There is rising tension across the Algerian political spectrum ahead of the upcoming elections, writes William Bauer.
Election times in Algeria are always sensitive. Most Algerians are old enough to remember when in December of 1991 the Islamist party, Front Islamique du Salut (FIS), won over fifty-percent of votes cast in legislative elections. This led to the second-round of the election being forcibly cancelled by the regime and thereby directly ensued a decade-long civil war.
This may be in the past now but history is very much alive in Algeria and feelings are raw. So any sudden revelations or allegations of wrongdoing are all the more likely to cause uproar.
On May 10th, Algeria will go to the polls in legislative elections to elect a new parliament. However, even before campaigning has officially begun there is disagreement and discord over the source of funding of some Islamist parties.
The Islamist parties in question –alleged to include the Front de la Justice et du Développement (FJD) – stand accused by other political parties in Algeria of receiving secret funds from Qatar and Turkey. The leader of the (FJD) has refuted the accusations, stating that: “Funding for the party’s electoral campaign will be the responsibility of the FJD’s chief candidates, because the party does not have a national budget for this purpose.”
Algerian law provides – as many national laws around the world do – for criminal and civil punishment if funding for an Algerian political party is coming from abroad. This includes a possible sentence of 1-5 years in prison and a fine of between 2,000 and 20,000 Algerian Dinars.
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Yet, such accusations are indicative at this early stage of attempts to uncover evidence to discredit Islamist parties in the Algerian election. It also demonstrates a possible foreign-based agenda in Algeria’s elections when foreigners secretly fund Islamist parties in Algeria.
Further to this, the rise of Islamist parties into mainstream politics following the events of the Arab Spring has caused concern in Algeria, whose electoral experience with such a party led to brutal conflict. This is by no means guaranteed to be repeated but many Algerians will be vary of populist, rabble-rousing Islamist parties, and the reaction of the regime to them. This is caused in part by the brutal civil war after the cancellation of the 1991 elections won by FIS.
Whilst still popular in terms of membership and vote share, the Islamist parties in Algeria today no longer have the huge swell of support enjoyed by the FIS in 1991. Yet, with the Arab Spring and the emergence of a moderate Ennahda party victory in Tunisia, Islamism in Algeria is fast becoming a revitalised force.
However, foreign funding in national elections of Islamist parties is also a contemporary issue in Egypt. The Salafist al-Nour party in Egypt is documented as receiving monetary support from Saudi Arabia, which is seeking to influence political affairs in that country. Such revelations have already made the Egyptian political scene more divided.
Whilst no direct, clear-cut evidence has emerged linking Algerian Islamist parties to foreign funding, it further indicates rising tension across the Algerian political spectrum.
In advance of polling day a large scale security operation is planned, to ensure no disruption or outbreak of violence. But, there is still time before the poll for rumours or accusations of this nature to increase the tension already floating in the political air over Algeria.