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The Algerian Civil War 1992-2002

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Chris Thorman

POLA 293-04

Research Paper

April 7, 2003

"Thus, what motivates men to slay the enemy is anger," Sun Tzu says in The Art of War. The conflict between Algerian Islamic fundamentalists and the Algerian military backed government is rooted in anger. The conflict, which began as skirmishes between government forces and Islamic fundamentalists, has taken on the proportions of a civil war as fundamentalists carried out kidnappings, assassinations and other forms of civil disturbance. The government has tried pacifying the Muslims by including Islamic leaders in the government, but extreme violence committed by both parties in the conflict has made a peaceful solution difficult to achieve. This violence has claimed the lives of an estimated 100,000 people in the years between 1990 and 2002.

The Roots of Anger

The clash between the fundamentalists and the military government stems from Algeria's experimentation with political liberalization. The attempt to create more points of view and more political parties in the government has backfired horrendously. The violence of modern day Algeria stems from the failure of mild democratization in the North African country.

Following nomination by the National Liberation Front (FLN) party, Chadli Bendjedid was elected President in 1979 and re-elected in 1984 and 1988. The National Liberation Front ruled as a virtual one-party regime until the political system was reformed in 1989. Antigovernment sentiment stemming from corruption, housing shortages, unemployment, and other severe economic and social problems boosted the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) despite the party's quite public commitment to theocratic rule under Islamic law. This seemingly innocuous act was actually quite revolutionary. For the first time, an Arab country had authorized the creation of a political party that had made the creation of an Islamic republic its main goal .

A new constitution was adopted in 1989 that allowed the formation of political parties other than the FLN. It also removed the armed forces, which had run the government since the days of the 1980s, from a designated role in the operation of the government. Between 1989 and 1990, forty-four new political parties emerged, many with distinct social agendas. These agendas included human rights, independent women organizations and other cultural movements . Among the scores of parties that sprang up under the new constitution, the militant Islamic Salvation Front was the most successful, winning more than 50% of all votes cast in elections in 1990 as well as in the first stage of national elections held in December 1991.

Faced with the real possibility of a huge FIS victory, the government canceled the second stage of elections in January 1992. This action led to a violent reaction on the part of the Islamists. The rise of the FIS was no chance occurrence. Since the 1967 Arab Israeli war, Islam had been quickly on the rise . Many young people were looking for some identity, something they could cling tightly too as a national identity. Henri Sanson said in 1983 that Algerians want "to have Islam as the transcendent norm or even as a principle of membership, of reference, of justification, of finality on the one hand, and, on the other, secularity as a practical norm or even a principle of action." The huge percentage "win" of the FIS could also be attributed to other factors as well. Many other political parties abstained from the 1991 election. Thus, leaving the FIS as an outlet for these voters. The rise of the FIS struck a naked chord in Algerian society. Many citizens longed for order and a relief from corruption in the government. Also, citizens clung to the new order of daily life that they foresaw under an Islam regime. A delivery boy said this: "After 1988, the country was magnificent, I assure you; you could go out, nobody would make trouble for you, nothing like that. With the FIS, I assure you, nobody dared to steal any more or get in a fight- nothing ." For this common man in Algeria, the FIS preached what he wanted to hear. Along with this, the Gulf War also fueled Islam not only in Algeria but also throughout the Middle East. The FIS Islamists called for a halt to the Iraqi invasion but also for the removal of "unbelievers" from Saudi Arabia. The Gulf War further solidified fundamentalists' anti-Western attitude and brought this controversy to the international arena.

The cancellation of the seemingly FIS dominated election by the army in early 1992 led to widespread disagreement. A State High Commission was formed immediately following the cancellation of the election. This commission instituted a state of emergency throughout the whole of Algeria. The army put Mohamed Boudiaf in power, who immediately banned the FIS in March and then attacked the FLN. As one could imagine, Boudiaf rattled too many people and was assassinated on June 29 of that same year . This event closed the period of free elections in Algeria and opened up a more chaotic and deadly period that would last into the next century.

Random Violence Becomes the Norm

On August 26, 1992 Algerian fundamentalists began a new war against their militarily backed governmental opponents. In an Algerian airport, a bomb attack attributed to Islamic fundamentalists, killed ten civilians and wounded many others. For the first time since their colonial independence from France in 1962, nameless terrorism had struck random members of the Algerian society. Between February 1992 and September 1992, at least four hundred governmental security workers were killed . The violence began quickly and increased extremely fast as well. A review of some of the violence that occurred between only March and August of 1993 include: the murder of three of Algeria's intellectual elite, an ambush where forty-nine soldiers were killed, seven Islamists murdered in July, fires of terrorist origin destroyed nearly 75,000 acres of forest, along with schools and other governmental buildings. The scope of Algerian violence in this period alone is horrific.

In 1994, violence established itself as the premiere form of interaction between the government and radicals. Between February 1992 and December 1994, approximately 30,000 people had been killed. The number of people killed everyday in 1994 was estimated between forty and sixty .

An interesting fact about the radical violence after 1992 was that much of it was focused on not only random targets but on Algeria's cultural elite as well. Authors, attorneys,

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