Party Hopping in Algeria

Former presidential candidate in Algeria and radical IslamistAbdallah Djaballah is set to create a new political party, Algeria’s national radio said on Saturday.

Djaballah announced on Friday the imminent creation of “national body” which would later form a party, to be baptised the Justice and Development Front.

The new party would base itself on “the culture of mutual aid and social justice” said Djaballah, who was beaten in presidential elections in 1999 and 2004 by current President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

He has already been at the helm of the Ennahda (Renaissance) Movement, which he formed in the early 1990s, and the National Reform Movement (MRN), both Islamist parties that he left after internal disagreements.

There was “no official response so far” to his application but the latest declarations from Algeria’s Interior Minister Daho Ould Kabila were “encouraging”, he said.

At the end of this month, Algeria’s parliament is set to vote in a new law that would facilitate the creation of parties, one of a number of political and constitutional reforms President Abelaziz Bouteflika has promised before the end of January to strengthen democracy in Algeria.

Controversially though the law would ban ex-Islamic Salvation Front members — whose electoral success in 1991 led to civil war — from forming a party.

Dozens of potential new parties are awaiting authorisation to form once the law is approved.

Islamist parties, such as Tunisia’s Ennahda which won a majority of seats in an October 23 election to form a new constituent assembly, have been winning more influence across North Africa since the “Arab Spring” revolutions.

Algeria radical Islamist to create new party,’ AFP, 26 November, 2011.

En-Nahdah’s electoral victory in Tunisia and the recent success of Morocco’s PJD seems to be renewing interest in Algeria’s Islamist tendencies. Of course the Algerian context makes such comparisons rather difficult: not least because these elections took place in the wake of uprisings or in response protest movements (and after reform platforms were introduced). Algeria’s reforms look likely to be limited in scope and have not come in response to mass protests or a popular uprising or revolution; instead the government’s planned reforms appear to be a response to intra-elite pressures (and from specific strands within the elite, such as those arguing for a managed transition or the dissolution of the parliament/the participatory opposition both Islamist and reformist ‘democrats’) and anxiety over the potential for protest movements. The 2012 legislative election will probably be managed as in previous years though one should pay attention to party and electoral law reforms and in the population of FLN/RND party lists and the participation/performance of specific opposition parties which usually point to what the official agenda and narrative will be as far as reform and ‘inclusion’ are concerned (i.e., how do the Islamist parties perform and which are allowed/decide to participate? How does the PT gain seats? Does the RCD or FFS participate and if they do where do they get or keep seats? What kind of people are put on the FLN/RND lists and how many of their MPs get to run again and get reelected? How old are all of these people, and so and so forth). The level of popular participation, which is usually quite low, is another thing to watch — do the people continue to basically boycott elections? These things may help gauge the impact of the Arab uprisings on Algeria’s internal politics at the formal level. Informally, one should watch the independent unions’ activities and what kind of concessions and consultations they get from the government over the next few months as well as the frequency of strikes, sit-ins and similar demonstrations as well as the number of and concentration of youth rioting in the cities relative to the interior towns and the regime response to such things. There has been a lot of party hopping in the smaller parties, leaders moving from one party to another after falling out with their internal rivals for personal reasons or (as is sometimes speculated) as a result of regime pressure of some kind; in other cases (such as left wing elements in the FLN jumping ship to the Trotskyist Workers Party (PT) there are ideological motivations. But it afflicts both secular and religious parties and establishment and opposition/small parties. Some characters have been serial party founders and exiles.

Anyway, what about this ‘radical’ (that label is probably a bit of a stretch) called Abdallah Djaballah? Some randomized thoughts and background (some of this may need correction since this is just a thought/data dump). Djaballah has headed up the most right wing and socio-religiously conservative of Algeria’s legal and participatory Islamist parties. He ran for president in 1999 (he dropped out with the other non-Bouteflika candidates) and 2004 (when he won just under 5% of the vote). His party Ennahdah (unrelated to Tunisia’s) won 34 seats in the 1997 parliamentary election; in 1998/9 Djaballah was forced out of the party by a faction of the party’s MPs (led by Labib Adami who was related to a prominent minister and the campaign against him may have been successful at that stage because of this) who favored a closer alliance with the establishment RND.  He then founded a new party, Islah (or MRN) and Ennahdah lost all but one of its parliamentary seats in 2002, probably because the party had relied on Djaballah’s charismatic authority which was transfered to Islah (Islah won 43 seats in 2002). In 2007, Djaballah was ousted from Islah by Djahid Younsi, the party’s current leader. The party won only 3 seats in the 2007 legislative elections; Younsi ran for president in 2009 and won slightly more than 1% of the vote. Djaballah has run into trouble in these parties partly because he has a stronger tendency to dissent from the government line and was less keen to fully embrace cooperation with the FNL/RND than factions within his parties and with the broader legal Islamist tendency. These parties — Ennahdah, Islah, Ikwani Movement for a Society of Peace and the smaller religious parties in parliament — were tolerated by the regime as a means of co-opting elements of the Islamist elite (both reformists and parts of the former FIS) and popular constituency. These parties did not join with the FIS in the early 1990s for ideological or regional/personalistic reasons. They were less threatening to the government because they eschewed violence, were more moderate/limited in their social and political vision and had overlap with evolving views of economic policy than the more radical Islamist strand in the FIS. Because their popular constituencies were more limited they could be controlled and manipulated with relative ease. They also served to give the new electoral regime symbolic legitimacy because the system generally and actively excluded the former FIS but not Islamists per se (though legally parties based on ethnicity, religion, regionalism, etc. were officially banned a range of parties based on these forms of identity were tolerated). The post-civil war ruling coalition was dominated by the FLN, RND (the decedents of the parti unique) and needed to reflect the government’s reconciliation strategy to help appease Islamist elements; the participatory Islamist parties filled this role in parliament and the MSP did this at the highest level by joining the ruling coalition. Djaballah’s parties, like the other Islamist parties, embraced and helped sell the government reconciliation program in the early 2000s and helped act as outlets for the socialization and co-optation of some parts of the former FIS electoral base. Something notable is that Djaballah’s party and the other participatory Islamist ones have usually been more openly ‘democratic’ in that they were willing to tolerate the inclusion of all the political tendencies in the country where as some of the parties that identified themselves as ‘democratic’ parties were not willing to cooperate or countenance Islamist parties being included in government or politics; some of these (usually small parties) even boycotted elections because Islamist parties were allowed to run candidates (and/or when they perhaps feared they would be out performed by them).

Abdallah Djaballah was usually more socially conservative than any of the conservative tendencies in the FLN (which are often quite so) or the other religious parties and vocally opposed alterations to Algeria’s Family Code. His platforms and positions sometimes looked very much like the old FIS’s but he was allowed to stand in elections, in contrast to Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi’s Wafa party which was banned for allegedly serving as a means to reconstitute the FIS (which could be interpreted as the powers that be fearing Ibrahimi more than Djaballah and that it did not want to allow a party so closely associated with the FIS to have a way back into politics; later developments in Djaballah’s career might be seen in a similar light re: the authorities’ perceptions in combination with other personal and ideological dynamics). He is one of several religious or Arab nationalist politicians who refuse to speak French publicly as a matter of principle. Djaballah’s differences with members within his party were usually not ideological but tactical and strategic, such as when or whether to support particular government measures in parliament or whether to support the establishment parties in government. His marginalization is in some ways similar to the MSP’s Boudjerra Soltani’s in the last few years but more extreme; both have suffered from the fact that the participatory Islamists have justified their role in official politics by arguing that it would give the religious tendency a viable means of pursing its ends peacefully and effectively but the reality that their participation in parliament and government has actually strengthened the regime far more than it has the actual power of religious movements and parties in or over the government. Whether religious parties should continue to participate in government comes up whenever members of parliament or the party cadres evaluate their achievements during a given term. This dynamic has been a source of debate and fragmentation within all the sizable participatory Islamist parties in Algeria. Whether the party has been too cooperative with the FLN and RND and not contested their positions and policies on issues of particular interest to the religious trend or whether its leaders have been too authoritarian within the party and so on have led to near breakups and breakups of many parties. Competition between Islamist parties usually comes about when one forms out of the other rather than in pitched camps since many of the distinct parties compete in different regions and thus do not have a constant incentive to struggle with one another in elections (they have to compete with the FLN/RND and other small regional parties) as much as over initiatives or roles in parliament (this is often true of opposition parties in general, which are usually built around strong personalities and have geographically constrained bases; spats between Islamists sometimes break out in presidential elections, one or the other candidate saying another is not Islamic-enough or whatever; but the focus is usually on the incumbent for obvious reasons). Amel Boubakeur has outlined how the participatory strategy (moushtarakiya) has empowered the Algerian regime over participatory and non-participatory Islamists (see here; also see this article on another topic on the religious trend generally). An important result of the last decade’s political framework has been that large parts of what would otherwise be the mass constituency for Islamist parties have become disillusioned with formal politics and become attracted to non-political religious tendencies such as (as Boubekeur writes) da’awa Salafism or to religious brotherhoods which discourage followers from looking to politics (though the brotherhoods are sometimes used as indirect means of mass mobilization for the FLN or the president) for solutions to their problems and are usually not usually hostile to the status quo. In any case the formation of yet another Islamist party with intentions to participate in politics is interesting and reflects some continuities in the Bouteflika era and how charismatic leaders can attempt comebacks after strife within their own parties and under pressure from other elites.

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5 thoughts on “Party Hopping in Algeria”

  1. First a small detail: Technically I am not sure one can say that Taleb Ibrahimi’s Wafa has been “banned” since it never (to my knowledge) came into legal existence. Another subtext to this repositioning of the parties in preparation of the legislative elections is the ongoing battle within the FLN. At the latest count there are 3 separate tendencies within the party: Belkhadem’s, Goudjil’s and Saadi’s Harakat Essahwa http://bit.ly/w0klUz . Not sure where this is going to lead though.

    1. Will check on Wafa’s status. I was always under the impression that Wafa was either not allowed to register or that it never made the formal steps to become an official party because it was known it would not be recognized.

      Thanks for pointing to the FLN’s internal crisis. The internal conflict in the FLN has been on going for over a year; fights at congresses and conventions between factions and so on. I think it may be healthy for the FLN to have these various struggles. The generational and interest conflicts are boiling and I think the party will have to reconcile these in some way if it is to survive and continue to serve it traditional political role, whatever one thinks of that.

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