By Chawki Salhi
ALGIERS — The Algerian establishment has responded to the victory of the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in the first round of the legislative elections by cancelling the second round and setting up a military government.
On the evening of January 22, the provisional leader of the FIS, Hashani, was arrested, and it is possible that political parties will be banned.
While the spectre of a fundamentalist dictatorship has been banished for the time being, that of a military dictatorship is taking shape, and the democratic window opened after the mass revolts of December 1988 is being closed. There is talk of a state of emergency.
The army could not accept cohabitation with a fundamentalist party that it had been instrumental in suppressing only the previous June. Reprisals would have been inevitable.
The coup was greeted by a widespread feeling of relief. The hysterical anxiety that had seized the modernist middle layers at the prospect of a fundamentalist government gave way to satisfaction, (although it would not be possible to talk of enthusiasm; the fact that this is an anti-democratic coup d'etat cannot be hidden).
Even among the FIS's popular electorate, there was relief that there were no victims; civil war had been feared. In everyday conversations you could hear a sort of renunciation of democracy and popular sovereignty; there is great confusion and no clear outcome of the crisis. The most tense are the FIS's own militants, while the youth have responded to this coup that has deprived the FIS of victory with a sort of dumber anger.
No reaction should be expected from the FIS, which, in the confrontations of last June, took the measure of its powerlessness in the face of the army. The order of the day in the fundamentalist camp is: "be patient, fast, pray; this is not yet the time".
The regime is on the offensive, hoping to push the FIS into making mistakes, and now arresting their chief for calling on soldiers to follow the path of God. It seems that the military intend to maintain some semblance of democratic forms, but they must dismantle the FIS or at least cut it down to size. In passing, they want to create a party of their own that can rival the FIS. Perhaps the former ruling party, the FLN, will be buried once the FIS has been contained.
But the new government, headed by historic FLN leader Boudiaf, who has been brought back from his exile in Morocco, will lack all credibility since the ballot box has already spoken in favour of the FIS.
It is clear that the regime has simply won itself a temporary respite and that social realities will soon make themselves felt again. The FIS, or rather fundamentalism, is the moral victor of the coup, egitimate representative of the people.
The FIS's leadership has been unable to stop the coup, but after a few months, when the regime's inability to deal with the country's economic problems becomes apparent, who else but the fundamentalists are in a position to step forward as the representative of the disinherited people? [From International Viewpoint.]