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Comments by YACCS
Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Not so fast, Mr. Bush


Hezbollah raises a point of order, Mr Bush


Mr. Bush's 'march to freedom" has a precident. In 1991, Algeria held electiona. They were free and fair, until the votes were counted. Then there were problems.

The country's economic crisis deepened in the mid-1980s, resulting in, among other things, increased unemployment, a lack of consumer goods, and shortages in cooking oil, semolina, coffee, and tea. Women waited in long lines for scarce and expensive food; young men milled in frustration on street corners unable to find work. An already bad situation was aggravated by the huge drop in world oil prices in 1986. Dismantling Algeria's state capitalist system seemed to Bendjedid the only way to improve the economy. In 1987 he announced reforms that would return control and profits to private hands, starting with agriculture and continuing to the large state enterprises and banks.

Notwithstanding the introduction of reform measures, incidents indicating social unrest increased in Algiers and other cities as the economy foundered from 1985 to 1988. The alienation and anger of the population were fanned by the widespread perception that the government had become corrupt and aloof. The waves of discontent crested in October 1988 when a series of strikes and walkouts by students and workers in Algiers degenerated into rioting by thousands of young men, who destroyed government and FLN property. When the violence spread to Annaba, Blida, Oran, and other cities and towns, the government declared a state of emergency and began using force to quell the unrest. By October 10, the security forces had restored a semblance of order; unofficial estimates were that more than 500 people were killed and more than 3,500 arrested.

The stringent measures used to put down the riots of "Black October" engendered a ground swell of outrage. Islamists took control of some areas. Unsanctioned independent organizations of lawyers, students, journalists, and physicians sprang up to demand justice and change. In response, Bendjedid conducted a house cleaning of senior officials and drew up a program of political reform. In December he was offered the chance to implement the reforms when he was reelected, albeit by a reduced margin. A new constitution, approved overwhelmingly in February 1989, dropped the word socialist from the official description of the country; guaranteed freedoms of expression, association, and meeting; and withdrew the guarantees of female rights that appeared in the 1976 constitution. The FLN was not mentioned in the document at all, and the army was discussed only in the context of national defense, reflecting a significant downgrading of its political status.

Politics were reinvigorated in 1989 under the new laws. Newspapers became the liveliest and freest in the Arab world, while political parties of nearly every stripe vied for members and a voice. In February 1989, Abbassi Madani and Ali Belhadj founded the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut-- FIS). Although the constitution prohibited religious parties, the FIS came to play a significant role in Algerian politics. It handily defeated the FLN in local and provincial elections held in June 1990, in part because most secular parties boycotted the elections. The FLN's response was to adopt a new electoral law that openly aided the FLN. The FIS, in turn, called a general strike, organized demonstrations, and occupied public places. Bendjedid declared martial law on June 5, 1991, but he also asked his minister of foreign affairs, Sid Ahmed Ghozali, to form a new government of national reconciliation. Although the FIS seemed satisfied with Ghozali's appointment and his attempts to clean up the electoral law, it continued to protest, leading the army to arrest Belhadj, Madani, and hundreds of others. The state of emergency ended in September.

Algeria's leaders were stunned in December 1991 when FIS candidates won absolute majorities in 188 of 430 electoral districts, far ahead of the FLN's fifteen seats. Some members of Bendjedid's cabinet, fearing a complete FIS takeover, forced the president to dissolve parliament and to resign on January 11, 1992. Leaders of the takeover included Ghozali, and generals Khaled Nezzar (minister of defense) and Larbi Belkheir (minister of interior). After they declared the elections void, the takeover leaders and Mohamed Boudiaf formed the High Council of State to rule the country. The FIS, as well as the FLN, clamored for a return of the electoral process, but police and troops countered with massive arrests. In February 1992, violent demonstrations broke out in many cities, and on February 9 the government declared a one-year state of emergency and the next month banned the FIS.


Yeah, that went well, so well that the Paris subways rang with explosions set by the GIA, the rebel group which started a decade long civil war after the banning of the FIS.

The Benjedid government in the early 1980s relaxed the restrictions on Islam and its political expression, hoping to preclude the development of a more politically active Islamist movement. Islamist political opposition to the regime was tolerated, more mosques were constructed, religious education in the schools was encouraged, and in 1984 a new family code closely following Islamic tenets was enacted. A number of prominent Islamic leaders were released from prison, including Abbassi Madani, a university professor who would be one of the founders of Algeria's first Islamic political party.

The FIS emerged as a political party on September 16, 1989. One of the first parties to apply for legal recognition in Algeria's new multiparty system, the FIS had begun to take shape in the months before the constitutional revision that legalized political parties. Islamist leaders met between February and August 1989 while the APN was debating the new legislation that would enact the constitutional provision allowing for the creation of "associations of a political character." The FIS named Shaykh Abbassi Madani, a moderate Western-educated professor of comparative literature at the University of Algiers, as its leader. His second in command was Ali Benhadj, a high school teacher known for his fiery and militant rhetoric and radical notions of the role of political Islam. This dual leadership and the lack of a clear doctrine allowed for the variable interpretation and pluralistic nature of the FIS as a political party. The more moderate Madani represented a conservative faction within the party intent on using the democratic system to implement its Islamist code. Belhadj, with wider grass-roots supports, drew the younger population intent on the immediate imposition of Islamic law.

In line with the nationalist appeal of the Islamic movement, FIS as a political party has transcended religious affiliation. In the economic sphere, the FIS advocates a free-market approach with lower taxes and incentives for developing the private sector. The party also calls for cuts in military spending. Its program is largely driven by domestic interests and is not linked to an international Islamist movement. In fact, the party platform in late 1992 called for international cooperation with the West to explore and expand Algeria's natural resources and export potential.

Many people have minimized the strength of the FIS by maintaining that its greatest appeal has been in the impoverished urban centers filled with unemployed and discontented youth. To this view one must add a few qualifiers. First, in the early 1990s more than 70 percent of Algeria's total population was under the age of thirty (more than 50 percent was under the age of nineteen). To the extent that the party appeals to disgruntled youth, it appeals to a huge percentage of the population. Second, whereas large numbers of unemployed fill the ranks of the FIS, they are without work primarily as a result of poor economic policy and limited opportunity. These factors constitute an inevitable and legitimate precipitate for a backlash vote against the incumbent regime. Finally, the June 1990 local elections demonstrated that the appeal of the FIS was not limited to the poorer districts. FIS candidates won in many affluent districts in the capital and in such provinces as El Tarf, home of Benjedid.

At the time of the June 1990 elections, the FIS was a pluralist and generally moderate party. Under the leadership of Abbassi Madani, in contrast to Ali Benhadj, the FIS resembled a moderate social democratic party more than a radical Islamist party. The radicalization of the Islamists and the violent uprisings that dominated political life in 1992 and 1993 resulted from the revived political authoritarianism led by the army and were not necessarily an attribute of the party itself. In fact, the party, untested in a national capacity, can be measured only by its actions. In those local districts controlled by the FIS since the 1990 elections, few of the radical changes feared by many outsiders and the old guard in the ruling elite have transpired. In part the retention of the status quo has been caused by substantial cuts in municipal budgets and in part by the lack of time and flexibility to alter drastically existing legislation. However, disagreements within the leadership itself, especially over the timetable for implementation of Islamic principles, have been perhaps the strongest factor in the lack of change.


The problem was both Algiers and Paris were deathly afraid that the FIS were going to win their one and only election. So Algiers decided to ban the FIS and hunt them down.

SUBTITLE OVER POLITICAL RALLY : Islamic State! ]

VO: In Algeria, the Islamic Salvation Front won overwhelming victories in local elections, and looked certain to win the coming general election. And at the same time in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood began to win mass support, and a growing number of seats in Parliament. Both parties were riding to power on an idealistic vision. They would use Islam in a political way to create a new type of model society through peaceful means.

SAIF AL BANNA , Senior member, Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt (speaking in Arabic, subtitled): We can change people through education and religious conviction. We want to build a popular base. This is the right way. We do not want a military coup; we do not want violence; we want our rights. If people believe in us, the government must comply with the people’s wishes.

VO: But the governments in both Egypt and Algeria faced a terrible dilemma. At the heart of the Islamist vis
ion was the idea that the Koran should be used as the political framework for the society. An absolute set of laws, beyond debate, that all politicians had to follow. The implication of this was that political parties would be irrelevant, because there could be no disagreement. The people were about to vote in parties that might use that power to end democracy.

ALI HAROUN , Algerian Minister for Human Rights (1991-1992) (speaking in French, subtitled): But what a dilemma! Do you find a way of stopping the electoral process and cancelling the second round? Or do you let power go to a party which claims: “One man, one vote, but only once! We won’t have any elections after this, because democracy is non-religious. Once we’re in power, we’ll stay there forever, because we alone are the keepers of religious truth, and we alone shall apply the Koran.”

VO: Faced by this dilemma, in Algeria the army decided to step in, and in June 1991 they staged a coup d’?tat and immediately canceled the elections. Mass protests by the Islamists were repressed violently, and their leaders arrested. At the same time, in Egypt, the government also clamped down. They arrested hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members, and banned the organization from any political activity.

ESSAM EL ERIAN , Senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt: What happened is a wave of arresting Muslim brothers, a wave of military courts for Muslim brothers, going to kill some of Muslim brothers under torture. They stopped all the free elections in all of their society and institutions. And this wave, in this manner, you open the doors of hell for the violent groups who were hidden underground—and stopped the moderates, open the door for the violence.

VO: For Ayman Zawahiri, this was a dramatic confirmation of his belief that the Western system of democracy was a corrupt sham. Groups of radical Islamists who had developed his theories into even more extreme forms now set out to create violent revolutions in Algeria and Egypt. It would be the start of a jihad that would liberate the Muslim world from corruption.

OSAMA BIN-LADEN (speaking in Arabic, subtitled): The only way to eradicate the humiliation and Kufr that has overcome the land of Islam is Jihad, bullets, and martyrdom operations.

KEPEL : Bin-Laden and the others started, from now on, to wage their own jihad, i.e. not to compromise, not to try to compromise with more moderate groups, but thinking that an armed vanguard would be able to implement the seizing of power. They were convinced that they could duplicate the Afghan victory, quote-unquote victory, that they could establish an Islamist state in Algeria, in Egypt, and the like. They thought that would capture the hearts and minds of of the Muslim masses, that people realize that the strength and victory were on the side of the jihadis.
...

[ TITLE : ALGERIA 1992 / June 1992 ]

UNIDENTIFIED POLITICIAN (speaking in Arabic, subtitled): We realize that other nations have surpassed us. In what? In knowledge. And Islam—

[ GUNSHOTS , CHAOS ]

VO: In the early ‘9nistan were trying to topple the r?gimes. At the heart of their strategy was the idea that Ayman Zawahiri and others had taught them: that those who were involved in politics could legitimately be killed, because they had become corrupted and thus were no longer Muslims. This violence, they believed, would shock people into rising up, and the corrupt r?gimes would then be overthrown.

ABDULLAH ANAS , Member of the Political Council, Islamic Salvation Front, Algeria 1993: “They must die!” Not only “must die,” they DID kill. They did kill people. Not just any—it’s not just an idea from far, it became true. People were killed. 0s, Algeria, Egypt, and other Arab countries were being torn apart by a horrific wave of Islamist terror. The jihadists who had returned from Afgha

[ TITLE : 4th June 1993 ]

ANAS : Many many rulers; many many holy men; many many scholars; many many politicians in Islamic world have been killed because of these ideas. Why? Because simply they are against the Koran. They rejected the Koran. Why they rejected the Koran? Because they did elect.

VO: Ayman Zawahiri was now based with bin-Laden on this farm in the Sudan. He used it as a base for his group, Islamic Jihad, to launch attacks on politicians in Egypt. But as one of the leading ideologues of the revolution, he also traveled throughout the Arab world, advising other groups on their strategy. But the revolutionaries soon found that the masses did not rise up and follow them. The r?gimes stayed in power, and the radical Islamists were hunted down. Faced by this, the Islamists widened their terror. Their logic was brutal: it was not just those who were involved with politics who should be killed, but the ordinary people who supported it. Their refusal to rise up showed that they, too, had become corrupted, and so had condemned themselves to death.

Dr. AZZAM TAMIMI , Institute of Islamic Political Thought: There was definitely a logic. The logic is that you assault the leaders, you assault those who are associated with them, and eventually you assault the people who have consented to the presence of such a despotic leader, even if they are passively supportive through their silence. And then you start attacking economic institutions, you start attacking the tourists, because the tourists bring money to the country, and that money goes into the pockets of the corrupt ?lite. So, it is an endless process.

VO: In Algeria, this logic went completely out of control. The Islamist revolutionary groups killed thousands of civilians, because they believed that all these people had become corrupted.

MAN (speaking in Arabic, subtitled): All these innocents, what did they ever do? Legs blown off! Such horror! Even the French extremists never did things like this. Why? What have we done? What have our children done? Leave me alone! I want to die!

VO: In turn, the generals running Algeria infiltrated the revolutionary groups. They told their agents to persuade the Islamists to push the logic even further, to kill even more people. This would create such horror that the groups would lose any remaining support, and the generals could use the fear and revulsion to increase their grip on power.

ANAS : The generals infiltrated the jihad ideas, the jihad groups, to put the society under fear. By creating terror and violence, [unintelligible] everything in the society, no politic, no economy, no everything, just to stay and saying to the West, “we are facing terror.”

INTERVIEWER (off-camera): Using fear.

ANAS : Using fear to stay on the power.

MAN WITH GUN (speaking in French, subtitled): Today they kill, they kill everybody: innocent people, children, old people. They have even cut up their victims. Who will trust them if tomorrow they take power?

DEMONSTRATORS (shouting in French, subtitled): Down with fundamentalism! Down with fundamentalism!

VO: By 1997, the Islamist revolution was failing. There were mass demonstrations against the Islamist groups by thousands of people horrified by the violence. And then, in June of that year, a group of Egyptian Islamists attacked Western tourists at the ruins of Luxor. 58 were killed in three hours of random violence. The massacre shocked the Egyptian people, and the leaders of the revolutionary groups agreed to call a cease-fire. In Algeria, a few groups held out. But they began to tear each other apart, as they followed the logic that had driven their revolution to its ultimate—and logical—end: they started to kill each other.

TAMIMI : It led to their own destruction. A group that believes in 100% pure Muslim will not see that purity in anybody else but themselves. So whoever disagrees with them becomes the enemy, becomes out of the House of Islam, and then if they happen to disagree with each other themselves, then they will start liquidating each other. And they keep fighting each other; there will be infighting. Eventually it ends in suicide.

VO: The main Islamist group in Algeria, the GIA, ended up being led by a Mr. Zouabri, a chicken farmer, who killed everyone who disagreed with him. He issued a final communiqué, declaring that the whole of Algerian society should be killed, with the exception of his tiny remaining band of Islamists. They were the only ones who understood the truth.


Democracy in the Middle East can have a very different outcome than the one Washington wants. I think our Iraqian friends may, in the end, listen to Tehran. Which is not the bill of good Chalabi sold the neocons. The fact that his real paymaster was in Tehran seems to still elude some people, like Richard Perle, who's been laughed off of several stages recently. Which means US soldiers died to create the Islamic Republic of Iraq, with no oil, no bases, nothing but dead and wounded. The potential for the greatest fiasco in US foreign policy still remains.

Now, Bush is playing with fire in Lebanon, forgetting that everyone has a vote, which means Hezbollah might object to their patrons being booted from the country, object in a very violent way. While the Bushies were cheering the protests, Hezbollah smacked their dicks back with narly 500,000 people in the
streets. Which dwarfed what came before. Someone in the White House must remember that the Shia love street theater, and the show which captivated Tehran and is now doing a road show in Beirut, may well do a long stand in Baghdad and points south.

Bush uses democracy like it's a simple, uncontested right. Everyone gets it, everyone will be happy. Well, that ain't the case. Iraqi women fear losing their rights to sharia law, a democratic election in Egypt might well bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power, and the people who would replace the Saud family are not Kennedy School graduates. It's nice to cheer on the right to vote, but you assume that the people will not vote for fundamentalists. In the Middle East, which once embraced socialism, reaction to that was in Islamic Revivalism, a belief that a restoration of the Caliphate would return Islam to world prominance.

Forcing a Syrian withdrawal may start the Third Lebanese Civil War, as armed factions jockey for power. Now, Bush and his team may not see it, being sweet talked by the Lebanese middle and upper classes, but like in most countries in that region, the poor determina stability. If Hezbollah is unable to protect the poor, they will go to arms again.

Algeria, a country with close ties to the West, turned inward to a savage civil war which killed upwards of 100,000 people, some in grim massacres which outdid the French. The war even spread to Paris via terrorism.

The Bushies may want to gloat, but what they may really be doing is spreading Pandora's Box from Iraq across the entire region.

posted by Steve @ 12:03:00 AM

12:03:00 AM

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