12 June 2014

Algerians Fear FIS Comeback

Algiers — The idea that radical Islamists held responsible for the "Black Decade" would ever return to the Algerian political scene once seemed impossible. Not anymore.

For the first time since the 1990s, the government invited certain leaders of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and its armed wing, the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS), to take part in a dialogue.

The FIS has never come as close to making a political comeback as it has now, with an offer from the government to join discussions about Algeria's constitution.

Although invitations were extended to several figures from the former FIS, only Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) leader Madani Mezrag has accepted. The other founding members of the party, such as Abassi Madani and the more outspoken Ali Belhadj have refused to take part, as has Abdelkader Boukhamkham.

Talks on proposed amendments to the Algeria constitution kicked off on June 1st. Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal has said that national reconciliation should be consolidated, which suggests that steps will be taken in relation to the ex-leaders of the former FIS.

As well as inviting the members of the group to the negotiating table, the authorities lifted the ban on their leaving the country. Other measures are expected.

Out in the countryside, however, forgiveness is hard to find.

In Haouch Gros, a stronghold of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the scars of the "Black Decade" are still present. On the old farms where makeshift homes have been built, every family has a story.

"Here, there are families of terrorists and families of patriots," said 60-year-old Saadia Louzni, who lost her sons, husbands and neighbours. "We still glare at each other and we don't forgive."

"It's up to them if they want to talk about reconciliation or politics, but here the memory of the people we lost continues to haunt us and the idea of vengeance has never left us," she told Magharebia.

Another hamlet on the vast Mitidja Plain, Bentalha, was the site of the biggest massacre of all: 400 people killed in one night.

"I was ten years old," said Rachid Hamouni, 30. "I lost my parents, my brothers and my sisters. I was only narrowly saved by my aunt, who hid me underneath the bodies of my sisters. My life can never be normal again."

"So when I hear talk of reconciliation, of a return of the FIS or an amnesty, it's as if the scene of the crime committed against my family right in front of me is being recreated," he noted.

He delivered a parting message: "Tell the authorities that they murder us once again every time they give gifts to the terrorists and the politicians who were guiding them."

Students at the Faculty of Law in Algiers also expressed concerns over the potential return of the FIS.

"We're not against religion, we're against the parties that want to use religion to stir up disorder, as is currently happening in Libya, Egypt and Syria," Karim Haddad told Magharebia.

"Every time people talk about a revolution, they bring out these religious extremists," the student added. "We've experienced this and we saw what it led to. If the authorities would like to rehabilitate these Islamists, they must demand that they seek forgiveness from the people."

Meanwhile, the government is attempting to reassure the public about the rumoured legalisation of the FIS.

"The FIS, as a party, is not on our agenda," El Watan quoted the prime minister as saying on Tuesday (June 10th).

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