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The Algerian political landscape on one leg The Algerian political landscape on one leg
by Joseph Gatt
2020-09-29 09:02:14
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Many find the Algerian political landscape confusing. So here are the actors involved, and how politics is played.

The National Liberation Front (FLN)

Historically the country's single party, before other parties were allowed in 1989.

Many hold the mistaken belief that the FLN is a Socialist party.

alge01_400It's more of a nationalist (or ultra-nationalist) party, which mainly serves the interests of veterans of the Algerian war of independence (1954-1962). It also serves the interests of the descendents of the veterans of that war (Islam recognizes that children and grandchildren of Mujahedeen benefit from the actions of their father and grandfather).

The party did ban private ownership of land and business until 1989 (with some exceptions) and business, when free, was heavily regulated (everything was subsidized, meaning private businesses, to this day, have very low profit margins, in some cases lose money).

Who are the members of the FLN? Mostly veterans of the Algerian war of independence, their descendents, their families and in-laws. If you're not the descendent of a veteran of the war, they probably won't even talk to you.

Can all veterans of the war and their descendents join the FLN? It takes time, connections, and joining the complex networks (often links of marriage and intermarriage) to join.

What is the party atmosphere like? Rejects regionalism, implements nationalist orthodoxy, frequently mentions the war of independence, believes only veterans and their descendents should benefit from the system, rejects historians who regionalize the war of independence, and speaking Arabic is a must.

Praising Algeria is a must. If you can't praise the food or the economy, praise and glorify the war of independence.

Most party members go to London for vacations (and avoid visiting France, unless for urgent matters). Their children will sometimes pursue higher education in France, albeit discreetly. But their children will usually opt for Cairo, Beirut (in the old days Baghdad) or London for higher-education.  

The National Rally for Democracy (RND)  

Because the FLN had something of a rigid orthodoxy (members must usually prove that their grandparents or parents or themselves fought the war) and that the FLN rejected one part of the intellectual elite which spoke French, studied in France, did not have ancestors who fought the war, but could be useful politically.

Since those French-educated intellectuals could not join the FLN, the Zeroual presidency in 1995 created the RND to absorb that French-educated intellectual workforce into the political system.

Over the years, the RND also became something of an ultra-nationalist party with most of its young members being Arab, Muslim ultra-nationalist conservatives. But their ancestors had not necessarily fought the war.

The Movement of Society and Peace (MSP, ex-Hamas)

The party was created in the late 1980s. Something of an ultra-religious movement. Radical Orthodox Islamic movement.

Oddly enough, the MSP rejects violence, does not seem to want to rule, does not seem to aim for the presidency.

But the party does try to share power, and tries hard to obtain the Education Ministry and Commerce Ministry portfolios. That way they can reinforce Islamic education and values, and Islamic commerce and business traditions.

The party members are often Arabic-speakers who were not educated in the French system and do not speak French. They were either educated in Islamic schools at the local mosque, or come from regions where French never really picked up (a few examples could be Tissemsilt, Ain-Temouchent, Djelfa, Medea, Aïn Defla, Tebessa, any province in the South, many other regions and villages within those regions).

The Kabyle parties

The Rally for Culture and Democracy; The Front for Socialist Forces

These two parties are the Jokers of Algerian politics, and can be used in various capacities.

Both parties believe that only if Kabyles rule Algeria will there be peace and prosperity. Something of tribal bigotry.

They believe that Kabyles are “the most educated” and “the smartest” and “the most flexible” people in Algeria (not really, but whatever).

The Kabyles believe that the war of independence ideals were betrayed, and that Algeria should have been a multi-ethnic nation, perhaps a multi-religious one as well, and that the Kabyle language should have been an official language from the start. And that Kabyles should have had a large share of power, perhaps that the president and a large number of ministers and parliament members should have been Kabyle.

More importantly, these two parties believe that Algeria should have been a democracy from its independence in 1962 that several parties should have been recognized, and that elections should have determined the outcomes of power-sharing.

The Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) is a party where most don't have ancestors who fought the war of independence (although some do). Most have “liberal” values when it comes to Islam. Many oppose “Arab” versions of Islam and paternalism in Islam (to them Islamic faith is a matter of choice).

More importantly, the RCD believes in autonomy for regions, and has something of a vision where each province should have a large degree of autonomy, especially for matters related to education and administration (those who want to use French, so be it, those who want to use Arabic, that's their problem).

The Front for Socialist Forces (FFS) has members who are mostly the descendents of veterans of the war. On the other hand the party believes (someone delusional) that the Kabylie region was the center of the war of independence, that there would have been no independence without the Kabylie region, and that therefore Kabyles should have a large share in the power structure.

The FFS however tends to reject autonomy for regions and provinces, and believes that the Kabyles should rule in a centralized government.

The new parties

Every now and then new parties will emerge, never gaining more than one or two seats in parliament.

Such parties claim to want to “reform” Algeria. There are three main branches.

-”Liberal” reformers, who tend to focus on science and technology, and who want Algeria to play a larger role in globalization and to be more flexible in a globalized world. They tend to say something like “all you have to do is use Google and you have a million solutions for development.” They tend to want to focus on technology and the economy, and tend to oppose using history or culture as motors for development.

-”Conservative” reformers. They tend to study history, and find in historical documents visions of the veterans of the war of independence that they want to implement. Visions usually have something to do with democracy, harmony, or the ideals those veterans fought for.

-”Islamic” reformers. They tend to hide (or not) under the disguise of “reformer” parties without always stating that their reforms are inspired from Islamic values and texts.

The opportunists

There's a term that Algerian political commentators love to use: “opportunists.” By that they mean politicians or parties who have business interests in mind, yet act like they really have political ambitions in mind.

Those will often either directly own a big (or small) business, or their families will own a big (or small) business. They will feign interest in politics, when it's really their personal business that they want to see grow.

Other politicians enter the scene with no business deals in mind, but end up setting up businesses (through family members) and using their political positions to expand their business.

A “gerontocracy” or the rule of old people?

There are quite a few young people in the political sphere. But the younger people were usually endorsed by older politicians, usually because they are a son, or in in-law, or have some kind of family relationship.

Without endorsements from older people, it's very difficult to enter the political scene. Political parties won't even let you into their building, even when you have a bag containing a million dollars that you want to donate (urban legend or true story?).

Endorsements also mean obligations to the older member who endorsed you. As in you must not disappoint them, make them “lose face” or behave in ways that makes them regret their endorsement. If you disappoint, chances are not only will you lose your political job; you will also get a divorce and be disowned by your family. So few politicians take risks.  

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