by Solomon Anker
April 9th saw the Presidential Election in Algeria. The final result was an expected easy victory (90%) for the current President Boutiflika, in a country where he and his strong links to the military dominate the country’s political elites. Calling Boutiflika a dictator would be a bit harsh: however calling Algeria’s elections fully free would also not be totally true, but for the left-wing the results and the state of Algerian politics is quite interesting.
The election came 7 years after the end of the Algerian civil war which saw over 100,000 killed in a brutal conflict between government forces and Islamist militias. For the British media, Algeria is just another Muslim or African country in crisis and few people take any interest except for the marginal Western interests such as terrorist attacks linked to Al Qaeda or issues of immigration.
For the Arabic media the problems of Algeria are also a matter of little interest which they prefer to ignore.
While the Arabic media have a love affair with the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, the crisis in Algeria does not fit the media’s fantasy of Arabic-Muslim being the victim of the Christian-Jewish Westerner. Rather Algeria’s civil war was Muslim killing Muslim and hence the Arab world likes to ignore it. In addition to that while Israel is official a Jewish country oppressing a Arabic minority, Algeria is officially a Arab country oppressing its Berber minority (whom are 45% of the population), and many in this Berber minority totally reject Algeria as a Arab state and some even call for independence in their Berber region of Kabylie.
The Left-Wing in Britain generally take very little interest in Algeria both nowadays and during its civil war. Yet, Algeria has the potential for having a powerful left-wing movement and the end of the civil war has seen a rise in support for genuine left-wing ideals. This is mainly due to the brutality of the Algerian Civil War which was a battle between the authoritarian capitalist regime of the 1990s and the Islamist movement who were fighting for Sharia law, and both sides came out with a dirty reputation.
As in all “Arabic” countries there is a great opposition among the population towards the authoritarian regimes such as in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Although in these nations people have traditionally looked towards the Mullahs and the religious establishment as the best opposition to this regime. However, unlike these other “Arabic” countries the Islamic movement of Algeria has lost its reputation due to the civil war and other movements are now coming to strength. This dirty reputation of the Islamists is due to the extreme brutality of their militants during the civil war that saw them committing worse crimes than the government’s repression. At worst it saw religious Muslim men with beards and wearing traditional Muslim clothing going to villages that did not support their side and massacring innocent civilians and then taking the young women as sex slaves.
This had lead to a vacuum in Algerian politics and libertarian and left-wing movements are beginning to gain popularity. The most well known of these movements is the Trotsykist political party called the “Workers’ Party” (Hizb al-Ummal, in Arabic). Unlike in Britain and the USA where Marxists tend get minor coverage in the media and tiny votes in elections, the Workers Party is becoming a major movement in the opposition to both the government’s capitalist policies and the traditional male chauvinism in Algeria’s traditional society.
In fact the Workers Party’s leader, Louise Hanoune became the number two face during the 2009 election campaign (after the President Abdual-Aziz Bouteflika) and won 4.22% of the vote to come second out of six candidates beating the conservative Algerian National Front and the Islamist Movement for National Reform.
The Workers’ Party has been important in being an alternative to the Islamic movement which dominates the opposition in virtually all other “Arabic” countries. Regularly Islamist activists hold anti-women’s rights demonstrations and the Workers Party are visible opponents of this chauvinism. In addition to that Hanoune has spoken in favour of Berber rights while the government has traditionally tried to destroy Berber culture via their “Arabization” programs.
Certainly in the near future, the Workers’ Party is far from winning any election and the Algerian working class in not on the verge of getting rid of the authoritarian capitalist regime of Bouteflika. But the potential is there for a powerful left-wing movement in a country which the youth are increasingly bored and fed up with high levels of unemployed, poor housing and in terms of the women, the image of a confident woman like Louisa Hanoune is an inspiration for many women who struggle to survive in the male dominant Algerian society