They lost trust because of their brutality. But no, seriously, this time will be different. “Insight: Algerian Islamists hope for “Arab Spring” revival,” by William Maclean for Reuters, December 8:
LONDON (Reuters) – 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.”
Any Islamist revival in Algeria, an OPEC member and supplier of about a fifth of Europe’s imported gas, would have first to shed the burden of the country’s bloody history.
Twenty years ago, FIS was poised to win a legislative election, called after street protests forced the authorities to loosen their grip on power. FIS said it would impose an Islamic state.
The military-backed government stepped in to annul the election. The Islamists took up arms and Algeria slipped into a conflict of horrific violence. Civilians had their throats slit in the street; in the mornings, people woke up to find their towns littered with bodies.
A gaggle of geese, a flock of seagulls, an exultation of larks, and…
A rump of Islamists, now operating under the banner of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, is still fighting. They periodically ambush security forces in the countryside, kidnap Westerners and stage suicide bombings.
But the violence has subsided considerably. A huge security crackdown has rounded up thousands of insurgents. Others have laid down their arms and been
granted an amnesty, in exchange for an undertaking to stay out of politics.
This legacy is the biggest obstacle to any comeback by Algeria’s Islamists.
“Since then (the conflict), the Islamist was no longer seen as a hero who stands up against tyranny,” said Soheib Bencheikh, a theologian who used to be the chief cleric at the mosque in Marseilles, France, where there is a large Algerian community.
“On the contrary, he became, in the eyes of public opinion, accountable for the pain and suffering of the people,” Bencheikh told Reuters.
A fear of a return to violence helps explain why Algeria has this year remained relatively calm while neighboring countries have been convulsed by unrest.
But the Islamists still believe that Algeria is ripe for change, and are beginning to take practical steps.
Starting in November, a group of exiled Islamists with links to FIS set up a Europe-based television station, called Rachad TV. Carried by the Atlantic Bird 7 and Nilesat satellites , the station can be picked up in Algeria, where most homes have a dish.
It broadcasts political and social programs where opposition leaders and activists — most of them harshly critical of the government — are invited to comment on Algeria.
At the top of the station’s homepage on the Internet, there is a link to show viewers “how to free your country”, and a second link to help them “organize and participate in unrest.”
The exiles say they are also building contacts with other countries where “Arab Spring” revolts have propelled Islamists into a position of power. [….]
Tunisia’s experience had proved that it is possible to open up the political space in north Africa, said Anas.
“Everyone in Algeria must understand that Algeria has room for all … no matter what opinions you have,” he said, calling for a lifting of political curbs and the possibility of power-sharing between previously antagonistic groups….
That will be acceptable as long as political openness gives the Islamic parties the opening they need to advance.