The Civil Concord: A Peace Initiative Wasted (Original Version in French)
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The civil war between the Algerian army and Islamist guerrillas, sparked by the refusal of the military to recognise the electoral victory of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in 1991, is not over. The Civil Concord Law, proposed by President Bouteflika in April 1999, approved by referendum in September the same year, and supported by the leaders of the FIS, has failed to convince the majority of the guerrillas to give up their arms and seek peace. No lasting political solution to this Islamist-military conflict has been found and the crisis threatens to spread to other parts of the community.
The Civil Concord law did create a genuine dynamic for peace in 1999. At first, the leaders of the FIS gave their public support to the President’s initiative, in exchange for certain promises by the military regime, notably the release of prisoners and the possibility of creating a new political party in accordance with the 1996 constitution. But in November 1999, Abdelkader Hachani, number three in the FIS leadership, was assassinated and two other FIS leaders were put under house arrest. To date the regime continues to refuse to legalise the Wafa party, regarded as the political heir to the FIS.
Despite their military superiority and the evolution of the Islamist position, Algeria’s rulers have not altered their security strategy and continue to regard the Islamists more as defeated enemies than political interlocutors. For the regime, however, the rehabilitation of a popular Islamist party would be the best strategy for combating the radicalism of armed groups such as the GIA (Armed Islamic Group) and the GSPC (Groupe salafiste pour la prédication et le combat), while also regaining a little legitimacy by playing the democratic game. If it did so, the last of the armed Islamist groups would likely progressively lose support from the ex-FIS electorate and could be gradually alienated with the possibility, like the Shining Path Movement in Peru, head towards self-destruction. In exchange for the regime’s acceptance of the Islamists’ return to the political scene, the leaders of the ex-FIS would have to engage in public debate, playing by democratic rules.
There are few options for the international community to pressure the Algerian government to accept the political liberalisation needed to bring peace to the country. Comfortably supported by oil industry income, the elite leadership is almost impervious to economic or political pressure. Fiercely protective of their sovereignty, they reject any external interference in their affairs. Moreover, international institutions have stated that Algeria’s recent economic performance corresponds surprisingly well to their financial criteria.
Yet the political, economic and social crisis is omnipresent, and the status quo cannot continue. Long defined as an “Islamist-military” problem, the violence now threatens to take other forms. The recent riots in Kabylia (Berber dominated area) show that there is a risk of resurgence of ethnic conflict which could exacerbate the socio-economic turmoil, and which could in turn lead to regional instability. In this context, it is clear that the security rhetoric of anti-Islamist repression by the army cannot function, and popular dissatisfaction with the inability of the regime to face its other political, economic and social responsibilities will do nothing but improve conditions for the armed groups. If the problems posed by the armed Islamist groups cannot be solved soon with courageous political choices by both sides, the “sub-conflicts” stemming from the apparent lack of political prospects will be even more difficult to resolve.
The international community must abandon the illusion that an authoritarian regime can, successfully, respond to the desire for change expressed by the population, with repression. A lasting solution to the crisis must be found urgently. Algeria is a social and economic time-bomb, capable of generating huge waves of migration and regional destabilisation. RECOMMENDATIONS
TO THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES
1. When President Bouteflika visits Washington on 12 and 13 July 2001, strongly encourage him to liberalise political activity and improve respect for human rights, and in particular to legalise the Wafa party. Such encouragement should not be made hostage to the desire to achieve Algerian diplomatic and security cooperation on Western Sahara and Middle East peace process issues.
2. Create training programs for young Algerian Army officers.
TO THE EUROPEAN UNION
3. Make a declaration denouncing and unambiguously condemning the recent violations of human rights committed by the Algerian security forces, mainly in Kabylia, since April 2001.
4. Put pressure on Algeria as a signatory to the Barcelona Charter to continue the negotiations and conclude a partnership accord based on the Charter. Through the accord, put pressure on the Algerian government to establish clear laws and commercial practices to create greater economic transparency.
5. Support a meeting of political actors to restart the Sant’Egidio dialogue interrupted in 1995.
6. Invite members of the Algerian democratic opposition to the West and give them the opportunity to express their views publicly.
7. Support the inclusion of the case of Algeria at the next session of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
8. Encourage national jurisdictions to use or extend their powers to prosecute serious violations of human rights committed in Algeria, and accelerate procedures for laying complaints.
TO THE ALGERIAN LEADERSHIP
9. Accept the return of the Islamists to the political scene
(a) Recognise the Wafa party of Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi, which was banned without legal grounds by the Minister of the Interior. This party would enable the regrouping of all the Islamist factions within a framework of subject to constitutional rules.
(b) Release Abassi Madani and Ali Benhadj and ask them to launch a national appeal for a cease-fire of all armed Islamists who haven’t yet handed in their weapons.
(c) Initiate a public and transparent national dialogue to establish a timetable for new municipal, legislative and presidential elections.
10. Establish a political party to represent the interests of the army.
11. Establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission with the participation of all political and social actors. This commission must be guaranteed total independence as well as the ability to publicly identify guilty parties. Also, its mandate must permit it to compel all protagonists to give evidence.
TO THE ISLAMIST MOVEMENTS
12. Respond to calls for a cease-fire and respect for democratic rules, in exchange for the recognition of the Wafa party by the regime.
Brussels, 9 July 2001