Sometimes oppositions cosy up with the government, if uneasily. And then something intolerable happens and they get frustrated and go on their way. Such things can get quite ugly.
Juan Linz wrote about four types of opposition in Franco’s Spain (1973).
- Semiopposition — Legal opposition parties and groups which exist as part of the regime but are not part of its leadership and have no formal post within it, which acknowledge the legitimacy of the regime. These groups criticize specific actions by the regime and look out for their partisan interests.
- Pseudo-opposition — A more radical iteration of the semiopposition which pushes for fundamental change within the regime but is willing to give up or compromises some demands in exchange for favorable treatment by the authorities.
- Alegal opposition — Opposition elements which are not illegal and do not engage in illegal activity or forms of action against the regime. These regimes are on the edge of legality and illegality and do basically oppose the regime, though the regime takes no action against them.
- Illegal opposition — Opposition elements banned by the regime and sought out for persecution, and sometimes includes members of a previous regime.
Barghoorn (1973) wrote about three forms of opposition in the Soviet system:
- Factional opposition within the party and loyal to the regime which seeks incremental change in politics and the movement of personalities within the status quo.
- Sectoral opposition which also operates within and as a part of the regime but operates in terms of interest group opposition within the regime.
- Subversive opposition works against the regime as such or to fundamentally change it and its own behavior is sometimes undermines its efforts and suffers from an inability to articulate an alternative program.
Kenney (2005) described five types of opposition to European communist regimes:
- Reform-oriented dissent within the Communist party
- Civil society
- Opposition of the church
- Nationalistic opposition
Skilling wrote about four forms of opposition in the same context (1968 and 1973):
- Integral opposition which rejects the regime and uses violence, demonstrations, underground conspiracy and mobilization of external elements. These were sometimes anti-communist factions and have their origins in alienated intellectual, youth and hostile counter and sub-cultural currents and religious groups questioning the official ideological assumptions and line.
- Factional opposition within the regime’s leadership, mainly in ideological and tactical disagreement within the dominant group.
- Fundamental opposition comes from factions within and outside the regime, especially major policy differences between party apparatchiks and state institutions (the bureaucracy, military, police, professionals, sub-divisions, etc.). The point of such opposition is sometimes not meant to implement or foment change in the regime but sometimes can grow into the elements of integral opposition.
- Specific opposition and dissent is found among and outside of parts of the regime’s ruling faction or party (the party and mass organizations). Such opposition is loyal to the regime but expresses disagreement on discreet, specific matters of regime politics.
Algeria’s fragmented and co-opted opposition parties can and have been analyzed in the context of such frameworks; Linz’s framework is used by Hamladji (2002) in her analysis of the Movement for a Society of Peace (MSP or HAMAS), whose leader, Boudjerra Soltani, warned his party might withdraw from the ruling coalition with the FLN and RND. The MSP is a religious party which has long participated in formal politics, even making a point of doing so when other parties — Islamist and secular — refused to. Historically, the MSP was less popular than most other Islamist parties in Algeria, especially the massively popular Islamic Salvation Front (or FIS, which swept the 1991 elections) and the other, smaller, non-FIS Islamist factions like Abdallah Djaballah’s En-Nahdha and Islah parties. Its power grew in the 1990s when it was one of the few Islamist parties willing to cooperate with the military government and run in elections; its first leader Mafoudh Nahnah won close to a quarter of the vote against General Liamine Zeroual in 1995’s presidential election; it was beat out slightly by En-Nahdha in the 1997 legislative elections and won slightly more in the 2002 election after En-Nahdha suffered internal defections over whether to join the Rational Democratic Rally (RND) and National Liberation Front (FLN) in a coalition government. The MSP, probably more than any other religious party in Algeria, made a concerted effort to present itself to the public and the government as a moderate, non-violent alternative to the FIS, winning it both toleration and embrace from the government. It entered a coalition with the RND and FLN in 2002 where it has remained ever since. The party has dissented from the other coalition parties on some economic and social issues but usually falls in line on parliamentary votes and big issues, such as backing Bouteflika (who nominally belongs to no party) for present in 2004 and 2009. Tensions within the party both over Soltani’s (leader since Nahnah’s death in 2003) leadership style and the party’s role as part of government and opposition have led to splits in recent years. There are MPs and party cadres who would like a more assertive line, feeling the party bows to the FLN too much one problem or the RND on another. Its MPs, when reluctant to follow orders from on high have faced intimidation from other MPs from the other big parties; a break away faction led by MSP MP Abdelmadhid Menasra formed a separate block in parliament and is looking to form his own party, the National Front for Change.
Hamladji describes the MSP’s co-optation in some detail and how its participation ultimately led to a kind of deadlock where its hopes of influencing the regime by engaging it were frustrated by its lack of a strong popular base capable of compelling change from below or pushing the incumbent elite to a cross-purposes in decision-making. Hamladji puts the MSP into Linz’s ‘semiopposition,’ and describes the semiopposition as ‘ambiguous,’ both in and out of the system making it ‘difficult for such a group to be credible as an effective opposition proposing an alternative to the authoritarian regime. While participating in the regime in power in the hope of reinforcing itself, its very cooperation by the regime discredits its oppositional stand. In other words, after having accepted to act in collusion with the incumbents and by implicitly sustaining the authoritarian regime, the pseudo-opposition unable to present itself as a credible alternative to the regime.’ (Hamladji, 2002: 15) Such parties become ‘pillars of the authoritarian regime,’ in the way the MSP has provided Bouteflika’s ruling coalition with a religious gloss, acting as a formal representation of the regime’s acceptance of moderate Islamism and in an era of reconciliation between the regime and religious elements. The MSP, with other participatory Islamist parties, helped sell and legitimize the reconciliation accords and referendums during Bouteflika’s first term.
Hamladji figures that if, as Linz argues, the very co-optation of an opposition group diminishes its ability to act as an alternative to the status quo and challenge authoritarian power begs the question of ‘why an opposition group agrees to be co-opted’. She gives two answers: (1) ‘the opposition group is of an opportunist character, that is more interested in the limited and short-term advantages of state functions’ than challenging the regime; or (2) ‘weakness leads the group to choose collaboration instead of costly illegal opposition.’ (16) Hamladji describes the MSP’s relative weakness on the Algerian opposition and Islamist scenes, its poor electoral performance and limited mass following. The party’s ‘weakness and over-valuation’ are the conditions for the MSP’s co-optation. In the 1991 elections the MSP’s returns ‘were particularly poor, while its Islamist rival, the FIS, gathered an overwhelming majority of votes.’ The party engaged the regime and politics from this position of weakness both at the time of the 1991/1992 coup d’etat and through the Civil War that followed. Hamladji wrote that the MSP did not release data on its number of followers at the time of writing, but that ‘the party ‘has never organized a peaceful street demonstration as many other political parties have done in Algeria,’ which includes the ruling FLN and other Islamist and secular parties, even as the emergency law in force from 1992 till 2011 banned demonstrations. She cites an interview with an MSP cadre who claims the party organizes meetings in halls across Algeria which are often full (200-300 people) but Hamladji is skeptical and writes the MSP’s ‘mobilizational capacity [. . .] is either weak or well hidden.’
Hamladji stakes out that incumbent regimes — based on the Algerian experience — do not ‘co-opt and share power with strong opposition groups that threaten their power. Rather they repress threatening groups while at the same time co-opting their weak competitors.’ Co-optation, she writes, comes with over-valuation, ‘which aims at giving the illusion that this groups is strong in the sense that electors and a relatively high number of militants support it. In this way, incumbents can pretend to have made a concession to the opposition and even to share power with it, in the hope that this will temper popular support for opposition groups.’ (17) The Algerian regime harshly repressed the Islamist FIS while embracing its smaller, less popular Islamist rivals. Hamladji concedes that parties like the MSP, En-Nahdha and then Islah might have picked up some of the FIS’s electoral base in the years after the 1991 elections but writes that it having gained popular support in the same interval is ‘unlikely,’ and that such parties are ‘probably discredited in the eyes of the public opinion’ for a ‘wishy-washy opposition discourse’ and participation in government (18). This line can probably be expanded to other, generally small, opposition parties in Algeria which have won seats in parliamentary elections since 1991 — the Trotskyist Workers Party (PT), the secularist and heavily Kabyle Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), the ‘Novembriste’ Algerian National Front (FNA) and so on. None of these elections have been as free as the 1991 elections and all of these parties (except for those formed in the last decade) performed as well in 1991 as they did in the years after the crushing of the FIS. These parties often rely on narrow followings, often in their leaders’ home regions or in big cities and are usually led by a single, charismatic leader (which has historically been the case with most Algerian political parties, including Hocine Ait Ahmed’s Front of Social Forces (FFS) which did relatively well in 1991, for example). These parties have been major beneficiaries of the government’s ban on the FIS and its campaign against that party’s followers, which some MSP MPs have been open about in interviews. They have relatively limited links to civil society and in the last decade have grown more and more estranged from student movements and labor. The RCD and FFS both suffered heavily for their response to the youth uprisings in 2001, which began in Kabylia where both have their core constituencies, in particular when the Kabyle protest movement was able to push concessions out of the government. Some of their younger members left their parties for the youth-driven aarachs and coordinations in Kabylia, who sometimes attacked their party offices and prevented their members from voting in some cases (Werenfels, 2007: 72-74). The PT benefits from the fact that the (leftist) FFS has boycotted parliamentary elections since 2002, capturing some of the sympathies of left-wingers who might otherwise vote for the socialist FFS. The RCD benefits from this same phenomenon in that it does not have to compete with the FFS in constituencies where they historically overlap. The PT has gained seats in every election since 1997 partly as a result of this and because of shifts from leftists in the FLN to the party. These small parties, which historically had relatively weak popular bases, have gained the powers and benefits of incumbency by participating in the political process (as well as personal benefits, including land, business deals and so on for themselves and their families). With each election they increase their value to their base and become more appealing to other voters by increasing their ability to distribute rent and protect interests. Even the parties which most actively criticize and discourage such practices engage in them, and few are under an illusion that Algeria’s political economy does not operate on a rentier basis (Hachemoui, 2009). Those who participate in Algerian elections often do so on communal and corporate lines, tribes mobilized for the FLN or the RND in the Saharan and mountain provinces, the members of important mass organizations like the UGTA and UNPA and members the zaouias. The bulk of the electorate boycotts or simply does not bother to vote.
The popular mandate of the parliament or of specific parties is thus somewhat suspect; the legitimacy of the system and its participants is thus constantly a problem for the incumbents. The regime’s internal and external legitimacy is derived at least in part from parties’ participation in elections and governing institutions. While Algeria’s semi and pseudo-opposition political parties and civil society groups often question the fairness of elections and even call for the dissolution of parliament or a managed transition to a new government without President Bouteflika led by civilians and the military (sometimes and other times or, depending on the person) none of these groups has the agency to implement its objectives and so the result of their activity is usually the same, though they can claim incremental victories on specific agenda items or can point to their efforts on such matters even if they fail to produce the desired outcome. For such small parties the opportunity to is too great to pass up. But after years of effort without significant change, what use is participation? The MSP’s withdrawal from the ruling coalition would force the FLN and RND to find a new partner; no other party in parliament has the numbers to replace the MSP as yet and according to El Khabar‘s report the party may being hoping to capitalize from the gains of other Islamist parties in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt, ginning up support for its agenda in next springs parliamentary election. The party probably sees itself gaining from leaving the coalition, both in credibility by going into open opposition (which the party’s cadres and MPs have complained they have been unable to do for years; in numerous interviews their MPs and activists complain about a lack of appreciation from coalition partners) and by putting pressure on its partners in hopes of gaining concessions. This would give the party room to negotiate with the two dominant parties and its threat of leaving the coalition would remind them of the party’s role as an intermediary with religious tendencies inside Algeria and potentially in neighboring countries (which it occasionally flexes with other branches of the Brotherhood, in Mauritania and with elements in the Gulf). At this stage, twenty years out from Algeria’s first free elections, one is eager to see what impact recent uprisings and elections will have on Algeria’s 2012 parliamentary elections in the conduct of Islamist campaigners and their performance and the conduct of the regime as it manages them — and how these maneuverings impress or fail to impress Algerians.
- Barghoorn, Frederick C. ‘Factional, Sectoral, and Subversive Opposition in Soviet Politics,’ in Regimes and Oppositions, by Robert Dahl (ed.). Yale University Press. 1973.
- Hachemaoui, Mohamed. ‘Le leadership de Bouteflika s’appuie sur l’Etat rentier,’ El Watan, 2 May, 2009.
- Hamladji, Noura. “Co-optation, Repression and Authoritarian Regimes’ Survival: The Case of the MSP-Hamas in Algeria,” European University Institute Working Paper SPS 7, 2002.
- Kenney, Padraic. A Carnival of Revolution: Central Europe 1989. Princeton University Press.
- Linz, Juan. ‘Opposition to and under an Authoritarian Regime: The Case of Spain,’ in Regimes and Oppositions, by Robert Dahl (ed.). Yale University Press. 1973.
- Skilling, H. Gordon. ‘Background to he Study of Opposition in Communist Eastern Europe,’ Government and Opposition, Vol. 3, Issue 3 (July 1968).
- Skilling, H. Gordon. ‘Opposition in Communist East Europe,’ in Regimes and Oppositions, by Robert Dahl (ed.). Yale University Press. 1973.
- Werenfels, Isabelle. Managing Instability in Algeria: Elites and Political Change since 1995. Routeledge. 2007.