18 Pages

The Islamic Challenge in North Africa Bruce Maddy-Weitzman

Algeria's sudden, wholesale embrace of a western-style program of political liberalization during 1989-91 was unprecedented in the Arab world. It included the unqualified legalization of explicitly Islamic political parties. No other Arab regime had dared to make such a move and the consequence was far-reaching: the implosion of the Algerian polity. Algeria became a place that conformed, ironically, with Moroccan sociologist Fatima Mernissi's linguistic-cultural definition of the gharb (West): a place where 'all terrors are possible'.1 Sweeping victories by the newly-founded Front Islamique du Salut (FIS), initially in municipal and then in the first round of parliamentary elections, triggered a military coup d'etat in January 1992. The maneuver included the deposition of President Chedli Benjedid, the cancellation of the electoral process prior to the second round of parliamentary elections, the arrest of thousands of Islamist activists and the state's descent into chaos. Brutal warfare between the Algerian military and armed Islamist groups has taken between 20,000 and 40,000 lives and rent asunder the already tattered fabric of Algerian society.