Algerian Islamists set to quit government and push for reform

December 27, 2011

(Djama’a al-Kebir, the Grand Mosque of Algiers, 13 March 2011/Tom Heneghan)

Boosted by the success of peers in the region, a leading Algerian Islamist party plans to leave the ruling coalition before April’s parliamentary election to press for constitutional reforms to limit the powers of the president.

“We are for a parliamentary system, not a presidential system as is the case now, and we will campaign to change the constitution,” Bouguera Soltani, leader of the Islamist Movement for Society of Peace, told Reuters in an interview. “The final decision belongs to the shura (advisory council) which should take it by the end of this month. Personally I am with those who support the idea to leave the government and the majority is with me,” he said.

The MSP’s withdrawal from the coalition would not strip the government of its majority but the party has a big following among conservative Algerians – a large part of the population.

Algeria, a major gas supplier to Europe and a Western ally in the fight against al Qaeda, has managed to avoid a spillover from other Arab revolts despite riots over wages and high prices in early 2011.

Islamist parties have done well in elections this year after uprisings which overthrew leaders of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. “The circumstances that have seen the birth of the government coalition in 2002 are over. We need to find new ways to do politics,” Soltani said.

Formerly known as the Movement for an Islamist Society, or Hamas in Arabic, the MSP was founded in 1990 by Algerian members of the Muslim Brotherhood and has been in the government coalition since 2004. The party condemned a coup in 1992 that forced the cancellation of an election that fellow Islamists FIS, or the Islamic Salvation Front, were poised to win. The MSP did not join the resulting uprising that evolved into a decade-long civil war in which 200,000 people were killed.

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