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Algeria’s Future Must Come First

Algeria’s Future Must Come First

Wednesday, 6 March, 2019 - 16:30
Praise be to God I still remember the milestones of Algeria’s Revolution in the second half of the 1950s.

I was a young schoolboy then; but used to follow with my father, grandfather, and uncles the unfolding events on the radio, and in the following morning I would join my fellow pupils in demonstrations organized in our elementary school playground. We used to shout and sing; then, collect aid for the Revolution … and dream!

I still recall when French military aircraft intercepted and hijacked, in the fall of 1956, the plane carrying the revolutionaries’ negotiating team consisting of Ahmed Ben Bella, Mohamed Bou Diaf, Rabeh Bitat, Hocine Ait Ahmed, and Mohamed Khider, who were later imprisoned until 1962.

We grew older, amid ever-increasing admiration for the Algerian Revolution’s heroes, and the sacrifices that gave the Revolution the sobriquet ‘The One Million Martyrs Revolution’, and memorized by heart Moufdi Zakaria’s words: “We swear by the devastating calamities and the pure sublime blood…” which, combined with the impressive music of Egypt’s Mohammed Fawzi, became the national anthem of independent Algeria.

The Revolution eventually emerged victorious, and like all revolutions, had had its successes as well as its failures; however, the mere fact that it succeeded gave the ‘Arab Dream’ an exceptional aura. Despite many problems, it proved to be a promising landmark and an unprecedented revolutionary ‘legitimacy’ in both an Arab world and an Africa living the last years of the classic ‘Old Colonialism’.

Then, years passed, and former comrades fell out. Contradictions and disagreements began to appear now that the ‘common enemy’ disappeared. Fault lines, long papered over, by martyrs’ blood, soon reached the top with the 1965 coup in which army chief Houari Boumedienne overthrew the first post-Independence president Ahmed Ben Bella, ushering Algeria’s transition from revolutionary idealism to ‘realpolitik’.

Within Boumedienne’s team those days was a highly intelligent, short-statured young politician called Abdelaziz Bouteflika; whose name I heard for the first time when he was appointed Minister of Youth and Sport in 1962 during Ben Bella’s presidency.

Indeed, Bouteflika, who hailed from the Moroccan-Algerian border region and was a member of the revolutionary ‘Oujda Group’, soon became the face of Algerian diplomacy, on both Arab and international stages. Since taking over as Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1965, Bouteflika became an indefatigable ‘dynamo’ presenting Algeria, not only as a mediator and conflict solver, but also as the conscience of revolutions and revolutionaries all over the world, in a time when romanticism associated with them was diminishing following the murder of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara in Bolivia, in 1967.

However, 13 years after Boumedienne’s success in ‘civilianizing’ the military, his death in 1978 ushered the beginning of the period of ‘militarizing’ the state despite the intermittent emergence of highly qualified civilian politicians and technocrats.

Since General Chadli Benjedid succeeded Boumedienne as president, Algeria’s revolutionary historical legitimacy began to wane gradually. Challenges were accumulating, and religious, ethnic and regional tendencies began to appear. Economic development was running parallel to corruption and political dead-ends, and the country was escaping forward and seeking the protection of the ‘legitimacy’ of a revolution that failed to mature into a proper fully-fledged state.

Westernizers, secessionists, secularists, and proponents of ‘civil society’ found their voices, as expected in any normal society, and so did their opponents the ‘Islamists’. However, the Algerian society was not absolutely normal a quarter of a century after independence. Everything was moving towards radicalism. Westernizers, secessionists, secularists, and proponents of ‘civil society’ were becoming more radical, as were the ‘Islamists’; thus, in such a state of polarization the regime, whether its military core or civilian figures, failed to find the much-needed safety net.

Even as things descended into bloody instability and wanton terror, the regime responded with obstinacy and denial, and resorted to what has become an obsolete ‘revolutionary legitimacy’ due to its failure of renewing itself.

To be fair, Algeria’s current situation is not an exceptional case in the Arab world.

Actually, what we have been witnessing in Syria, for example, carries many of the ingredients of the Algerian debacle, which has brought one of the richest Arab and Afro-Asian countries to the political brink.

The stubborn denial of internal problems and obstinacy in refusing the need to reform and learn from past mistakes, self-delusion about size and influence, and systematic destruction of state institutions - turning them instead into security apparatuses whose role was to protect an immature and helpless society - are all common ills in Syria and Algeria.

In Syria, due to regional circumstances, peaceful popular demonstrations were turned by the Al-Assad regime into a civil war, because it always knew that civil war and foreign protection were its last refuge. Such circumstances do not exist in Algeria at the moment; which means that there still is a chance to avoid descending into the ‘Syrian scenario’.

The Syrian regime and its backers have won the first round, thanks to two kinds of support:

1- The direct support of a regional power, Iran, that is implementing a theocratic and geopolitical project for hegemony, and a global power, Russia, which is hell-bent on avenging its defeat in the ‘Cold War’ and reclaiming what it can from the old sphere of influence of the former USSR.

2- The indirect support of Israel, which has co-existed and enjoyed safe borders with the Syrian regime, and subsequently, a former US administration whose obsession was to strike a deal of cooperation with Iran at any price.

The above-mentioned conditions do not apply to Algeria, where internal threats loom larger than regional worries, despite the fact that ISIS, which has helped in tragically re-drawing the demographic maps of Iraq and Syria during the last few years, has now reached the Sahel and Sahara region. Furthermore, some ISIS elements managed to move to Libya and were active there until they were recently hit. And it is worth mentioning that Algeria has long borders with Libya to the east, and even longer borders with Niger, Mali and Mauritania to the south.

The coming hours and days may prove to be decisive for the future of Algeria.

In short, it is high time the old habit of obstinacy and denial ends, because otherwise, the country will be venturing into the unknown!

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