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...
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