By Ademe Amine and Nazim Fethi
With legislative elections to be held as early as April in Algeria, supporters of former radical Islamist party the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) are being courted for their votes.
The wind of Arab revolt, which has carried Islamist movements to power, has led Algerian Islamists – even those allied with the government – to put aside their reticence and seek greater participation in politics.
On December 28th, former FIS leader Abassi Madani and his deputy Ali Belhadj issued a joint declaration pledging to turn to international courts to protest a new law that forbids the FIS from returning to politics.
In the 14-point memorandum, the two expressed their view that the new law “bans a sector of the population from exercising their political and civil rights on the basis of a number of false accusations concocted by the janvieristes”. This is a reference to the military chiefs who decided in January 1992 to suspend the electoral process and, according to the FIS, to deprive their party of certain victory in the legislative elections.
The memorandum’s signatories feel the new law on political parties is contrary to the Algerian constitution and the international agreements which Algeria has ratified. Whilst stating that they would not “keep quiet” and that they would use all legal means to return to the political scene, the leaders of the former FIS also warned against “unfortunate consequences” which could arise from the new law on the parties.
Algerian political parties have all begun preliminary campaigning for the legislative elections in April. Central to this early campaigning is a battle being waged by the majority party and Islamist parties to win over the radical voters who mobilised to great effect in December 1991.
Long-time Algerian Islamist Abdellah Djaballah, whose Justice and Development Front (FJD) is awaiting official approval, said in a December 6th interview with Tout sur l’Algérie that he welcomed support from former FIS members, “provided that they enjoy their full political rights and fit in with the party’s plans”.
He is not alone; Abdelaziz Belkhadem of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) also staked a claim on the Islamist voting bloc.
“They will be welcome in the FLN,” the veteran politician told L’Expression on December 20th. “The Islamic Salvation Front was an approved party and was dissolved; its officials are banned from engaging in politics, as set out by the law, but its supporters can be found everywhere in the RND and the MSP, so why not the FLN?”
Despite the important role many are anticipating Islamist politics to play in the April vote, Belkhadem ruled out any possibility of a “tidal wave” of Islamists in the forthcoming legislative elections. “The Islamist trend will not achieve more than 35% in the next elections,” he predicted.
Other parties have sought strength in numbers too. The Ennahda movement has said it would welcome activists from the former FIS. “Our party is open to all children of the Algerian people who are motivated by good will, without exception,” said general secretary Fateh Rebai at a December 28th press conference in Algiers.
In an attempt to broaden their appeal, Ennahda joined forces with the moderate Islamist Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) and National Change Front (FCN), which is seeking official approval, to call for an Islamist alliance.
Ali Belhadj said that FIS supporters might not be so likely to join up with current parties.
“These political groups have dropped their own plans to work on those of the President,” he said. “People are not going to vote for parties which have been involved in the government and are caught up in corruption.”