Algerian Islamists hope for Arab Spring revival

December 8, 2011

(Riot policemen prevent university students from marching during a demonstration in which they demand political change in Algiers May 2, 2011. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra)

Algeria’s Islamists, in the political wilderness since their last attempt to win power dissolved into civil war, are now trying again, galvanized by the success of their brethren elsewhere in north Africa in the wake of the “Arab Spring”.

Most Islamists in Algeria have been excluded from political life since the conflict, but in the past few months they have shown renewed signs of activity, much of it conducted from exile to dodge the attentions of the Algerian state. They have set up a satellite television station based in Europe, sent delegations to Arab countries that saw revolutions this year, and made tentative forays into anti-government protests.

Their chances of success are slim: they are divided into rival ideological camps, hemmed in by the powerful Algerian security apparatus, and, most importantly, discredited in the eyes of many people by a conflict in which they took part and which killed an estimated 200,000 people.

But they see an opportunity in the upheavals of the “Arab Spring,” which have this year unseated entrenched secularist leaders. In neighboring Tunisia, a previously outlawed Islamist movement has come to power, while in Egypt Islamists have taken a strong early lead in multi-stage parliamentary elections.

“Tunisia was an example and launcher of this (Arab Spring) revolution,” said Abdullah Anas, a London-based member of the leadership council of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which is banned in Algeria. “It could be a very good example for Algeria.”

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