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Ex-Islamists divided on Bouteflika's amnesty

Video by Armen GEORGIAN , Adel GASTEL , Noreddine BEZZIOU

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-04-08

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s amnesty to former Islamist rebels who have reject violence has won him some backers among the old guard of renounced Islamists. But not all have signed up for the cause.

Religion played a central role in the brutal Algerian 1990s civil war. And the issue of religion, specifically political Islam, continues to dog this North African nation that will hold presidential elections Thursday.


The 1990s violence was sparked by the cancelation of the 1992 elections -which the hard-line Islamist FIS (Front Islamique de Salut) party expected to win. The ensuing civil war was fought with a grotesque ferocity that left an estimated 150,000 people dead.


Algeria today is in recovery mode following Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s amnesty to former militants who have renounced violence. The amnesty was approved in a 2005 referendum.


Abdel Hafid Ben Ali, a former FIS member, has renounced violence and now backs Bouteflika’s national reconciliation policy.


“My story has an important role to play in the reconciliation process, a process which is the best, and indeed only path to lead this country out of crisis,” he told FRANCE 24.



‘If it wasn’t for reconciliation, Algeria would still be in crisis’


During the 1990s, the pan-Islamist Muslim Brotherhood was bitterly opposed to the Algerian leadership. But today, the MSP (Movement of Society for Peace), which is widely considered the successor to the Algerian arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, backs Bouteflika’s candidacy.


"If it wasn’t for reconciliation, Algeria would still be in crisis,” said Abderrahmane Saidi, an MSP parliamentarian. “Bouteflika has convinced people that reconciliation is necessary, and he has worked to make it a reality."


Bouteflika is widely expected to win Thursday’s presidential vote by a comfortable margin.


But critics of his amnesty say it lacked details and question its implementation. For instance, while there are no stated provisions banning former FIS rebels to stand for election, the government has in effect blocked former FIS leaders from running for public office.


And security experts note that the new branch of hard-line Islamists –notably al Qaeda’s North African branch– is not interested in democratic dialogue.


In a message posted on an Islamist site over the weekend, Abu Mussaab Abdul Wadud, whose real name is Abdulmalek Droukdel, called on Algerians to boycott Thursday’s poll.


Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility a series of deadly suicide bombings in Algeria last year, and seeks to unite Islamist groups across Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

 

Date created : 2009-04-08

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