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Belabbas to Asharq Al-Awsat: Weakened Islamists Cannot Dominate Algeria Protests

Belabbas to Asharq Al-Awsat: Weakened Islamists Cannot Dominate Algeria Protests

Saturday, 6 April, 2019 - 06:00
President of the Rally for Culture and Democracy Mohcine Belabbas. (AFP)
Algiers – Kamil Tawil
President of the Rally for Culture and Democracy Mohcine Belabbas proposed on Friday a solution to the crisis in Algeria, saying that the people will have the final word in approving or rejecting it.

He also told Asharq Al-Awsat that he believes that the Islamists in his country were “no longer as powerful as they used to be in the late 1980s and early 1990s.”

“They cannot dominate the current popular rallies,” he remarked.

Belabbas revealed that he was the first to suggest the activation of article 102 of the constitution that could declare a president unfit for office. This was back in 2012 even before President Abdelziz Bouteflika suffered from a stroke.

“We also demanded at the time the dissolution of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) because it was monopolizing power since 1962 independence,” he revealed.

Belabbas’ demands fell on deaf ears at the time.

“The people are clear in their demand for changing the entire regime,” he stated.

Bouteflika resigned on Tuesday, succumbing to six weeks of mass protests driven by youth and pressure from the powerful army against his 20-year rule. The demonstrations have not abated with protesters demanding sweeping change in the political class.

“The current class is mired in corruption … and it has repeatedly abused the constitution. It was abused in 2008 when Bouteflika ran for a third term and again when he ran for a fourth one,” Belabbas said.

A transition period is necessary and the secular Rally for Culture and Democracy proposes the election of three figures to form a higher transition authority. The members will be elected from the judiciary, university professors and free syndicates that have taken part in the protests, he explained.

Their ages must not exceed 60 and their election gives them “a form of legitimacy that an appointment does not,” he added.

“We also propose the formation of a national salvation government that excludes political parties. Its ministers must come from the civil society and the defense minister must be a civilian,” he suggested.

Moreover, an independent commission to monitor the elections must be formed to draft an electoral law that will be put up to a popular referendum. A constitutional referendum must also be prepared, Belabbas said.

The new constitution should be ready in two months, meaning that both referendums must be held during the last week of June.

On whether Islamists may dominate the popular movements because they have been seen as more organized than before, he said: “I do not believe they are more organized. They were so during the years of terrorism in the early 1990s, but things have now changed.”

Between 1988 and 1991, they took advantage of the situation in the country when the people were upset with the one-party rule of the FLN, he explained. The Islamists resorted to radical rhetoric to confront the corrupt system and they enjoyed strong support at mosques and some universities.

The situation is very different in 2019. The Islamists are present as parties, which number between 10 and 15, but none of them see eye-to-eye with each other, Belabbas said.

“Algeria now boasts social Islam and this not at all a problem,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“The bloody experience in the 1990s has taught the Algerians to say ‘no’ to radicalism,” he stressed. “Since the eruption of the February 22 protests, we have seen diversity in the streets and all parties accept each other. We believe that we derive our strength from our diversity.”

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