Algerian Islamist parties unite for election

Algerian Islamist parties unite for election

Three of Algeria's officially sanctioned Islamist parties have announced an alliance ahead of the North African country's legislative elections in May, Al Jazeera reported.

The Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP), Ennahdha, which is linked to the Tunisian party of the same name, and the El Islah movement, announced in a statement they would "campaign together and present a joint platform".

The self-titled Green Algeria Alliance, made up of the MSP, Ennahda, and the El Islah (Reform) movement, said in a statement on Wednesday they would "campaign together and present a joint platform".

Two other Islamist parties, recently licenced by the government, the Front for Justice and Liberty and the Movement for Change, have refused to join the alliance.

The year 2012 marks not only the 50th anniversary of Algerian independence from French colonial rule, but also of rule by a single party, the National Liberation Front (FLN).

With the rise of political Islam in neighbouring Tunisia and Libya, following uprisings, and in Morocco, following political reforms, the Algerian regime has introduced reforms of its own and indicated it might be willing to allow more space to some opposition parties.

Political ban

Algeria experienced an early pre-cursor to the so-called Arab Spring two decades ago.

After Algeria's October 1988 protest movement, which preceded similar uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia by more than 20 years, the political monopoly of the ruling oligarchy appeared to be on the wane, as the reformers within the regime set the country on the path of political pluralism.

This all came to a halt with the coup d'etat of 1992. The Algerian army intervened to prevent what would have been the second round of the country's first election to prevent the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) from almost certain victory.

The country spiraled on the path toward civil war, and the establishment moved to "eradicate" the menace of political Islam. Civilians who supported the FIS quickly came to be seen as legitimate targets in the murky civil war that was unleashed. Intellectuals became targets for both the intelligence services and ultra-conservative supporters of political Islam.

Subsequent elections have been viewed as pointless by opposition groups and non-governmental organisations, who argue that the real power lies with the military. Parties that participate in the government, including the MSP, which only quit the governing alliance in January, are seen as part of the system.

Provisional leader

The FIS remains technically barred from politics, and in the months leading up to the vote on May 10, there has been a crackdown on its leaders, past and present.

Ali Belhadj, the founding second-in-charge of the FIS, was arrested near Béjaïa as he toured villages in the Kabylia region in early February, Algerian media reported.

Mourad Dhina, an Algerian who lives in exile in Switzerland, was arrested in Paris on January 16, as he was about to board the plane back to Geneva. Dhina, who had briefly acted as the provisional FIS leader until he quit the movement in 2004, had been in Paris for an important meeting launch a new political party.

He is being held by the French authorities following an extradition request from the Algerians, who accuse Dhina of belonging to a terrorist cell in Switzerland. The Swiss authorities consider the allegations as being politically-motivated, and have always refused similar requests from the Algerians.

"There is no proof behind their allegations. They're inventing lies because he's an opponent of their regime and a human rights activist," Ratiba, his wife, told Al Jazeera.

Dhina is executive director of Al Karama for Human Rights, a human rights organisation. He is also a co-founder of Rachad, an opposition organisation bringing together opponents of the regime living in exile who want to bring about "non-violent comprehensive change" in Algeria.

His colleague in Rachad, Abbas Aroua, said the reason for Dhina's arrest in France is because he has refused to compromise with the regime.

"The divide now is whether you are for freedom, the sovereignty of the people, or you are supporting a political or military regime who is imposing a dictatorship," he said.

New approach

Aside from the FLN, the Islamist alliance's main competition in the May elections will most likely come from a longstanding centre-left opposition party.

The Socialist Forces Front (FFS), Algeria's oldest opposition party, will be running in the election. The party, which boycotted the 2002 and 2007 parliamentary elections and the 2009 presidential election on the grounds that they were unfair, announced on Friday that it would change its position.

Hocine Aït Ahmed, who founded the party in 1963 and lives in exile in Switzerland, said in a statement to the National Council of the FFS that the party would participate in the elections in an attempt to bring some kind of political change, at both the local and the national level.

"Behind the war on terrorism [Algeria's decade-long civil war in the 1990s] and behind the alibi of economic neo-liberalism, the country has been taken back several countries," Ait Ahmed wrote, condemning state violence.

Ait Ahmed, considered by historians to be one of the chief architects of the military and political strategy waged by the National Liberation Front (FLN) against French colonial rule, said:

"Islamic fundamentalism and anti-Islamic fundamentalism have fought against the irrepressible pluralism of our country. They have - both - contributed to aggravating the damage caused by authoritarianism and intolerance of single party rule."

The party acknowledges that it is likely to suffer from the Islamists' predicted popularity at the polls, combined with an anticipated low turnout from a population that feels disenfranchised by the political class.

Another secular opposition party, the Rally Culture and Democracy, announced in February that it would boycott the election.

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