the earth."
The other movement to emerge in the early 20th century, a more proletarian and radical type, grew out of the fact that several hundred thousand Algerians had assisted the French during World War I by working in factories. They became aware of a standard of living higher than any they had known at home and of democratic political concepts, taken for granted by Frenchmen in France, which colons, soldiers, and bureaucrats had refused to apply to the Muslim majority in Algeria. Some had also become acquainted with the pan-Arab nationalism growing in the Middle East.
Emerging to defend "the material, moral, and social interests of North African Muslims," the Étoile Nord-Africain, known as Étoile (Star), was originally formed to coordinate political activity among Algerian and other North African workers in France. It had no armed wing and it attempted to organise peacefully.
In 1927, Étoile leader, Ahmed Messali Hadj, stated the movement's goals as independence from France, freedom of the press and freedom of association, a parliament chosen through universal suffrage, confiscation of large estates and land reform, and education of the people through the institution of Arabic schools. The agenda had appeal; the movement grew to about 4,000 members inside France by 1929. France then banned Étoile and Ahmed Messali Hadj was made an outlaw and fugitive.
With its leader targeted by the French, Étoile continued operating underground until 1933. It was then reorganised, and, in 1936, Etoile joined the French Front Populaire, a coalition of French political parties of the left (which had risen to power by that time). However, the relationship lasted a little over six months. The Front Populaire dissolved Etoile in January 1937.
Two months later Ahmed Messali Hadj formed the Parti du Peuple Algerien (PPA). Despite using peaceful methods of protest, the group's members were pursued by the police in France and banned by French colonial authorities in Algeria. In November 1937, Ahmed Messali Hadj was arrested and put on trial for "agitation"; he was imprisoned for several years and the PPA operated as a clandestine organisation from 1938.
In 1940, when the Deutsches Reich invaded France, Algerian Muslims rallied to the French side (just as they had done in World War I). After the Fall of France, thousands of foreigners (including European Jews) who had volunteered for and fought in the French army against the Nazi Germans in 1940, as well as many foreign Jewish refugees, were sent by the collaborationist Vichy regime to 'work camps' in Algeria (and neighbouring Morocco).
The authoritarian and backward-looking Révolution nationale of Philippe Pétain's Vichy government appealed to the colons/pied-noirs. The French Algerian administration vigorously enforced the Vichy regime's anti-Semitic laws, which abrogated the 1870 Cremieux Decree and stripped Algerian Jews of their French citizenship. Potential opposition leaders in both the European and Algerian Muslim communities were arrested. Those whom had escaped went underground.
Then, on November 8, 1942, as the U.S. 34th Infantry (with one brigade of the British 78th) were approaching the shores of Algiers, a group of 400 French resistance under the command of Henri d'Astier de La Vigerie and José Aboulker staged a coup in the city. When the Americans landed, the native Algerian population breathed a sigh of relief, seeing a possible path towards self-determination.
Yet, once the Americans had won control of North Africa, they put in charge the man who had surrendered Algiers, Admiral François Darlan despite him having formerly been Pétain's deputy and minister for the interior, defence and foreign affairs. Darlan maintained Nazi-inspired racist laws and deported people to Vichy concentration camps.
An alternative French 'saviour' of Algeria, Général de Gaulle had left his British exile for the ‘French’ soil of Algiers after its 'liberation'. Yet he made a declaration on 30 May 1943, dashing the hopes of Algerian nationalists by emphasising the ‘integrity and sovereignty’ of all parts of the French Empire.
Another Algerian leader to emerge in the period was Ferhat Abbas (who would later become president of the provisional Algerian nationalist government-in-exile - the GPRA - and then in 1962 become President of the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic). Abbas had been an integrationist; he had not been opposed to continuing French annexation; though he had advocated an Algeria where Algerians would have the same rights as Frenchmen. By the 1940s, he'd also abandoned assimilation as a viable alternative to self-determination, issuing the Manifesto of the Algerian People in 1943.
The Manifesto may be seen as the culmination of the nationalist pressures building from 1890 to the 1940s, the formal renunciation of assimilation and the affirmation of Algerian nationalism by the Algerian Muslim leadership. It called for the release of all Algerian political prisoners, the recognition of Arabic as the official language of Algeria on equal terms with French, the recognition of the civic liberties and responsibilities of Muslims unconditionally, land reform, and the creation of an Algerian Constitution that recognised the full equality of Muslims and Europeans under the law.
In 1944, Abbas gained the support of the AAMU and formed the Amis du Manifeste et de la Liberté (AML) and within a short time, the AML's newspaper, Égalité, claimed 500,000 subscribers, indicating unprecedented interest in independence.
In 1945, anti-French sentiment across Algeria had been building, leading to thousand-person protests in some cities. On the morning of May 8, 1945 (VE day), 4,000 Algerians took to the streets of the market town of Sétif, in northern Algeria, to press their demands for independence on the colonial government.
Trouble started when police tried to seize the PPA flag (now the Algerian flag) and banners calling for the release of Messali Hadj and Algerian independence. At around 9 am, a crowd chanting “Vive l'indépendance!” marched on the French gendarmerie (which had shot at the Algerians carrying the flags they felt represented their independance). The French then fired on the largely unarmed crowds. They used machine guns; they killed a great many of the marching Algerian Muslims in Sétif that day.
In the following five days of chaos the French implemented a 'shock and awe' approach to crush resistance. They used artillery and air force bombers to attack Algerians in the neighbourhoods and surrounding villages of both Sétif and nearby Guelma. They massacred thousands and to remove all traces of their crimes (thus preventing investigations), they opened mass graves and burned bodies in the lime kilns at Heliopolis. Indeed, the French actions caused a French military historian, Jean-Charles Jauffret, to say that the conduct of its army in Algeria “resembled a European wartime operation rather than a traditional colonial war.”
Even so, when founding the Union Démocratique du Manifeste Algérien (UDMA) in 1946, Ferhat Abbas once again asserted the demands of the Manifesto and called for a free, secular, and republican Algeria loosely federated with France.
Messali and his PPA on the other hand still rejected anything short of full independence. Some AML members joined the PPA and, under Messali's leadership, they reorganised as the Mouvement Pour le Triomphe des Libertes Democratiques (MTLD). The MTLD retained the platform promoted by the PPA, i.e., full independence for Algeria, and like the PPA, it pursued a peaceful political path to achieve an independent Algeria. It enjoyed a sweeping victory in the 1947 municipal elections and this frightened the colons, whose political leaders, through fraud and intimidation, attempted to obtain a result more favourable to them in the following year's first Algerian Assembly voting. The MTLD picked up only nine seats in that élection algérienne, and whilst this result may have reassured some of the colons that the nationalists had been rejected by the Algerian Muslim community, these rigged elections suggested to many Muslims that a peaceful solution to Algeria's problems was not possible.
Then, at the first session of the colon-controlled Algerian Assembly, a MTLD delegate was arrested at the door, prompting other Muslim representatives to walk out in protest. The Algeria nationalist parties, joined by the Parti Communiste Algérien (PCA), formed a common political front that undertook to have the results of the election voided. By 1950, the MTLD was being repressed by French police.
So although relatively peaceful attempts were made for a Constitution and more equality in the 1940s, these were met with no support by the French government and the characteristics of colonial rule in Algeria virtually ruled out any nationalist option other than one based on organised violence.
Hence, in 1947, the Organisation Spéciale was formed by more radical participants of the PPA and MTLD to prepare for armed struggle against French rule over Algeria. Led by Hocine Aït Ahmed, it had recruited around 1500-2000 members at its peak. It spawned the groups that would later form the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN); which, in turn, became the leading force in the Algerian War of Independence.
The Algerian War of Independence lasted from 1954 to 1962. It brought the displacement of millions of peasants, the dismantling of the economy and resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead. It brought to almost every Algerian family the loss of a member.
It started in the early morning hours of All Saints' Day, 1 November 1954. Between midnight and two o'clock a.m. Algeria was awakened by explosions. The FLN, formed by Ahmed Ben Bella, an ex-sergeant in the French army, and eight other Algerian exiles in Egypt, began to fight for Algerian independence by executing a campaign of coordinated attacks on public buildings, military and police posts, and communications installations. The French would henceforth call this day Toussaint Rouge.
The FLN called for "restoration of the Algerian state, sovereign, democratic, and social, within the framework of the principles of Islam." The political and military situation augured well for their success. Among the nine million Muslims of Algeria, living side by side with one million Europeans who dominated the political and economic life of Algeria, a large majority could be expected to join a war of independence.
At first the FLN fellaghas (whom the French called maquisards — or "terrorists"), numbered in the hundreds and were armed with a motley assortment of hunting rifles and discarded French, German, and United States light weapons. effectively immobilised French forces. They were successfully applying hit-and-run tactics according to the classic canons of guerrilla warfare. They set up ambushes and conducted night raids, avoiding direct contact with superior French firepower. They targeted army patrols, military encampments, police posts, and colon farms, mines, and factories, as well as transportation and communications facilities. Once an engagement was broken off, the fellaghas merged with the population in the countryside.
French reaction to the rapidly expanding "insurgency" was at first slow and haphazard. Early in 1956, however, rioting by colons / pied noir who had considerable support in France) forced a change in French policy. François Mitterrand, French minister of interior at that time, proclaimed "the only possible negotiation is war." That spring, newly drafted soldiers and reservists recalled to active duty poured into Algeria, allowing the French to pass from a desultory defensive to the offensive, and to launch full-scale military operations. By the end of 1956, France had committed more than 400,000 troops to Algeria. The conflict escalated.
Then the French gradually gained an upper hand by using "counter-insurgency" tactics. On January 15, 1955, the main leader of the FLN in Constantinois, Didouche Mourad, was killed during a skirmish with the French army. A month later, on February 11, the FLN leader in the Aurès, Mostefa Ben Boulald, was arrested.
Nevertheless, the FLN's military arm, the Armée de Libération Nationale (ALN) evolved into a disciplined fighting force. It effectively had two levels of organisation. The soldiers operating inside Algeria operated as guerilla units. The troops abroad, in Morocco and Tunisia, were organised into a regular army, consisting of some 30,000 soldiers. During 1956 and 1957, the FLN successfully applied hit-and-run tactics in accordance with guerrilla warfare theory, which was at the time being formalised (in particular by Mao) as "people's war".
Late in 1957, General Raoul Salan, commander-in-chief of the French forces in Algeria, constructed a heavily patrolled system of barriers to limit infiltration from Tunisia and Morocco. With a barbed wire fence built along the borders to Morocco and Tunisia, ALN troops outside Algeria were hindered from making swift and effective attacks into Algerian territory.
Salan also instituted a system of quadrillage to fight the ALN within Algeria. It involved dividing the country into sectors in order to isolate the people within while combing through the enclosed area in a search for "insurgents" and their supporters. Each sector was permanently garrisoned by troops responsible for suppressing FLN/ALN operations in their assigned territory.
Having "quarterised" the country, Salan then applied a theory of "counter-revolutionary warfare" that he had developed in Indochina. As part of the French "pacification" operation, collective punishment was meted out to whole villages suspected of aiding FLN fellaghas. In the name of "pacification", French army units raided Muslim villages and slaughtered civilians. The French "pacification" measures included colon vigilante units conducting "unauthorised activities" (with the passive cooperation of French police authorities). These activities included carrying out ratonnades (literally, rat-hunts) against suspected FLN members of the Algerian Muslim community. Other groups were deported to guarded refugee camps. The French military attempted to justify its use of torture with claims that they were leading a "pacification" operation against "FLN terrorism."
Salan would go on to found the French far-right nationalist underground militant organisation Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS), with its motto: L’Algérie est française et le restera. Indeed, the French use of concentration camps, torture, and mass executions of civilians suspected of aiding the rebels, isolated France and elicited invidious comparisons with totalitarian regimes and Nazism.
The French administration also recruited as an irregular militia some Algerian Muslims, the core of them veterans of L'Armee d' Afrique who'd fought for the French in Indochina. These Harkis (from the Arabic word Haraka, "the movement") sided with the French for assorted reasons: for the regular pay, out of loyalty to a French army officer, to be on the side of the likely winners, to avenge a member of their family killed by the FLN, to obey their chief (bachaga), because they were Francophiles, or because, following the French army's "pacification", they were perceived as traitors to their own people and thus many suffered violence at the hands of the FLN/ALN.
By spring of 1958 the French Army could claim that it was winning the war against the ALN. In the first seven months of that year the ALN had lost more than 25,000 men. The French army shifted its tactics at the end of 1958 from dependence on quadrillage to the use of mobile forces deployed on massive search-and-destroy missions against ALN strongholds. The French military and police used torture to try to get information about the FLN.
In exile the FLN formed a Gouvernement Provisoire de la République Algérienne (GPRA). Based in Tunis, it was headed by Ferhat Abbas and secured recognition by Morocco, Tunisia, and several other Arab countries, by a number of Asian and African states, and by the Soviet Union and other East European states.
At about this time Henri Alleg, a pied noir published La Question, an account of his experience a year earlier of being tortured over the course of a month by members of France's 10th Paratrooper Division. Alleg (born Henri Salem) had been the publisher of l'Humanité (a French Communist newspaper) advocating indepedence for Algeria, but he was not a member of the FLN. Nevertheless, while in French custody Alleg was submitted to many kinds of cruel tortures, both physical and mental. The French aimed to get him to reveal the names of those who had sheltered him. His "treatment" consisted of electric shocks, burning, being hung from various appendages, and being forced swallowing and inhaling of water to simulate drowning (a torture now known as "water boarding").
The revelation that the French government was using torture against its own citizens (as well as the FLN) further eroded mainland popular support for the French military action in Algeria. The war became a reason for the downfall of the Fourth Republic. Colon extremists and French army officers joined forces to bring down the French government and demanded the return of General Charles De Gaulle to lead France to victory over the Algerian nationalists and the preservation of "French Algeria". De Gaulle returned to power with the support of the extreme right. however he soon realised that the war could never be won and announced a referendum allowing Algerians to choose their own destiny, be it independence or remaining an "integral part of France".
De Gaulle's move was seen as betrayal by the colon, the extreme right wing and certain parts of the military. In Francoist Spain, the Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS) was formed by Pierre Lagaillarde (who led the 1960 Siege of Algiers), General Raoul Salan (who took part in the 1961 Algiers putsch or "Generals' Uprising") and Jean-Jacques Susini, along with other members of the French Army, including Yves Guérin-Sérac, and former members of the French Foreign Legion from the First Indochina War. Their slogan was "Algeria is French and so it will remain." Their terrorism aimed to prevent Algerian independence. They engaged in a campaign of bombings and assassinations in Algeria and mainland France, including several attempts on de Gaulle's life.
De Gaulle believed that while the war in Algeria was militarily winnable, it was not defensible internationally, and he became reconciled to Algeria’s eventual independence. Negotiations between representatives of the French government and the FLN began in Evian on 7 March 1962. The Evian accords, signed on 18 March 1962, gave independence to Algeria. De Gaulle hoped that they would form the basis for Algeria and France to "march fraternally together along the road of civilisation". The OAS set upon a "scorched earth" policy to deny French-built development to the future FLN government. Within just a few months, 900 thousand colon left the country.
The war of national liberation and its aftermath severely disrupted Algeria's society and economy. In addition to the physical destruction, the exodus of the colon stripped the country of most of its managers, civil servants, engineers, teachers, physicians, and skilled workers — all occupations which colonial policy had prevented or discouraged the Muslim population from pursuing. The homeless and displaced numbered in the hundreds of thousands, many suffering from illness, and some 70 percent of the work force was unemployed. Distribution of goods was at a standstill. Departing colons destroyed or carried off public records and utility plans, leaving public services in a shambles.
In preparation for independence, the Conseil National de la Révolution Algérienne (CRNA) had met in Tripoli in May 1962 to work out a plan for the FLN's transition from a liberation movement to a political party. The Tripoli Program called for land reform, the large-scale nationalisation of industry and services, and a strong commitment to nonalignment and anticolonialism in foreign relations.
The platform also envisioned the FLN as a mass organisation, broad enough to encompass all nationalist groups. Adoption of the Tripoli Program notwithstanding, deep personal and ideological divisions surfaced within the FLN as the war drew to a close and the date for independence approached. Competition and confrontation among various factions not only deprived the FLN of a leadership that spoke with a single voice, but also almost resulted in full-scale civil war.
The ALN commanders and the GPRA struggled for power. The GPRA installed itself in Algiers as the Provisional Executive. In June 1962, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Bella, who was becoming more popular, and thereby more powerful, challenged the leadership of Premier Benyoucef Ben Khedda. This led to several disputes among Ben Bella's rivals in the FLN, which were quickly suppressed by Ben Bella's rapidly growing number of supporters, most notably within the armed forces.
Colonel Houari Boumédiènne, chief of staff of the ALN in Morocco, formed an alliance with Ahmed Ben Bella. Together with Mohamed Khider and Rabah Bitat, they announced the formation of the Bureau Politique as a rival government to the GPRA. Boumédiène's army, built up outside the war zone in Morocco and Tunisia, quashed resistance among GPRA loyalists and guerrilla units inside Algeria, as it moved in from its border area bases. By September 1962, Ben Bella and Boumédiènne were in control of Algeria.
Free at last?
The creation of the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria was formally proclaimed at the opening session of the National Assembly on 25 September, 1962. Ferhat Abbas, a moderate unconnected with the Bureau Politique, was elected president of the assembly by the delegates, and Ben Bella was named prime minister. On the following day, Ben Bella formed a cabinet that was representative of the Bureau Politique but that also included Boumédiènne, who was named defense minister and vice president. The ALN was organised as the country's armed forces.
The institution of the new Algeria Presidency was soon sidelined by Ben Bella. Ferhat Abbas resigned in protest at the FLN's decision to establish a one-party state under Ben Bella. But, it is said, within just a short time Ben Bella's eccentric and arrogant behaviour towards colleagues alienated many former supporters. Ben Bella was promoting the development of his own cult of personality, and by 1964 he was dedicating more time to foreign affairs than local development.
In 1965, Ben Bella was deposed by the army strongman. Boumédiènne seized power in a bloodless coup. Algeria's new constitution and nacsent political institutions were abolished, and Boumédiènne ruled through a Revolutionary Command Council of his own (mostly military) supporters. Within Algeria repression would continue, dissent would not be tolerated. Boumédiènne's regime was characterised by censorship and rampant police surveillance by the powerful Sécurité militaire.
In foreign relations Boumédiènne pursued a policy of non-alignment, maintaining good relations with both the communist bloc and the capitalist nations, and promoting third-world cooperation. In the United Nations, he called for a new world order built on equal status for western and ex-colonial nations. Boumédiènne sought to build a powerful third world bloc through the Non-Aligned Movement, in which he became a prominent figure. He aggressively supported anti-colonial movements across Africa and the Arab world, including the PLO, ANC, SWAPO and other groups.
Boumédienne would rule as Chairman of the Revolutionary Council until 12 December 1976, and from then on as President of Algeria to his death on 27 December 1978. The death of Boumédienne left a power vacuum in Algeria which could not easily be filled. For a short time, Rabah Bitat was acting President, but yet another army strongman, Chadli Bendjedid, became president in February 1979.
Some hold Bendjedid responsible for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Algeria. It is argued that, contrarily to his predecessor, Bendjedid tolerated the rise of various Islamist grassroots movements during the 1980s. The development of Islamic activism in Algeria in the 1980s resembled that elsewhere in North Africa and, as in 1970s Egypt, the authorities both actively helped to bring it into existence and sought to use it for their own purposes.
But the government could not maintain complete control. Under both Boumédienne and then Benjedid, Algeria's economic had relied heavily on high oil prices, and when, in 1986, oil prices went from $30 to $10 a barrel, the planned economy came under severe strain, with shortages and unemployment rife. Demographic changes within the nation, brought about largely by the modernisation drive of the Bendjedid regime, fed into the development of two conflicting protest movements in the late '80s: communists, including Berber identity movements; and Islamic intégristes. Many young Algerians felt alienation from a state which seemed no longer to offer them prospects. Their protests were violently repressed.
A new resistance
In October 1988, a "Black October", massive demonstrations were mounted against President Bendjedid. There was an Islamist element prominent among the demonstrators. The army fired on the demonstrators, killing many and shocking many more. Benjedid's response was to make moves towards "free market" reform, but the riot and repressive response had set in motion a process of internal regime power-struggles and public criticism that eventually led to the downfall of the Algerian single-party system. power since 1962.
In November 1988, the Algerian Constitution was amended to allow parties other than the ruling FLN. The Islamist Front Islamique du Salut (FIS), led by an elderly sheikh, Abbassi Madani, and a charismatic young mosque preacher, Ali Belhadj, was founded shortly afterwards in Algiers.
In 1991, the military intervened to stop elections from bringing the FIS to power, forcing Bendjedid out of office and sparking a long and bloody Algerian Civil War. Today, Algeria is only still just emerging from decades of violence.
In January 1992, the military invited back to become chairman of the High Council of State of Algeria (a figurehead body for the military junta) the long exiled head of the Parti de la Révolution Socialiste, Muhammad Boudiaf (aka Si Tayeb el Watani). The day after this coup d'etat, attacks against police officers and soldiers began. Government repression was brutal. Arrests, round ups, and mass searches were carried out against ordinary citizens suspected of complicity with the "terrorists", for which there was no proper evidence. The authorities used special units of the gendarmerie to stop, torture, liquidate or send to internment camps in the south thousands of young militants or FIS sympathisers who had played no part in the armed struggle. Many were tried and condemned to death by military tribunal, in direct violation of the principles of human rights.
In April 1992, Boudiaf appointed a 60-man Consultative Council and attempted to create a new political movement, the Assemble Patriotique. He also initiated a drive against the corruption of the old Algerian regime. But Boudiaf was completely dependent on the forces that had brought him to power. His powers were circumscribed by the military and security establishment. Their primary interest was 'protecting' their hold on the country.
By June 1992 Boudiaf was dead, assassinated by a bodyguard during his first visit outside Algiers as head of state. As this visit was a televised public speech at the opening of a cultural center in Annaba, the assassination caused intense shock in Algeria. The assassin, Lt. Lembarek Boumaârafi, was said to have acted as a "lone gunman." However, he was also said to have acted due to his "Islamist sympathies." Others say he was an instrument of the military and security establishment.
During his brief regime, Boudiaf had banned the FIS and thousands of its members had been arrested. Islamist guerrillas rapidly emerged. They formed themselves into several armed groups, principally Le mouvement islamique armé (MIA), based in the mountains. But based in the towns, the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), or al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah al-Musallaha, also emerged. Mansour Meliani, with many "Afghans", had broken with his former friend Abdelkader Chebouti and left the MIA to form the GIA.
A deadly decade
More than 160,000 people were killed in the decade between January 1992 and June 2002. Most of the dead were guerrillas and government troops, but a great number of civilians were also killed. The guerrilla movements had initially targeted the army and police, but some groups had started attacking civilians soon after the conflict commenced.
Between 1992 and 1998, the GIA is said to have conducted a violent campaign of civilian massacres, sometimes wiping out entire villages in its area of operation. It is claimed that from its inception on, the GIA called for and implemented the killing of anyone collaborating with or supporting the authorities, including government employees such as teachers and civil servants.
Almost 10 years later a former lieutenant in the Algerian army, Habib Souaidia, claimed that in the 1990s the Algerian army frequently massacred Algerian civilians and then blamed Islamic militants, particularly the GIA. In a 2002 hearing by a French court of a libel suit against Souaidia, a former colonel, Mohammed Samraoui, testified that "the Algerian army used all means to attack the Islamic rebellion: blackmail, corruption, threats, killings … we used terrorist methods to attack terrorism even before it had appeared." Indeed, Mohammed Samraoui, who had been the Algerian army’s deputy chief counter-intelligence specialist, testified that in the months before the Algerian army coup in January 1992, the Algerian army "created the GIA" in an attempt to weaken and destroy the FIS, which has been poised to take power in the cancelled elections.
What is certain is that as the GIA, hostile to FIS as well as to the government, rose to the forefront, FIS-loyalist guerrilla groups, threatened with marginalisation, attempted to unite their forces. In July 1994, the MIA, together with the remainder of the MEI and a variety of smaller groups, united as the Armée Islamique du Salut (AIS). By 1995, the GIA had turned on the AIS in earnest. Reports of battles between the AIS and GIA increased (resulting in an estimated 60 deaths in March 1995 alone).
The GIA, claiming to be the "sole prosecutor of jihad" and angered by coordination between the other groups to attempt negotiation with the Algerian government, such as the Sant'Egidio Platform (sometimes also known as the Rome Platform or the Rome Accords), reiterated death threats against FIS and AIS leaders. In July 1995, the GIA assassinated a co-founder of FIS, Abdelbaki Sahraoui. A year later, the GIA leader, Djamel Zitouni, was killed by a breakaway ex-GIA faction. Zitouni was succeeded by Antar Zouabri (aka Abou Talha Antar or Abou Talha), who would prove an even bloodier leader.
Starting around April 1997 with the Thalit massacre, Algeria was wracked by massacres of intense brutality and unprecedented size. At this stage, the GIA had apparently adopted a takfirist ideology, believing that practically all Algerians not actively fighting the government were corrupt to the point of being kafirs. The GIA believed the kafirs could be killed righteously with impunity; an unconfirmed communiqué by Zouabri had stated that "except for those who are with us, all others are apostates and deserving of death."
Typically targeting entire villages or neighborhoods, GIA guerrillas killed tens, and sometimes hundreds, of civilians at a time. The AIS, faced with attacks from both the government and the GIA, and wanting to dissociate itself from the GIA's civilian massacres, declared a unilateral ceasefire in September 1997. Madani Mezrag, ordered a unilateral and unconditional ceasefire starting 1 October 1997, in order to "unveil the enemy that hides behind these abominable massacres."
The massacres continued through the end of 1998. In that year, Hassan Hattab, a GIA regional commander reportedly against the slaughter of civilians, split off from the GIA to form the Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (GSPC). By 1999 the AIS had been disbanded, but the GSPC was becoming an organisation that also targeted civilians.
In April 1999, Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected President with 74% of the votes, according to the official count. All other candidates had withdrawn from the election immediately prior to the vote, citing fraud concerns. French figures (published in Le Monde) gave Bouteflika only 28% in an election with 23% turn-out. In his memoirs, General Jaled Nezzar comments that Bouteflika was able to become President thanks to strong support from part of the military hierarchy which, after forcing the resignation of General Liamin Zerual, decided to withdraw the army from the forefront of the political scene and bring Bouteflika back. It is said that in 1994 Bouteflika refused the Army’s proposal to succeed the assassinated president, Mohamed Boudiaf. Bouteflika has claimed that this was because the army would not grant him full control over the armed forces.
Bouteflika had joined the FLN in 1956, at the age of 19. He started as a controller, making reports on the conditions at the Moroccan border and in west Algeria, but later became the administrative secretary of Houari Boumédienne becoming one of his closest collaborators and a core member of the Oujda group. In 1962, at the arrival of independence, Bouteflika had aligned with Boumédienne and the border armies in support of Ben Bella against the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic. After Algeria's independence, Bouteflika had first become Minister for Youth and Sport and within a year was appointed as Minister for Foreign Affairs. He remained in that post until the unexpected death of Boumédienne in 1978.
Bouteflika was seen as one of the two main candidates to succeed the powerful president. He was thought to represent the party's "right wing" that was more open to economic reform and rapprochement with the West, but the military had opted for Bendjedid. Bouteflika became Minister of State, but he successively lost power due to Bendjedid's policies of "de-Boumédiennisation".
It was in the late '80s that the the army first brought Bouteflika back to the Central Committee of the FLN. During the civil war through the '90s, Bouteflika had stayed on the sidelines. Failing to tempt Bouteflika back to power in 1994, the military-dominated regime had finally cut a deal in 1999 that allowed the former foreign minister to reassume his place in the Algerian oligarchy.
After a decade of rhetoric focused on eradicating Islamism, Bouteflika made national reconciliation the leit motif of his program. Just five months after Bouteflika took office, he won overwhelming endorsement for a reconciliation plan that granted amnesty to thousands of Islamists. He was seeking through that plan to promote an image of himself as a legitimate president and peacemaker.
In early 2000 Bouteflika announced a major reshuffle of the Algerian military, sacking nine senior army officers and moving seven others to different posts. However, the military's most senior officers, the powerful army chief-of-staff Lieutenant Mohammed Lamari and the heads of military intelligence and counter-intelligence remained in their posts. Despite Bouteflika's peace-making, the "civil war" in Algeria continued, but with a lower intensity. There were 1,000 deaths during the five first months of 2000. The GIA, although isolated, continued to operate. Later that year Israeli officials claimed that their government was providing technical and military expertise to help Algeria build a counter-terrorism unit.
In February 2001, Habib Souaïdia, a young former officer of an elite unit of the Algerian army, published his memoir, La Sale Guerre (The Dirty War). Written as a result of a determination to describe the reality of the violence that had raged in Algeria since the cancellation of the 1992 elections, La Sale Guerre describes an escalating cycle of violence and brutality in which, Souaïdia said, both the outlawed armed Islamist groups and the army itself are implicated.
"I've seen fellow officers burn alive a 15-year-old child. I've seen soldiers dressed as terrorists massacring civilians. I've seen colonels kill ordinary suspects in cold blood. I've seen officers torture Islamists to death. I've seen too many things....and these are sufficient reasons, I am convinced, to break the wall of silence."
Then in the first half of April 2001, a young Kabyle activist named Guermah Massinissa was arrested and died in custody. Bouteflika's government claimed that the real name of Massinissa was in fact Karim and that he was a jobless criminal. This brought on what would become known as the Tafsut taberkant (Black Spring) after his death sparked violent clashes between young Kabyles and security forces in several villages. By the end of the month, more than 60 protesters had been killed and more than 600 wounded. Bouteflika announced that a commission would be established to investigate the events, but the protests continued.
In early May there were quiet demonstrations arranged by the Arouch movement in Algiers drawing between 10,000 and 30,000 people. By late May the demonstrations in Algiers drew around 300,000 people, though the organisers, the Front des Forces socialistes (FFS), claim that twice that number had participated. Bouteflika's government maintained that the Kabyles were "manipulated by a foreign hand." Bouteflika banned all demonstrations in Algiers.
The 2001 Kabyle riots were not just about what the gendarmerie had done to Guermah Massinissa, nor were they, as some media tried to portray them, about Berber calls for official recognition of their language, even if that was one of many themes of the demonstrations. The anger of Kabyle youth was essentially targeted at the entire military-backed Bouteflika regime, which they perceived as repressive and oblivious to their interests. The sense that the gendarmes could kill and pillage with impunity was one of the grievances fueling the protests. Demonstrators chanted familiar slogans of "pouvoir assassin" and "gouvernement terroriste, corrompu" -- the authorities are assassins, terrorists and corrupt. The rioters also called for an end to hogra, an Algerian expression which means being excluded and held in contempt and refers to the attitude of the ruling elite towards the majority of Algerians, who find themselves deprived of the wherewithal for a dignified life, and whose destiny lies in the hands of the secretive clique of military officers controlling the country. In December 2002, the Assistant U.S. Secretary of State, William Burns said that Washington "has much to learn from Algeria on ways to fight terrorism."
Like many other leaders, Bouteflika immediately offered Alergia’s support in the U.S. "war on terror" after 11 September 2001. He hoped that the US would see Algeria’s struggle against Islamic militants as comparable to the war against al-qāʿidah. On 23 September, 2001, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush included the GSPC on a list of organisations that "commit, threaten to commit or support terrorism." Bush would receive Bouteflika in the Oval Office twice within four months. The "war on terror" wasn't to be the only thing Bush and Bouteflika discussed, as by that time U.S. oil companies had invested more than three billion dollars in Algerian oil.
Bouteflika's government launched a major diplomatic offensive early in 2003 to obtain financial and military support from Washington. At about the same time stories emerged of attacks by a group led by Amari Saifi, alias Abderrazak "El Para", a former Algerian special forces officer who was said to have gone over to the GSPC. The day before a high-level United States military delegation arrived in Algiers to discuss the resumption of arms sales to Algeria as part of the "fight against terrorism", the group said to be led by El Bara allegedly attacked a military convoy near Batna, killing 43 soldiers. On the basis of a video recording which was subsequently revealed as a forgery, the Algerian army’s secret service, the DRS, tried to persuade public opinion that El Bara was a lieutenant of Usāmah bin Muhammad bin `Awaḍ bin Lādin in charge of establishing al-qāʿidah in the Sahel region. Shortly after, the United States eased its arms embargo on Algeria and announced the sale of anti-terrorist equipment to it.
It is also alleged that between 22 February and 24 March 2003 the El Bara led "faction" (allegedly a group from within the GSPC) kidnapped 32 European tourists. The "faction" allegedly did this in order to collect ransom for the release of their hostages, but in fact while the tourists were held hostage, their mysterious kidnappers issued no communique claiming responsibility, and made no financial or political demands. The GSPC itself certainly never claimed responsibility for kidnapping the tourists. Indeed, one of the hostages openly doubted the official version of how they had been "rescued" in May 2003:
"The Salafists were well aware of what was about to happen. They marched us 20km through the desert to a predetermined location, a geographically suitable venue for our ‘liberation’. It occurred to me much later that the whole thing might have been staged by the Algerian military ... I still wonder whether there are links between the Salafists and the army."
Then in September 2003, it was reported that Hattab had been deposed as national emir of the GSPC. It was reported that he was replaced by Nabil Sahraoui (aka Sheikh Abou Ibrahim Mustapha), a 39 year-old former GIA commander. Sahraoui was subsequently reported to have pledged the GSPC's allegiance to al-qāʿidah, the international Sunni-Salafiyya Islamic movement founded in 1988 and subsequently designated a terrorist organisation by the United Nations Security Council, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, the European Union, and the governments of the United States, Australia, Canada, India, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
In March 2004, General Charles Wald, deputy commander of the U.S. European Command (Eucom), claimed that members of al-qāʿidah were trying to establish themselves in the northern part of Africa, in the Sahel and the Maghreb. He said, "They are looking for sanctuary as they did in Afghanistan when the Taliban were in power. They need a stable place in which to equip themselves, organise and recruit new members."
Abdelaziz Bouteflika was re-elected president of the Republic of Algeria in the first round of presidential elections held in April 2004. His victory was widely seen as a confirmation of Bouteflika's strengthened control over the state apparatus. Nevertheless, President George W Bush congratulated him. By October, the U.S. Department of Defense had established the Magharebia web site which is openly stated is "designed to provide an international audience with a portal to a broad range of information about the Maghreb region." That web site is now maintained by U.S. Africa Command (Africom).
During the first year of his second term, Bouteflika commenced promoting a referendum on his Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, which put at the President's discretion implementation of measures such as indemnities to victims of terrorism and their families, compensation for material damages, the future of rural militias raised by the military, the possible reintegration of those dismissed from work on political grounds, and the extent to which insurgent leaders who escaped abroad would be pardoned. In 2005 the Charter passed with 97% support and was implemented as law on 28 February 28 2006.
At about that time in early 2006 steep petroleum price rises sparked violent protests throughout the country and throughout the year demonstrations, strikes and violent protests erupted over a range of social, economic and political problems, including water, job and housing shortages, public mismanagement and corruption. There were allegations that individuals arrested after protests were tortured or ill-treated in custody. More than 400 people were killed as a result of continuing violence, including dozens of civilians.
Throughout 2006 attacks by armed groups on military targets, and to a lesser extent, civilians, continued to be reported. For example, in December 2006 it was reported that the GSPC attacked a bus transporting employees of the Brown & Root - Condor Corporation, which is linked to the U.S. construction firm Halliburton. Throughout the year dozens of people suspected of being members of armed groups were killed by the security forces and there were concerns that some of these killings may have been extrajudicial executions.
In 2007, the Groupe Salafiste pour la Predication et le Combat allegedly formally affiliated with al-qāʿidah. In the mainstream media worldwide the group was henceforth referred to as "al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb" (AQIM). A prominent role in reinforcing this revised way of referring to the group was played by organisations such as the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) and The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (TWI), founded in 1985 by Martin Indyk, a research director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) who would later be appointed U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Whilst AQIM has been listed as a terrorist organisation by the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom still list the group as the GSPC.
At the outset of this year the Algerian Ministry of Defense awarded Italian-based Selex Sistemi Integrati a contract worth 230 million euros (US$338 million), part of the so-called Runitel program, to build and deploy within 30 months a comprehensive Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I) system in the troubled southern regions of the country. Last month, Bloomberg's Daniel Williams reported that "bands of Islamist fighters, terrorist trainers and arms suppliers roaming the mountainous southern Sahara Desert are new targets in the U.S. war against al-Qaeda."
News Archive for Algeria
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Amensty International: Human Rights in Algeria
Global Peace Index Rank 2010: 116
Human Development Index: 0.748 (Rank 2008: 100)
Literacy rate: 69.9%