Chadli Bendjedid and Afterward
Bendjedid, who had collaborated with Boumediene in the plot that
deposed Ben Bella, was regarded as a moderate not identified with
any group or faction; he did, however, command wide support within
the military establishment. In June 1980, he summoned an extraordinary
FLN Party Congress to examine the draft of the five-year development
plan for 1980-84. The resultant First FiveYear Plan liberalized
the economy and broke up unwieldy state corporations (see Development
Planning , ch. 3).
The Benjedid regime was also marked by protests from Berber university
students who objected to arabization measures in government and
especially in education. Although Bendjedid reaffirmed the government's
long-term commitment to arabization, he upgraded Berber studies
at the university level and granted media access to Berber-language
programs. These concessions, however, provoked counterprotests
from Islamists (also seen as fundamentalists).
Islamists gained increasing influence in part because the government
was unable to keep its economic promises (see The
Islamist Factor , ch. 4). In the late 1970s, Muslim activists
engaged in isolated and relatively small-scale assertions of their
will: harassing women whom they felt were inappropriately dressed,
smashing establishments that served alcohol, and evicting official
imams from their mosques. The Islamists escalated their actions
in 1982, when they called for the abrogation of the National Charter
and the formation of an Islamic government. Amidst an increasing
number of violent incidents on campuses, Islamists killed one
student. After police arrested 400 Islamists, about 100,000 demonstrators
thronged to Friday prayers at the university mosque. The arrests
of hundreds more activists, including prominent leaders of the
movement, Shaykh Abdelatif Sultani and Shaykh Ahmed Sahnoun, resulted
in a lessening of Islamist actions for several years. Nonetheless,
in light of the massive support the Islamists could muster, the
authorities henceforth viewed them as a potentially grave threat
to the state and alternately treated them with harshness and respect.
In 1984, for example, the government opened in Constantine one
of the largest Islamic universities in the world. In the same
year, acceding to Islamist demands, the government changed family
status law to deprive women of freedom to act on their own by
making them wards of their families before marriage and of their
husbands after marriage.
The country's economic crisis deepened in the mid-1980s, resulting
in, among other things, increased unemployment, a lack of consumer
goods, and shortages in cooking oil, semolina, coffee, and tea.
Women waited in long lines for scarce and expensive food; young
men milled in frustration on street corners unable to find work.
An already bad situation was aggravated by the huge drop in world
oil prices in 1986. Dismantling Algeria's state capitalist system
seemed to Bendjedid the only way to improve the economy. In 1987
he announced reforms that would return control and profits to
private hands, starting with agriculture and continuing to the
large state enterprises and banks.
Notwithstanding the introduction of reform measures, incidents
indicating social unrest increased in Algiers and other cities
as the economy foundered from 1985 to 1988. The alienation and
anger of the population were fanned by the widespread perception
that the government had become corrupt and aloof. The waves of
discontent crested in October 1988 when a series of strikes and
walkouts by students and workers in Algiers degenerated into rioting
by thousands of young men, who destroyed government and FLN property.
When the violence spread to Annaba, Blida, Oran, and other cities
and towns, the government declared a state of emergency and began
using force to quell the unrest. By October 10, the security forces
had restored a semblance of order; unofficial estimates were that
more than 500 people were killed and more than 3,500 arrested.
The stringent measures used to put down the riots of "Black October"
engendered a ground swell of outrage. Islamists took control of
some areas. Unsanctioned independent organizations of lawyers,
students, journalists, and physicians sprang up to demand justice
and change. In response, Bendjedid conducted a house cleaning
of senior officials and drew up a program of political reform.
In December he was offered the chance to implement the reforms
when he was reelected, albeit by a reduced margin. A new constitution,
approved overwhelmingly in February 1989, dropped the word socialist
from the official description of the country; guaranteed freedoms
of expression, association, and meeting; and withdrew the guarantees
of female rights that appeared in the 1976 constitution. The FLN
was not mentioned in the document at all, and the army was discussed
only in the context of national defense, reflecting a significant
downgrading of its political status.
Politics were reinvigorated in 1989 under the new laws. Newspapers
became the liveliest and freest in the Arab world, while political
parties of nearly every stripe vied for members and a voice. In
February 1989, Abbassi Madani and Ali Belhadj founded the Islamic
Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut-- FIS). Although the
constitution prohibited religious parties, the FIS came to play
a significant role in Algerian politics. It handily defeated the
FLN in local and provincial elections held in June 1990, in part
because most secular parties boycotted the elections. The FLN's
response was to adopt a new electoral law that openly aided the
FLN. The FIS, in turn, called a general strike, organized demonstrations,
and occupied public places. Bendjedid declared martial law on
June 5, 1991, but he also asked his minister of foreign affairs,
Sid Ahmed Ghozali, to form a new government of national reconciliation.
Although the FIS seemed satisfied with Ghozali's appointment and
his attempts to clean up the electoral law, it continued to protest,
leading the army to arrest Belhadj, Madani, and hundreds of others.
The state of emergency ended in September.
Algeria's leaders were stunned in December 1991 when FIS candidates
won absolute majorities in 188 of 430 electoral districts, far
ahead of the FLN's fifteen seats. Some members of Bendjedid's
cabinet, fearing a complete FIS takeover, forced the president
to dissolve parliament and to resign on January 11, 1992. Leaders
of the takeover included Ghozali, and generals Khaled Nezzar (minister
of defense) and Larbi Belkheir (minister of interior). After they
declared the elections void, the takeover leaders and Mohamed
Boudiaf formed the High Council of State to rule the country.
The FIS, as well as the FLN, clamored for a return of the electoral
process, but police and troops countered with massive arrests.
In February 1992, violent demonstrations broke out in many cities,
and on February 9 the government declared a one-year state of
emergency and the next month banned the FIS.
The end of FLN rule over Algeria opened a period of uncertain
transition. Widespread discontent with the party stemmed from
many roots. People were frustrated and angry because they had
no voice in their own affairs, had few or no prospects for employment,
and had a deteriorating standard of living. In addition, the poor
and the middle class grew outraged over the privileges enjoyed
by party members, and many Algerians became alienated by what
they felt was the unwelcome encroachment of secular, or Western,
values. Algeria's brief democratic interlude unleashed these pent-up
feelings, and, as in earlier periods of the country's history,
the language of Islam served many as the preferred medium of social
and political protest.
* * *
Whereas the vast majority of the historical writings on Algeria
are in French, several excellent works are available in English.
John Ruedy's Modern Algeria provides a masterful synthesis
and analysis focusing on the period from the French occupation
to early 1992. Land Policy in Colonial Algeria by the
same author is also interesting. A History of the Maghrib
in the Islamic Period by Jamil Abu-Nasr provides a thoughtful
and detailed look at the region going back to the Arab conquests.
For an in-depth treatment of the struggle for independence, especially
political and military affairs, see Alistair Horne's A Savage
War of Peace. For the precolonial period, see Charles-André
Julien's Histoire de l'Afrique du nord. Julien's Histoire
de l'Algérie contemporaine and Charles-Robert Ageron's book
by the same title cover the colonial period. Raphael Danziger's
Abd alQadir and the Algerians is a serious and comprehensive
study of this national hero. (For further information and complete
Data as of December 1993