Radical Islam in the Maghreb

Carlos Echeverría Jesús

The development of a radical Islamist movement has been a major featureof Algerian political life since the mid-1970s, especially after the death of PresidentHouari Boumediène, the Republic’s first president, in December 1978.1 Boumediènehad adopted a policy of Arabization that included phasing out the French language.French professors were replaced by Arabic speakers from Egypt, Lebanon, andSyria, many of them members of the Muslim Brotherhood.The troubles began in 1985, when the Mouvement islamique algérien (MIA),founded to protest the single-party socialist regime, began attacking police stations.Escalating tensions amid declining oil prices culminated in the Semoule revolt inOctober 1988. More than 500 people were killed in the streets of Algiers in thatrevolt, and the government was finally forced to undertake reforms. In 1989 itlegalized political parties, including the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), and over thenext two years the Islamists were able to impose their will in many parts of thecountry, targeting symbols of Western “corruption” such as satellite TV dishes thatbrought in European channels, alcohol, and women who didn’t wear the hiyab (theIslam veil). FIS victories in the June 1990 municipal elections and in the first roundof the parliamentary elections held in December 1991 generated fears of animpending Islamist dictatorship and led to a preemptive interruption of the electoralprocess in January 1992. The next year saw an increase in the violence that hadbegun in 1991 with the FIS’s rhetoric in support of Saddam Hussein in the GulfWar, the growing presence of Algerian “Afghans”—Algerian volunteer fightersreturning from the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan—and the November 1991massacre of border guards at Guemmar, on the border between Algeria andTunisia.2Until mid-1993, victims of MIA, Islamic Salvation Army–AIS (the FIS’sarmed wing), and Islamic Armed Group (GIA) violence were mostly policemen,soldiers, and terrorists. Later that year the violence expanded to claim both foreignand Algerian civilians. In September 1993, the bodies of seven foreigners werefound in various locations around the country.3 Dozens of judges, doctors,intellectuals, and journalists were also murdered that year. In October 1993 Islamistsvowed to kill any foreigner remaining in Algeria after December 1; more than 4,000foreigners left in November 1993.

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