Magharebia (Washington DC)

19 February 2013

Algeria: Nation Denies Licence to Salafist Party

Algiers — Algerian authorities barred the "Free Awakening Front" from holding its founding convention.

The Algerian Interior Ministry refused to license the first salafist party in the country.

The Free Awakening Front had planned to hold its founding convention on Saturday (February 16th). The interior ministry officially notified the party officials, through Algiers wali, that their application for the convention had been denied.

The interior ministry did not explain the decision.

"We were surprised with the rejection because our file has met all legal requirements," salafist party head Abdelfattah Zeraoui Hamadache told reporters. "We think that this involves an illegal move on the part of security authorities."

"We've tried to get explanations from Algiers wilaya officials about the reasons for rejection, but they said they don't know anything and can't comment on that," he added.

Hamadache said that his group would "stage a sit-in opposite Algiers wilaya and interior ministry headquarters to demand our right to engage in politics", if their demand for a meeting with officials was rejected.

The salafist party "hasn't wreaked havoc in land, hasn't thrown stones, hasn't attacked a road, hasn't sown chaos, and hasn't undermined the country's security and stability", Hamadache said.

There were indications suggesting that the Algerian authorities would refuse to give a licence to the party.

Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdallah Ghlamallah had recently accused the salafist movement in Algeria of trying to seize power. During a seminar on the Algerian religious marji'ya held in Dar al-Imam on February 12th, Ghlamallah said he never feared those who called for salafism.

"What do those people want?" he wondered. "Do they want to correct Islam or seize power?"

Ghlamallah added that pursuant to law, the interior ministry wouldn't license religion-based parties.

The amended version of the law pertaining to political parties, which was issued last August, bans licences to religious parties. It also bars anyone linked to the Black Decade from returning to politics.

"Islamic parties that declare their affiliation to a system other than the republican and democratic system wouldn't be licenced," Nourredine Lajal, a professor of political sciences, explained.

"The government won't give up on this regardless of the pressures that some parties try to exercise over it taking advantage of the Arab Spring events that brought the Islamists to power" [in the Maghreb]," Lajal added.

Kamal Hadef, a journalist specialising in security affairs, said that the "unrest which some countries are witnessing following the accession of Islamists to power, such as Egypt and Tunisia, serves the interest of the Algerian government".

Hadef noted that Islamist parties have a real presence in the scene and are politically active. But they have not been able to build a popular base that would enable them to win election and come to power, he added.

"These parties have understood the rules of democracy and refuse to use violence as a means to get to power," Hadef said. "They just don't want to repeat the same mistake of the disbanded Islamic Salvation Front (FIS)."

The new salafist party did not receive much support from religious young people, with some even saying that the formation of parties was "a factor for division and, therefore, a contradiction with the Sharia".

"Some of them believe that they shouldn't engage in politics and should suffice with preaching, while others believe that they must seize the chance and move politically to reform the existing conditions," explained sharia professor Mohamed Ramadhani.

"Recently, the popularity of Islamic parties in Algeria has somewhat dropped, unlike some other countries where Islamists have achieved remarkable success," Ramadhani added.

"Fears might have haunted Algerians about the return of the turmoil of the 1990's, which left behind a heavy toll of dead, displaced and missing people," he suggested.

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