The Civil Concord : A failed peace initiative
The Civil Concord : A failed peace initiative
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  1. Executive Summary

The Civil Concord : A failed peace initiative

The civil war between the Algerian army and Islamist guerrillas, sparked by the refusal of the military to recognise the electoral victory of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in 1991, is not over.

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Executive Summary

The civil war between the Algerian army and Islamist guerrillas, sparked by the refusal of the military to recognise the electoral victory of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in 1991, is not over. The Civil Concord Law, proposed by President Bouteflika in April 1999, approved by referendum in September the same year, and supported by the leaders of the FIS, has failed to convince the majority of the guerrillas to give up their arms and seek peace. No lasting political solution to this Islamist-military conflict has been found and the crisis threatens to spread to other parts of the community.

The Civil Concord law did create a genuine dynamic for peace in 1999. At first, the leaders of the FIS gave their public support to the President’s initiative, in exchange for certain promises by the military regime, notably the release of prisoners and the possibility of creating a new political party in accordance with the 1996 constitution. But in November 1999, Abdelkader Hachani, number three in the FIS leadership, was assassinated and two other FIS leaders were put under house arrest. To date the regime continues to refuse to legalise the Wafa party, regarded as the political heir to the FIS.

Despite their military superiority and the evolution of the Islamist position, Algeria’s rulers have not altered their security strategy and continue to regard the Islamists more as defeated enemies than political interlocutors. For the regime,  however, the rehabilitation of a popular Islamist party would be the best strategy for combating the radicalism of armed groups such as the GIA (Armed Islamic Group) and the GSPC (Groupe salafiste pour la prédication et le combat), while also regaining a little legitimacy by playing the democratic game. If it did so, the last of the armed Islamist groups would likely progressively lose support from the ex-FIS electorate and could be gradually alienated with the possibility, like the Shining Path Movement in Peru, head towards self-destruction. In exchange for the regime’s acceptance of the Islamists’ return to the political scene, the leaders of the ex-FIS would have to engage in public debate, playing by democratic rules.

There are few options for the international community to pressure the Algerian government to accept the political liberalisation needed to bring peace to the country. Comfortably supported  by  oil industry income, the elite leadership is almost impervious to economic or political pressure. Fiercely protective of their sovereignty, they reject any external interference in their affairs.  Moreover, international institutions have stated  that Algeria’s recent economic performance corresponds surprisingly well to their financial criteria.

Yet the political, economic and social crisis is omnipresent, and the status quo cannot continue. Long defined as an “Islamist-military”  problem, the violence now threatens to take other forms. The recent riots in Kabylia (Berber dominated area) show that there is a risk of resurgence of ethnic conflict which could exacerbate the socio- economic turmoil, and which could in turn lead  o regional instability. In this context, it is clear that the security rhetoric of anti-Islamist repression by the army cannot function, and popular dissatisfaction with the inability of the regime to face its other political, economic and social responsibilities will do nothing but improve conditions for the armed groups. If the problems posed by the armed Islamist groups cannot be solved soon with courageous political choices by both sides, the “sub-conflicts” stemming from the apparent lack of political prospects will be even more difficult to resolve.

The international community must abandon the illusion that an authoritarian regime can, successfully, respond to the desire for change expressed by the population, with repression. A lasting solution to the crisis must be  found urgently. Algeria is a social and economic time- bomb, capable of generating huge waves of migration and regional destabilisation.

Brussels, 9 July 2001

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