Figure 1. Administrative Divisions of Algeris, 1993
Insert: Detail of Wilayat, 1993
ALGERIA IN OCTOBER 1994 was in a state bordering on civil war.
The military in late January 1994 had named General Lamine Zeroual,
previously minister of defense, as president. He was to rule in
coordination with the High Security Council (Haut Conseil de Sûreté)
because the High Council of State (Haut Conseil d'État--HCÉ),
created two years previously, had been abolished. In April armed
forces leaders removed Prime Minister Redha Malek from his post
after an incumbency of only eight months, replacing him with Mokdad
Sifi, an engineer technocrat who had served as minister of equipment.
Efforts to achieve a workable compromise with the major Islamic
activist group, the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du
Salut--FIS), appeared unsuccessful. Martial law, imposed in February
To understand the forces behind recent events, one must look
at the factors that have shaped Algeria's history. The indigenous
peoples of the region of North Africa that today constitutes Algeria
comprise an ethnic group known as the Berbers. In the mid-1990s,
the Berbers represented only about 20 percent of Algeria's population.
In A.D. 642, following conquests by the Romans, the Vandals, and
the Byzantines, the region came under the influence of Islam and
the Arabs. Hence, the vast majority of the population, about 80
percent, are Arabs. Islam and arabization, therefore, have profoundly
influenced the area.
The Arab rulers of Algeria have come from various groups. In
chronological order, they have included the Umayyads, the Abbasids,
the Fatimids, the Almoravids, the Almohads, and the Zayanids.
The latter group was followed in the sixteenth century and early
seventeenth century by a series of privateer merchant captains.
One of the early sixteenth-century Muslim privateers, Khair ad
Din, ruled present-day Algeria on behalf of the Ottoman Turks,
who gave him the title of provincial governor. The Ottoman sultan
nominally controlled the area into the nineteenth century but
in reality exerted minimal influence.
From their base in Algeria, the privateers preyed on French vessels
and those of other Western nations. Because France was occupied
with the Napoleonic wars and their aftermath in the first part
of the nineteenth century, it was not in a position to act against
the Algerian privateers. In 1827, however, as a result of an alleged
slight to the French consul by the local ruler, or dey, France
undertook what became a three-year blockade of Algiers. The incident
led to a full-scale French invasion of Algeria in 1830 and the
imposition of French rule, which lasted until Algeria obtained
its independence in 1962.
In the course of French colonization of Algeria, discontent on
the part of the inhabitants led to several uprisings. The most
prominent of these was a revolt that originated in the Kabylie
region in eastern Algeria in 1871 and spread through much of the
country. Serious disturbances also broke out on V-E (Victory in
Europe) Day, 1945. In response to the latter uprisings, the French
military killed more than 1,500 Algerians and arrested more than
5,400 persons. French actions and growing Algerian nationalism
led in 1954 to the creation by Ahmed Ben Bella and his colleagues
of the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale--FLN)
and a military network throughout Algeria, the National Liberation
Army (Armée de Libération Nationale--ALN).
The FLN launched the War of Independence on November 1, 1954,
and called on all Algerian Muslims to support it. A bloody war
ensued. The conflict ended on July 1, 1962, with Algeria obtaining
independence at the cost of as many as 300,000 Algerian dead.
The major reason for the prolongation of the war was France's
determination to maintain direct control of Algeria because of
its strategic location. Seeking to integrate Algeria into the
Third French Republic, France had made Algeria a part of France
proper, whereas under similar circumstances it had given Morocco
and Tunisia the status of protectorates. France granted independence
to Morocco and Tunisia in March 1956, although their institutions
were less developed than those of Algeria, believing that it could
continue to exercise control over the other two states through
In the thirty-two years since independence, the Algerian republic
has seen a number of regimes and several forceful overthrows of
governments in which the military has played a major role. From
1963 to 1989, Algeria was technically a socialist state. In February
1979, following the death of Houari Boumediene in December 1978,
Chadli Benjedid became president. Beginning in 1980, Benjedid
began to liberalize Algeria's economy, shifting from investment
in heavy industry to concentration on agriculture and light industry.
In addition, the regime disbanded a number of large government
enterprises and state farms. The drop of world oil prices in 1986,
however, together with poor domestic economic management, aggravated
the already depressed economic situation. Despite some attempts
at diversification, the oil industry and especially natural gas
remained major sources of national income. The economy was characterized
by high unemployment, particularly among younger males in the
cities. (About 70 percent of Algerians are under thirty years
old, and 44 percent of the total population are under age fifteen.)
The resulting social unrest stemmed from the discontent of those
youths who were either unemployed or in dead- end jobs and from
food and housing shortages. The unrest culminated in a series
of strikes in late September and early October 1988 in major industrial
areas and cities, including Algiers. The strikes were repressed
by the military with considerable force and a loss of life estimated
in the hundreds.
To counter this unrest and the rising appeal of the Islamists
(Muslim activists, sometimes seen as fundamentalists), Benjedid
expanded the reforms designed to encourage private agriculture
and small businesses. In 1989 he also instituted political reforms,
including a new constitution that eliminated the term socialist,
separated the FLN from the state, and granted freedom of expression,
association, and meeting. However, because Boumediene's socialist
policies had been exacted at such a high cost to the economy,
Benjedid's reforms came too late, in the opinion of many observers.
Furthermore, the control of one party, the FLN, between 1962 and
1980 had led to an authoritarianism that was difficult to overcome
and that had resulted in the rise of Islamists, particularly in
the form of the FIS.
In response to the newly gained right to form political organizations,
parties proliferated, of which the FIS constituted the leading
opposition party. The FIS demonstrated its appeal, or perhaps
the extent of popular disillusionment with the FLN, by defeating
the FLN in June 1990 local and provincial elections, winning in
such major cities as Algiers, Constantine, and Oran. The Berber
party, Front of Socialist Forces (Front des Forces Socialistes--FFS),
and Ben Bella's Movement for Democracy in Algeria (Mouvement pour
la Démocratie en Algérie--MDA) and several other small opposition
parties did not participate.
Again in the December 1991 national elections, the FIS surprised
many by its large-scale victories despite the presence in jail
of the party's leadership, including Abbassi Madani and Ahmed
Belhadj. To prevent the holding of second-stage, run-off elections
in mid-January 1992, which the FIS presumably would have won decisively,
the army staged a coup led by Minister of Defense General Khaled
Nezzar. Martial law was reimposed, and Benjedid resigned. The
military named Sid Ahmed Ghozali president and head of a short-lived
six-person High Security Council, which was replaced by the five-person
HCE. Both bodies were dominated by the military. Army leaders
recalled Mohamed Boudiaf from his self-imposed exile in Morocco
to serve on the HCE and be head of state.
In response to the popular demonstrations that occurred in February
1992, the authorities banned the FIS in early March and dissolved
the communal and municipal assemblies. The court banned the FIS
on the ground that it violated the constitution, which prohibited
political parties based on religion, race, or regional identity.
After an initial period of calm, many Islamists were arrested
and tried by military courts, receiving severe sentences; in 1992
about 10,000 Algerians were sent to prison camps in the Sahara.
The military government's repression of the FIS brought sharp
responses from other political parties; the FLN and the FFS sought
an alliance with the FIS to preserve the democratic process. Furthermore,
the repression caused some elements in the FIS and in the military
to become more radical. Rapidly, a violent environment was created,
leading to the assassination of Boudiaf in June 1992 and to terrorist
attacks on civilians as well as military personnel. Ali Kafi of
the HCE succeeded Boudiaf as head of state, but he was unsuccessful
in resolving the country's political and economic problems.
The military named Redha Malek prime minister in August 1993.
Recognizing the need for some compromise, Malek sought to initiate
talks with the opposition, despite his firm stance against terrorism.
However, because the banned FIS was not included in the proposed
dialogue scheduled for mid-December 1993 when the authorization
for the HCE was due to end, other parties boycotted the talks.
The HCE's mandate was extended into January 1994, but because
most parties had lost confidence in the government only smaller
parties participated in the dialogue. By September 1994, in the
fourth round of the national dialogue, five parties were taking
In naming General Zeroual as new president, the army took direct
responsibility for governing. Despite opposition criticism of
the renewed military rule, Zeroual committed himself to working
with the opposition, including the FIS. This stance has caused
divisions within the military over political strategy and prompted
the resignation of Malek as prime minister in April. In a conciliatory
gesture toward the FIS, in mid-September 1994 the government released
five senior leaders from prison. Included among those released
were Abbassi Madani and Ali Belhadj, who were placed under house
arrest and asked by the government to assist it in reaching a
reconciliation with the FIS. In pursuit of some sort of accommodation
with the FIS, in late September three generals were holding negotiations
on behalf of the government separately with Madani and Belhadj
in their homes.
Meanwhile, violence has increased, and more than 10,000 (some
estimates range as high as 30,000) Algerians are reliably reported
to have been killed between January 1992 and October 1994. Between
February 22, 1993, and May 15, 1994, death sentences were passed
on 489 persons, of which twenty-six have been carried out. In
addition, some sixty-eight foreigners--the number is variously
reported--had been killed by October 1994. As a result of the
violence, numerous West European countries and the United States
in 1993 urged their nationals to leave Algeria. French citizens
were particularly affected by such warnings because in late 1993
the French government estimated that approximately 76,000 French
nationals, including those holding dual nationality, resided in
The main body of the FIS was willing to consider reconciliation
with the authorities under certain conditions, such as the freeing
of FIS members who had been imprisoned and the legalization of
the party. The most radical group, however, the Armed Islamic
Group (Groupe Islamique Armé--GIA), had split from the FIS, which
it considered too conciliatory, and rejected any compromise. Instead,
the GIA, an urban terrorist group, began military action in November
1991. It claimed responsibility for killing the majority of the
sixty-eight foreigners and also targeted oil installation personnel.
Particularly embarrassing to the government was the GIA's kidnapping
of the Omani and Yemeni ambassadors in July 1994. (They were subsequently
released.) Another Muslim activist group, the FIS-sponsored Armed
Islamic Movement (Mouvement Islamique Armé--MIA), later renamed
the Islamic Salvation Army (Armée Islamique du Salut--AIS), engaged
in traditional guerrilla warfare. The AIS consisted in late 1994
of about 10,000 men and attacks military bases; it denies any
involvement in attacks on civilians and foreigners.
While working on the one hand to promote dialogue, the government
on the other hand instituted sharp repressive measures on Islamists.
Curfews designed to counter terrorism, instituted in December
1992, were not lifted until 1994, and martial law continued to
apply. The government undertook a counteroffensive against radical
Islamist groups beginning in 1992, and had succeeded in killing
several leaders of the GIA, including the group's head, Mourad
Sid Ahmed (known as Djafar al Afghani), in February 1994 and Cherif
Gousmi, Djafar al Afghani's successor, in September 1994. The
government's apparent inability to stop the killing of unveiled
women led to the formation of at least two anti-Islamic groups:
the Organization of Free Young Algerians, which announced in March
1994 that it would resort to counterkillings of veiled women at
the rate of twenty to one, and the Secret Organization for Safeguarding
the Algerian Republic. Also in March, thousands of Algerians,
particularly women, took to the streets to protest against the
killing of unveiled women and to demonstrate their disillusionment
with both the government and the FIS. Furthermore, the regime
seemed unable or unwilling to prevent Islamist attacks on Berbers.
In consequence, in 1993 Berbers began arming themselves in self-defense.
Also indicative of the questionable effectiveness of government
security measures was the successful escape of about 1,000 prisoners
from the Tazoult high-security prison near Batna in March 1994.
Given the absence of basic government bodies such as elected
assemblies, contemporary Algeria is being governed by the military.
In late 1994, the only body that theoretically exercised some
legislative functions was the National Transitional Council (Conseil
National de Transition--CNT), created in May 1994. Zeroual installed
the CNT, which in principle was to consist of 200 members: eighty-five
from political parties; eighty-five representing unions, professional
and social organizations; and thirty-five civil service members.
In actuality, the twenty-two seats for the five legal political
parties (the FIS was not included) were unoccupied because the
parties refused to participate.
Leaders of the armed forces became the main force rejecting Islamists.
Elements of the army, however, recognized that a compromise with
moderate Islamists appeared to be necessary if the country were
to move ahead. Furthermore, military leaders seemed aware that
the FIS had made inroads within the lower ranks of the armed forces.
Zeroual undertook a large-scale reorganization of the top echelons
of military leadership after coming to power, introducing younger
officers more willing to consider compromise with Islamists. In
addition to military service staff appointments, he named new
commanders to five out of the six military regions in May 1994.
In June Zeroual appointed new governors to thirty-nine of the
forty-eight wilayat, or governorates.
Public frustration has led to some growth in the number of Islamists,
but accurate figures as to their strength are lacking. The overall
Algerian attraction to Islamist groups appears to stem from increasing
skepticism as to the likelihood of democratic government being
The position of Islamists in general and the FIS in particular
in contemporary Algerian society reflects the role of Islam in
Algeria. Historically, the marabouts, or Muslim holy men, played
a prominent role among the bedouin tribes that constituted the
major element of the early culture of the area. A number of marabouts
were also associated with mystical Sufi Islamic brotherhoods that
existed primarily in rural and mountainous areas of North Africa.
When the French came to dominate Algeria from 1830 onward, they
endeavored to undermine Muslim culture and to substitute Western
ways. Therefore, the contemporary efforts of the FIS to restore
the Islamic heritage of Algerians can be seen not only as a religious
and cultural phenomenon but also as part of a nationalist resurgence
to revive a way of life that was discouraged by a colonial power.
Since independence in 1962, Algeria has experienced ambivalence
about the role of Islam in society. The 1962 constitution made
Islam the state religion because the founders saw Islam as a force
for bringing cohesion to the new country. The government assumed
control of mosques and religious schools and administered religious
endowments. In the late 1960s and the 1970s, Boumediene's development
policies, which led to the redistribution of oil revenues, were
often considered to be instances of Islamic activism. However,
many French-educated Algerians in the upper and upper middle classes
were secularly oriented and wished to minimize the role of Islam
in Algerian society.
A number of Western observers believe that Islamist movements
grew as a result of political underrepresentation and economic
hardships experienced by the average Algerian. The FIS in particular
saw itself as the heir of the FLN. It promised to continue the
redistribution of wealth that the FLN had promoted in the 1960s
and the 1970s, using oil revenues. For example, the FIS capitalized
on its well-organized party structure after the 1989 earthquake
by distributing food and medical supplies in affected areas and
providing such services as garbage collection and school tutoring.
Such social service programs, when added to the FIS's role of
providing religious instruction, met with popular response and
constituted a threat in the eyes of many of those in positions
of government power.
Because of economic constraints, the government found it very
difficult in the late 1980s and early 1990s to counter any Islamist
activities relating to the economy and social services. Despite
its deteriorating economy, Algeria for years had avoided rescheduling
its debt payments for fear of losing its political and economic
independence. Thus, in 1993 the country devoted 96 percent of
its hydrocarbon export revenues to debt repayment. When the economic
situation became critical in 1994, partly because of a severe
drought that resulted in Algeria's being able to meet only about
10 percent of its grain needs and the consequent death by starvation
of about 1,000 persons monthly, the regime was obliged to act.
In addition, most industries were operating only at 50 percent
of capacity because of lack of funds for raw materials and other
inputs; inflation officially was estimated at 25 percent but actually
was considerably higher (for example, in September 1991 it had
reached 227 percent); the 1993 gross domestic product (GDP--see
Glossary) growth rate was -1.7 percent; land erosion was causing
the loss of about 40,000 hectares of cultivated land annually;
and water distribution losses were as high as 40 percent, according
to the World
Bank (see Glossary).
To qualify for an International Monetary Fund (IMF--see
Glossary) structural adjustment loan, the government needed to
take preliminary reform measures. These steps included instituting
20 percent to 100 percent price increases in late March 1994 on
nine basic commodities--among which were bread, flour, and milk--and
devaluing the Algerian dinar (for value of the dinar--see
Glossary) by 40 percent in early April. Following the IMF's approval
in May of a US$1.1 billion standby economic stabilization loan
extending to April 1995, Algeria was able to ask the Paris
Club (see Glossary) of official creditors for rescheduling
of other government debt (total indebtedness, including loans
from private banks, was estimated at US$26 billion). In July Algeria
received economic aid in the amount of US$1.1 billion from France
as well as a loan from the European Union. In October 1994, Algeria
had not yet completed its plans for rescheduling its commercial
loan repayments with the London
Club (see Glossary).
In order to gain popular support for the structural adjustment
program, the IMF specifically asked that other donors make loans
that would facilitate housing construction. Algeria faces a severe
housing crisis because between 1962 and 1989 the country built
only about 48,000 housing units annually. This figure is in contrast
to the 107,000 needed to prevent further deterioration of the
situation and the 234,000 units needed per year to provide each
household with a unit. With regard to other services, to maintain
its existing health level, the country requires an additional
24,000 hospital beds and 5,000 more paramedics. To meet the needs
of the number of new students resulting from Algeria's high population
growth rate (variously estimated at 2.7 percent to 2.9 percent
per year), it needs 24,000 additional classrooms and 8,000 more
teachers by 2005.
Because of the serious economic situation, when Islamists made
such a good showing in the June 1990 elections, and again in the
December 1991 elections, some Western observers considered the
results primarily a vote against the FLN rather than an endorsement
of Islamism. The military, whose leadership was secularly oriented,
felt threatened, however, and determined to take decisive action.
The repressive measures adopted demonstrated that democracy constituted
a somewhat thin veneer. Algeria's military leaders were apparently
unwilling to accept the risks connected with political pluralism
and liberalization. Furthermore, the country lacked a solid commitment
to the electoral process. In the December 1991 elections, of the
13.2 million Algerians eligible to vote, only 7.8 million, or
59 percent, voted. Moreover, the continued influence of the military
on the processes of government represents a further obstacle to
While undergoing these domestic difficulties, the Algerian government
has sought to obtain not only economic assistance from abroad
but also political support. Traditionally, Algeria's closest economic
relations have been with France, to which it ships most of its
exports and to which thousands of Algerian workers continue to
migrate, often illegally in contravention of immigration restrictions.
However, given Algeria's colonial heritage, a love-hate relationship
exists between it and France. Many older Algerians, particularly
military officers, are proud of their French culture and training
but also resent past dependence; many younger people are ardent
nationalists or Islamists and tend to reject France's role and
the influence of the West in general. Furthermore, France, concerned
at the unrest so close to it as well as the potential for subversion
of thousands of Algerians in France, seems to have been pressuring
Algeria to take harsh measures against Islamists. The United States
has been more conciliatory, stressing the need for the Algerian
government to compromise with Islamists in order to move toward
greater democracy. Democracy appears to be a more acceptable course
than socialism, in view of developments in Eastern Europe in recent
years and the questionable success of Boumediene's socialist policies.
On the regional level, Algeria historically has tended to view
itself as the leading state of the Arab Maghrib. In recent years,
however, the country's economic plight has limited its regional
influence, and the role of Morocco appears to be growing. Algeria
is a founding member of the Union of the Arab Maghreb (Union du
Maghreb Arabe--UMA), which came into existence in 1989, designed
to create a common market among Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco,
and Tunisia. Benjedid saw the UMA as a factor for peace and stability
in the region as well as for social and economic progress. Formed
at the time of the Soviet Union's disintegration and the prospect
of serious economic competition from the European Community, the
UMA was intended not only to promote economic cooperation but
also to promote common policies in the broader political and social
fields. For example, at its November 1992 meeting, the UMA ministers
of foreign affairs agreed to take common action to counter the
rise of Islamism in the Maghrib. However, at their February 1993
meeting the ministers decided on a "pause" in the UMA's work.
In actuality, because of economic differences among the members,
none of the fifteen conventions adopted since 1989 has been implemented.
Thus, in late 1994 the Algerian government was challenged on
a number of fronts. Its greatest problems lay in the domestic
field: the strength of Islamism, which threatened to topple the
regime, and the economy. The IMF loan, supplemented by Paris Club,
London Club, and other foreign financial assistance, gave some
hope of relieving economic hardships in the long run. In all likelihood,
however, the austerity measures nonetheless would create in the
immediate future further unemployment and cost-of- living increases
that would have a serious impact on less affluent members of society.
Therefore, the government needs to make progress in the social
and infrastructure fields, particularly in housing and to a lesser
extent in health care and education, if it is to offer a domestic
program to counteract the popular appeal of Islamists. Wise use
for such purposes of funds obtained from abroad while simultaneously
seeking to negotiate a compromise with moderate Islamist groups
like the FIS, may represent the government's best hope of remaining
October 27, 1994
Helen Chapin Metz
Data as of December 1993