The Algerian Warning

Ignored by the West at its peril, dismissed as a unique case of both Islamist and regime viciousness, Algeria can also be viewed as a warning to the comfortable West of things to come: Algeria the neo-liberal showcase. Continue reading

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Algeria As Prologue

In the book of America’s conflict with politically active Islam, Algeria is the prologue.

In the aftermath of an unprovoked war of aggression against Iraq whose outcome remains barely comprehended in the land of the aggressor, which is already moving toward yet another and almost certainly far more catastrophic war of aggression against Iran, paying heed to the horrifying story of the Algerian battle for independence from France, on this anniversary of that event, may be one of the wisest courses of action for Americans.

Those who speak French should listen to this video about the pain still being suffered by those left behind [France 24.].

In the words of the Algerian-French writer and reporter Albert Camus:

Les represailles contre les populations civiles et le pratique de torture sont des crimes dont nous sommes tous solidaires….nous devons du moins refuser toute justification, fut-ce par l’efficacite, a ces methods. Des l’instant, en effet, ou meme indirectement, on les justifie, il n’y a plus de regle ni de valeur, toutes les causes se valent et la guerre sans buts ni lois consacre le triomphe du nihilisme.  

Algeria is the prologue of the tragedy of America’s confrontation with politically active Islam.
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Additional Readings:

Guy de Maupassant, Lettres d’Algerie–on the French war against Algeria in the mid-1800’s;
Albert Camus, Chroniques algeriennes 1939-1958–on the French war against Algeria in the mid-1900’s.


Dictatorship and Religious Extremism: Two Sides of the Same Coin

A popular false dichotomy in the West–promoted partly by those who can see only black and white, partly by those with a private agenda to profit from chaos–holds that the choice in the Mideast lies between dictatorships and religious extremism. Don’t fall into this trap: dictatorships and religious extremism are two sides of the same coin.
As the pace of reform slows in the Mideast, the viciousness of criminal regimes rises, and the counterrevolution gains momentum, the prospects for moderate, peaceful modernization coupled with political reform, civil liberties, and the installation of regimes interested in popular welfare rather kleptocracy dimishes. In direct response to the fading prospects of responsible democracy, the prospects for extremism rise. Dictators and those who hope to benefit from dictatorships will stress the danger of religious fundamentalist extremism as though two opposite choices existed – either dictatorship by a kleptocracy or al Qua’ida. In truth, it is precisely the existence of one type of extremism that provokes the other.
Saudi Arabia is starting already in these initial post-Bahrain intervention days, to provide one example: the political elite, having evidently learned nothing from the wave of global terror, is once again kissing up to religious ultra-conservatives. From ultra-conservative dogma enforcing radical religious strictures to the use of violence against those who do not submit is a very short step: if “god” says you must and you don’t, it is very easy for the credulous to conclude that those who don’t are evil (short step) and (another short step) should be murdered. The Saudi mistake (from the perspective of those who aspire to live in a tolerant society) is to use religious fundamentalists to buttress the kleptocracy against the population.
Algeria is providing a second example of the tight relationship between the religious extremism the West fears and the Arab dictatorships Western elites find so convenient. Where Riyadh coddles fundamentalism to repress the people, Algers uses military oppression against both, leaving the people with no hope and thus making the revolutionary socio-political message of fundamentalists attractive. The Algerian mistake is to turn its back on a population that wants peace and offer it no alternative but resistance.
Extremist regimes that either repress their populations, as in the cases of Saudi Arabia and Algeria, or repress conquered ethnic minorities, as in the case of Israel, provoke an extremist response. Abuse of power by a criminal state provokes the empowerment of radical dissent and its own concomitant abuse of power. The longer the Mideast popular protests continue without substantive improvements socio-economic conditions for the population, the more radicalized politics is likely to become. It is not in the interests of the American people for Washington to pick elite favorites as clients but for Washington to support the emergence of independent, moderate, reformist political systems that focus on improving domestic socio-economic conditions. U.S. politicians may not be ready to turn any of their aircraft carriers into small-business loans for unemployed Arabs, but we might all be more secure if they did.
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READINGS:

A superb list of 10 things Western governments should avoid in the Mideast;
Needed for Arab democracy – jobs

The People Are the Enemy: Algerian Chapter

Following the standard handbook of repressive regimes, the Algerian dictatorship continues taunting the long-suffering Algerian society.
Algeria’s regime is now visibly intent upon defining pro-democracy demonstrators as “the enemy,” with the standard repression of meeting legitimate popular demands for reform with violence and warning the population not to express its opinions (unless they match the opinions of the oppressive rulers). Whatever the likelihood a week ago that Algeria would follow in the footsteps of Tunisia, the likelihood of that today is higher, and the regime has only itself to blame. 
Ironically, demonstrations in Algeria have been small and would most likely hardly have been noticed except for the heavy-handed response of an intolerant regime. But with a reported 800 protesters injured so far this month and the regime apparently in no mood to listen, intensification of popular demands is predictable. Harsh repression of minimal demands, in the age of al Jazeera and in the context of neighboring Tunisia’s increasingly bold popular challenge to misgovernment, may very well provoke intensification of demands and a rise in sympathy for the few who have so far dared openly to confront the regime.
Dynamics. The Algerian regime first tried to fix the “problem” of protests by cutting food costs in early January. This fix is probably in part responsible for the small size of subsequent protests, yet the regime has now shifted to an emphasis on violent repression, eschewing the obvious alternative of trying to co-opt the demonstrators by allowing peaceful protests and making a show of sitting down to listen to the opposition. In any case, fixing the superficial symptom of high food prices left the underlying causes of dissatisfaction–unemployment, oppression, poverty–unaddressed. In addition, its temporary cooling effect, if any, may actually have encourged the regime to take a harder line subsequently.
Washington’s Input. Meanwhile, in yet another stunningly incompetent example of bad taste and poor timing, Washington publicly lauded Algerian dictator Bouteflika’s “anti-terrorism” activities precisely when he was beating up pro-democracy demonstrators. Bouteflika is the perennial candidate of the military, which destroyed incipient democracy in Algeria after Islamic reformers won election two decades ago. He has presided over a society subjected to widespread human rights violations, undemocratic elections, and great economic stress, with real unemployment reportedly as high as 25% and 15 million of the country’s population of 36 million under 30.

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Confusing “Civil Rights Activism” and “Terrorism”
Over 100,000 Algerians died during the political strife of the 1990s. Thousands more were “disappeared” by security forces or abducted by armed groups fighting the government and never found. The 2006 Law on Peace and National Reconciliation provides a legal framework for the continued impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of atrocities during the this era. The law provides amnesty to security force members for actions they took in the name of combating terrorism and to armed group members not implicated in the most heinous acts.Human Rights Watch
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Bleak Future. But the Algerian military has been firmly on the side of the elite for a generation, since a vicious civil war that squeezed moderates between the Scylla of Islamic extremists and the Charybdis of military extremism; the astonishingly smooth removal of the Tunisian dictator seems an improbable outcome for Algeria.