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Returning to Political Parties?

The National Liberation Front in Algeria

Mohammed Hennad

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Indice geografico :

Algérie, Maghreb, Méditerranée

Testo integrale

1The National Liberation Front (FLN) is a party worth studying not only because it is the oldest party but also because of the capacity it has shown to survive. It has now risen again to the political forefront following a relatively long period of recess between 1988 and 2000. The FLN is no longer content with winning the majority of seats in the Algerian parliament, municipal councils and provincial councils, as it has become the locomotive of the so-called “Presidential Alliance” and as an organization that very nearly allocates roles on the national political landscape. Very often, the FLN seems to be involved in some kind of political brokerage. As such, this party has aroused the interest of many researchers, especially thesis writers. Moreover, several party leaders have published books on the National Liberation Front, most of which, however, were controversial (Bouchama, 2008). Another reason justifying the interest in this organization is its close connection with the political system that has been in place in Algeria since the country’s independence in 1962, so much so that it has become a kind of a power stake. It would be, therefore, no exaggeration to assert that the fate of the political life and the desired democratic transition in Algeria remain, to a great extent, linked to way the National Liberation Front develops, including the possibility of “putting it in the museum of history”, something many people have been calling for since the adoption of political pluralism in the country.

The National Liberation Front: From a Liberation Movement to a “Ruling” Party

Birth of the party

2The National Liberation Front can be characterized by the way it was born. For the way it was born constitutes something like a genetic code that explains its conduct ever since Algeria’s independence.

3It is a well-known fact that the FLN did not start out as a political organization, but rather as a liberation movement against the colonizing power following the multiple failures of the various factions of the National Movement since 1954. These factions had tried time and again – albeit unsuccessfully – whether individually or collectively, to get the occupation authorities to change their treatment of the Algerian people, especially with regard to those dreams of emancipation stipulated in the Atlantic Charter of 1941 and to the winds of liberation that picked up toward the end of World War II, even if these dreams were subsequently crushed by the Cold War.

  • 1  According to several Algerian historians specializing in the Algerian War of Independence, in keep (...)

4Hence, one can say that the National Liberation Front was not established on a political basis and for the sake of political action; rather, it was – in a certain way – apolitical. Despite the rhetoric that has been prevailing since independence, the FLN did not come as a “synthesis”1 to the National Movement - the various factions which had started to emerge in the early twentieth century - as much as an abrupt and violent interruption to this pluralistic movement, which lacked maturity and a better understanding of the need for collective action in order to serve the national cause.

5During the period of colonization, Algeria witnessed partisan pluralism that spanned across the political spectrum. It was, thus, home to a radical party, a liberal party, a reformist Islamic party (which, however, described itself as an association) and a communist party. Numerous attempts had also been made at laying the foundations of joint action, and they were stepped up both during and after World War II. However, the response of the colonial administration each time proved that it was simply not ready to reconsider the terms of the relations between the European settlers and the indigenous population, with the exception of some “cosmetic” aspects.

6The organization that emerged in the autumn of 1954 under the label of the “National Liberation Front” thus spelled the end of the then-known national parties. It also came after an initial attempt in 1947 to form the so-called “Special Organization”, the armed wing of the People’s Party-Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties, an attempt that was soon squashed by the colonial administration.

7The secret organization composed of the National Liberation Front and the National Liberation Army came to light at a time when the National Movement needed some breathing space to overcome its crises, reorganize itself and adapt its struggle to the new realities following World War II. Hence, as has been previously mentioned, this organization imposed a fait accompli: no option was left to the existing parties (or to any person, regardless of his past militancy, for that matter) but to join the nascent organization, strictly as individuals not party members. Otherwise, its members were accused of high treason once the first victims started being deplored.

  • 2   Most of those involved in the struggle for Algeria’s independence say that their national conscie (...)

8The various factions of the National Movement were, at the time, looking for ways and means to mend their image and regain initiative on the level of the colonial administration and the Algerian people alike. Such an initiative was all the more necessary back then, following a series of failures in the pursuance of the national cause. The most serious of these failures was the events of May 19452, when Algerians, in the east of the country, went out to celebrate victory in World War II in their own way, albeit with the aim of drawing attention to their cause as payback for the part they had played in ensuring this victory. The settlers, however, countered them with bullets rather than dialogue. Setbacks then kept rolling in, including the failure to initiate reforms and the rigging of the 1947 elections, as well as subsequent efforts to deprive the Algerian population of representation after denying it full citizenship. These failures, which brought things back to square one every time, spread a sense of despair and had a negative impact on the peaceful actions. It is worth mentioning, here, that around this same time, the largest civil party – the People’s Party-Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties – started witnessing sharp internal conflicts that forced its leadership to yield to the demands to create an armed wing, known as the “Special Organization”, as has previously been mentioned. This demand was brandished by many youths affiliated with the party who had lost patience in light of the repeated failures and who subsequently formed the core of the Liberation Front.

9In any case, there was an effective national movement that represented the main currents in the country. The factions composing this movement complemented each other, even if this complementarity was not necessarily explicit and intended. The Democratic Union of the Algerian Manifesto (Union Démocratique du Manifeste Algérien, UDMA), a mostly liberal party, called for democracy, respect of human dignity and the right to share in the benefit of civilization. The Association of Algerian Muslim Scholars devoted itself to upholding the language and religion underlying the identity of the Algerian people. The Algerian Communist Party, which was slowly starting to reduce its dependence on the French Communist Party at the time, was trying to adapt to the Algerian struggle within the framework of a wider context of liberation. The Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties (known as the Algerian People’s Party) was the most important and most popular of the abovementioned parties and was fighting for political and social democracy, which would ultimately lead to national independence. This national movement could very well have achieved victories had time been on its side and had it not been for the emergence of the National Liberation Front, the founders of which campaigned for immediate independence, through armed struggle, without any prior preparation.

  • 3   Many of the ideas expressed here were quoted from an analysis piece I wrote in: al-Yawm, 23/3/200 (...)

10This short overview of indigenous politics and the activities of the National Movement in general prior to 1954 shows how each civil party was seeking – each in its own way and sometimes in cooperation, however difficult, with the other parties – to provide Algerian society with the necessary conditions to establish a solid political entity out of colonization, and perhaps, somehow, because of it. This entity would be led by experienced national elites capable of initiating a genuine national dynamic and of affecting the fate of the Algerian people in the long run. Even the Association of Algerian Muslim Scholars, which was labeled as “conservative”, joined this drive. Indeed, how could it not do so, keeping in mind that it was very influenced by the values of the Arab Islamic Nahda (Renaissance), which advocated a minimum of rationality in managing the affairs of society3.

Development of the party following independence: the notion of “apparatus”

11It is worth mentioning that the 1962 independence only served to consolidate the unilateralism that had grown stronger during the Liberation War, making the timid attempts to restore some kind of political pluralism, as had been the case under the colonization period, totally useless. But the struggle was never about restoring such pluralism inasmuch as it was about the legitimacy of the ruling power within the framework of the FLN’s unifying structure. This struggle sought to reach a balance of forces among the competing parties back then. Hence, had some kind of political pluralism been adopted when Algeria gained its independence, even if within the FLN itself, the country would be enjoying today a more mature and credible national elite and political parties (Hennad, forthcoming).

12In any case, it seemed clear right from the start that there was no hope of returning to the political pluralism prevailing under the period of colonization, and this was further compounded by the 1963 law banning political parties. This was due to the fact that the armed struggle had imposed a culture of prevalence of military action over political action, which only served to complete it. Several domestic leaders had previously held a conference, known as the “Soummam Conference”, in 1956 in an attempt to consecrate two essential principles: the supremacy of domestic leadership over external leadership and that of politics over the military. Nevertheless, neither the balance of forces nor the development of the war on the domestic level (the leadership had been forced to flee the country following a wave of arrests) allowed the consecration of these two principles, which remained ineffective. Moreover, the party leaders – except for the leader and supporters of the People’s Party – who joined the National Liberation Front were never decision makers. Rather, it later turned out that many of them were mere diplomatic tools and a showcase for negotiations with France in case the two belligerents agreed on initiating self-determination negotiations. This was the case with the transitional government, which negotiated and signed in the name of the National Liberation Front in March 1962 the Evian Accords on self-determination and on the nature of future relations between the two countries in various domains. After independence, it was as though this government had served its purpose, and its members lost their influence in the nascent state, expect for some non-decision-making positions bestowed by the new leaders of the country.

  • 4   In an interview I had, on October 5, 1985, with Benyoussef ben Khedda, a National Movement leader (...)

13The second reason behind the victory of unilateralism over pluralism has to do with the situation in the country back then, which was as follows: First, the political leadership was so riddled by divisions that the country almost drifted into civil war. Those who were not keen to take up dialogue and consultations prevailed. Second, there was a dire economic situation and empty state coffers. Third was the departure of the bulk of colonists who controlled almost all activities. A complete overhaul of the situation was needed and everything was waiting to be organized4.

14Hence, one can say that the difficult circumstances prevailing in Algeria at the time were in favor of the single-party notion as the “only way” to return to normalcy and achieve progress in the country. This party could have been no other than the National Liberation Front since it was the one that “liberated the country”.

15What was, then, the FLN’s status in the official texts of the nascent state?

  • 5   Ministry of Communication and Culture, “al-Nusûs al-asâsiyya lî jabhat al-tahrîr al-watanî(The es (...)

16Five texts are involved: The 1962 Tripoli Program, the 1963 Constitution, the 1964 Algiers Charter, the National Charter of 1976 and its 1986 amendment, and the 1976 Constitution. These texts remained in use as a “reference for the revolution” until the adoption of pluralism and the adoption of the 1989 Constitution. All these “founding” texts stressed the role of the National Liberation Front, using almost the same words to assert the same principles, albeit in a perhaps more moderate tone, from the 1965 coup to the succession of President Houari Boumediene, who died in December19785.

  • 6   Chérif Ouzani, « Où va le FLN? » (“Where is the FLN going?”), in Jeune Afrique, n° 2464-2465, Apr (...)

17The National Liberation Front thus transformed from a unifying liberation movement to a single party used as an exclusionary tool and as an “apparatus promoting a political system rooted in the army, the executive authority and the administration… Despite being the only party, the FLN became an empty shell, albeit one that was necessary for personal ambitions, as no one could secure his or her career without wrapping him or herself in its cloak6.”

  • 7   This constitution was strangely worded because it was drafted by a group called the National Libe (...)
  • 8   Meanwhile, the Algiers Charter was adopted in April 1964 in order to settle the scores pending si (...)
  • 9   Both the National Charter and the constitution were issued in the FLN’s name.

18The first Algerian constitution, adopted in September 19637, dedicated a section to the National Liberation Front (articles 23 to 26) in which it described the organization as “the only vanguard party in Algeria”, tasking it with “drafting the nation’s policy, acting as a source of inspiration for state action and [monitoring] the National Assembly and the government”, since it embodies the people’s ambitions to establish “socialism in Algeria”. However, this constitution remained valid for only about a month due to the war with Morocco and to internal conflicts. The situation remained volatile until the June 19, 1965 coup8, which suspended the constitution under the pretext of giving precedence to building socialism and eradicating underdevelopment in the country. Constitutional legitimacy was formally reinstated only eleven years later. This comeback, through a National Charter adopted, in 1976, by referendum as an ideological reference for the regime, led directly to the drafting of a constitution during the same year9. Even though the principle of the single-party system and the FLN’s vanguard role were emphasized on every occasion, the party remained trapped in a vicious circle of endless reorganization (Hennad, 1992, p. 114).

  • 10   The phrase “government organ” was an official denomination.
  • 11   See the series of interviews with Ahmed Ghazali, the then-minister of Energy, who regained his st (...)

19Throughout this whole period, the FLN remained an “apparatus”10 with three main functions: First, providing political propaganda for the ruling regime and its revolutionary project. Second, political recruitment by selecting candidacies for elected councils and cooptation of individuals to higher positions (being a member of the FLN was actually regarded as a sign of loyalty to the regime, keeping in mind that such a cooptation was never the work of the party inasmuch as the work of the secret services). Third, exerting control over the people, especially by expanding across municipalities, neighborhoods and workplaces, thus making the party similar to a political police force. The FLN was also used as a means to settle political scores, particularly in the early 1980s, when former ministers who had served during President Houari Boumediene’s were excluded from the party leadership, hence from power11 altogether. As for the traditional function known to parties (contribution to political life, political stability and political socialization) the FLN performed them, only within the framework of the abovementioned three functions.

20It is worth noting that the return to constitutional regime did not have much effect on the status of the party, which remained an organ of government used by the ruling regime, as though the provisions of the 1976 Constitution in this regard were merely alluding to some party that had yet to be established. It is also worth mentioning that, unlike the National Popular Army, no separate chapter was earmarked for the party in the constitution; rather, the FLN is mentioned in the section dedicated to “the fundamental principles pertaining to the organization of Algerian society”, and ten articles tackled it in the chapter pertaining to the “political function” (articles 94 to 103). Therefore, one can say that Article 94 (“the founding system in Algeria is based on the single-party principle”, i.e. the National Liberation Front) – much as it confirmed the party’s role – aimed to confront the opposition, prevent pluralism, distinguish the supporters of the regime from its opponents and fill in vacant positions. According to Article 102, “decisive positions in the state are ascribed to members of the party leadership.” The same article also confirmed the principle of unified leadership in the party and the state in order to achieve a “unified vision”. In other words, the party cannot draft the country policy unilaterally, thus driving many analysts at the time to describe the political situation in Algeria as a “regime with a party” rather than “a party with a regime”. Others described the FLN as a “party-state” or a “party-nation”.

21By and large, President Houari Boumediene (1965-1978) did not show much interest in ensuring the FLN’s participation during his term because he did not care about political building inasmuch as he was interested in socioeconomic issues aimed at improving the country’s agricultural, industrial and cultural production as proven by the “three revolutions” in these fields. With the exception of advertising these revolutions, the FLN was kept busy with an endless process of reorganization under the pretext of seeking to build a qualified vanguard party. Yet emphasizing this objective at every turn only served to indicate how hard it was to attain, not to mention that the administration was not excited about the party’s interference in its affairs. FLN leaders themselves did not seem to be up to the task, and Mustapha Lacheraf (1978) described them as “false militants and true notables”. Throughout this period, the party was unable to organize a single congress and seemingly supplied state institutions, all this while, with competent individuals.

  • 12   This can be interpreted as an attempt by the president to curb the army’s role in national politi (...)

22Following the death of President Houari Boumediene in December 1978, things changed for the party somehow; it gained a more important presence, and the president started holding many meetings with its leaders in his capacity as the FLN’s secretary general, stressing on every occasion his affiliation with it12. This trend is best symbolized by the fact that the party’s headquarters were transferred, in the mid-1980’s to the headquarters of the Governor-General (the central authority) under the French colonization. The party gained greater coverage in governmental media coverage, started holding congresses and meetings of its Central Committee and Politburo, and issued lists and recommendations on the major issues regarding the nation’s present and future.

23During this period, the FLN came to be referred to as a “party” more than as a “front”. The fact that it was referred to as the National Liberation Front Party during the 1980s was an indicator of its emergence as a party, and of its ambition to be at the forefront of the political system and to differentiate itself from the regime rather than keeping to its role as an organ of political propaganda and recruitment. This endeavor also benefited the regime as such since it masked its military aspect, even though the military maintained an official presence within the party’s leadership. The FLN was probably aiming to reach a status similar to that of the then-ruling Baath party in Syria and Iraq.

  • 13   These events, which took place on October 5, 1988 and lasted for approximately a week, were a gen (...)
  • 14   The National Liberation Front Party (documents), records of the Fifth Congress held from December (...)
  • 15   Idem, p. 5.
  • 16   Idem; see also the provisions of the party’s articles of association in the chapter pertaining to (...)

24Still, the National Liberation Front – especially its leadership and political platform – did not seek to renew itself and anticipate the course of events. Instead, it highlighted its achievements in Algerian society, which was burdened at the time by a stifling socioeconomic crisis due to mismanagement and dwindling oil resources. The crisis was even more acutely felt given the noticeable amelioration on the level of political awareness and the evaluation of the regime’s legitimacy and good performance (nowadays referred to as good governance). This was due to the emergence of a new, educated generation that cared less about how the country was liberated from colonization and more about its own fate, the country’s fate and the country’s management. Instead of the necessary renewal process, the party thus started building itself. For instance, a few years prior to the 1988 October events13, the party held its Fifth Congress in a very difficult context, and issued an “organizational resolution”, in which it stressed that “following a period full of achievements, efforts and positive results since the Fourth Congress [in 1980], which led to a new start in the life of the FLN [although it remained unclear how!], the party has proven for three decades that it is the only real force that was capable of mobilizing and organizing the masses14.” It also continued narrowing the scope of the political landscape even further, focusing every time on “the consolidation of the party’s leadership role by making participation in the struggle [for independence] a necessary condition for one’s appointment to important positions in executive bodies.”15 Moreover, it tightened its grip on civil society organizations, which were referred to at the time as “mass organizations”, especially with regard to the most important of all, the General Union of Algerian Workers16. This document even praised the popular national army for “its various efforts aiming to provide cadres and soldiers with political and ideological training [so blatantly worded!].”

25Accordingly, the 1988 October events must have come as a surprise for the FLN, which was the primary target. Several of its headquarters in major cities were vandalized, particularly in the capital, because it was held responsible for the deteriorating situation in the country and probably because it claimed to be the ruling party in Algeria, whereas it was, in reality, otherwise. Following these events, the party tried to clear its name.

From the “Apparatus” to the “Opposition” Party

26Following the bloody events of October 1988 and the ensuing political crisis, the regime undertook constitutional reforms that seemed more simulated than real in order to alleviate the tension while waiting for the situation to clear. The only noticeable change with regard to the party was the replacement of its leader, Chérif Messadia, a true apparatchik, by Abdelhamid Mehri, a man of vast political education with an established reputation from the time of the National Movement until today.

27These events led to divisions within the party, and a “broad discussion was launched regarding two main issues: (1) Who has had the actual power since independence? In order to define what we may call “historic responsibility”; (2) What status can the party have within pluralism? How is the party to be structured? And what is the fate of groups within it? … Two divergent points of view emerged: The first was that of a group which did not come to terms with what had happened and saw these events as a conspiracy against the party, while the second came to ‘believe’ that change has become inevitable” (Meghish, 2003, p. 70 and after). In other words, the split was between what was called at the time “conservatives” and “reformists”. Yet the new secretary general managed to bring about reforms in order to enable the National Liberation Front to emerge as a normal party that is autonomous in relation to the regime, one that enriches the national political landscape and seeks to take over power through democratic means. In truth, this choice benefited both the party and the regime, ensuring the former survival while granting the latter some credibility or, at least, the benefit of the doubt.

  • 17   In reality, all civil society associations, especially in a country like Algeria, can be describe (...)

28The course of events dictated the prevalence of partisan pluralism at the expense of those who wanted to make do with “forums” within the FLN. The February 1989 Constitution actually allowed it diffidently, as it referred to “associations of a political character” rather than to “parties”17 (Article 40). The law on political parties, promulgated the same year, stipulated that fifteen founding members only can establish a political association and benefit from financial aid. Many thus rushed to establish parties, and several came from the FLN itself. Hence, many of the new parties were merely FLN clones. They even had recourse to far worse practices than their original model sometimes. This spelled the demise of the very concept of pluralism, which, in the end, had less to do with different political visions and platforms and more with transforming parties into organs used by their founders in order to get closer to power through elections and other means. This pluralism also allowed individuals to achieve their political ambitions, which would have been otherwise trapped in narrower confines in the context of a single-party system. In addition, this pluralism led to the dominance of one particular current, namely the Islamic movement represented by the radical Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which conducted itself far worse than the FLN before it. Accordingly, the remaining parties came to evaluate their strength, not in comparison with that of the regime, but with that of this nascent party.

29This evolution from a single-party system to a multi-party system should have started with the legitimization of underground parties (there were three or four of these parties, which more or less represented the political spectrum). Nevertheless, it seems that the regime refused to stop there since it wished to avoid a direct confrontation with parties that had been involved in the struggle for the country’s independence and sought to hamper their action by having recourse to “microscopic parties” (as they were called at the time). Another reason behind the failure of the multi-party system lies in the fact that the new parties did not abide by the quite reasonable conditions set by the new constitution and the law on political parties in order to ensure the success of the nascent pluralistic experience. Likewise, the state authorities did not force these parties, particularly the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), to respect the provisions of the law in this respect and abide by the constraints of public order.

  • 18   For this reason, many believe, especially within the FLN, that the October events may have been u (...)

30During the first two to three years after the October events, the National Liberation Front was somewhat hesitant about defining the shape of its relation with the regime. This hesitation on both sides was meant to avoid the sharp criticism leveled at them by the political parties and private newspapers that emerged thanks to this new experience. Moreover, the party often accused the political regime ruling the country since independence of failure for merely regarding the FLN as an annex organ. The regime, in return, berated the FLN for failing to live up to its historic responsibilities after the liberation of the country, and, in its opinion, for acting as a force that hampered development in several cases under the pretext of preserving “the benefits acquired from the revolution” and the “national constant principles18”. In any case, and regardless of its previous notoriety, the FLN remains responsible, at least historically, for alerting the regime to the need for reforms, whenever such reforms are needed.

  • 19   Still, more proof in how difficult this separation is lies in the fact that the president was nev (...)

31In 1991, the government decided to take another step leading it further apart from the National Liberation Front Party when it said that its program was never that of the party; rather, it is a program of reforms dictated by the prevailing political and economic circumstances. In so doing, the regime exonerated the FLN from the repercussions of the structural reforms the International Monetary Fund had requested Algeria to initiate when it was heavily indebted. A short while afterward, the president announced his resignation from his position as the party’s secretary general, thus putting an end to the principle of “unified command in the party and the state”, which had been prevailing until that date19.

  • 20   On this separation process, see: M. Dayf (1999, p. 144-145).

32The party also ended its sponsorship of mass organizations and professional unions. Months later, it went on with this process when army representatives withdrew from the party’s leadership bodies so that “the military institution can focus on its constitutional duties”, as though these duties had not been an issue before20.

33Despite this hesitation, which seems – in hindsight – to be due to political calculations to a certain extent, one can say that the National Liberation Front – thanks to its new secretary general, Abdelhamid Mehri – managed to persuade the various political forces that it aimed to be a party like all others, not one that lived on past glories and fed on its relation with the ruling regime. In so doing, it ensured its survival and secured seats – albeit just a few – in the municipal elections of 1990 and the legislative elections held later that year.

  • 21  In an article titled “Pleading for the National Liberation Front”, La Tribune, October 20, 1995. R (...)

34In reality, the party managed to convince the public at the time that it had not been seeking to hold on to power by any means, and that it rather wanted to help bring about a successful and peaceful transition from a single-party political system to partisan pluralism in Algeria with guaranteed results. On many occasions, it looked as though history was calling on the FLN, once again, to undertake a national mission it could perform better than others. This was best expressed by one of the party’s key leaders in an article titled “Pleading for the National Liberation Front”, in which he said that criticizing the party as “an organ and means of government” must not overshadow the fact that it “represents the conscience of the nation and its search of liberty and prosperity21.”

  • 22  The results of the first round of the elections were as follows: Out of 420 seats, 188 went to the (...)

35FLN Secretary General Abdelhamid Mehri was aware of this trend among party leaders even if he did not necessarily agree with it. This is best expressed by his clear vision regarding the methods and mechanisms used in a democratic system. During his term, the National Liberation Front strived to establish strong relations with the other parties, especially the Islamic Salvation Front and the Front of Socialist Forces, which were the most prominent parties at the time. The secretary general’s statements were sometimes highly critical of the ruling power, as he urged it to differentiate between resolving the crisis of the political system and resolving that of the ruling regime, which he had come to refer to as the “actual authority”. The secretary general did not stop at criticism, rather joining words to action as he moved from criticizing the regime to explicitly opposing it. He did not content himself with expressing his opposition to the suspension of the elections following the first round of the legislative elections in December 1991. When this suspension was decreed, he met with the leaders of the two parties who won the highest number of seats, the Islamic Salvation Front – which achieved a landslide victory – and the Front of Socialist Forces22 in an attempt to come up with a collective initiative aimed at the authorities in order to preserve the country. The response of the authorities was, however, that the solution they proposed had come in too late. Still, Abdelhamid Mehri continued his efforts. The FLN thus submitted to the Higher State Council (the presidential committee formed following the president’s resignation and the suspension of the elections) a memorandum on November 28th, 1992 followed by a second one approximately two months later, stressing the need to initiate a dialogue among all influential sociopolitical forces about ushering in and facilitating the transitional period. These documents also emphasized the need to “reach an agreement on the national level on resolving the multidimensional crisis [and on scheduling various election dates] in conformity with the constitution adopted by the people on February 23rd, 1989.” (Belkasem, 1993, p. 375). Strangely enough, the ruling power turned down this initiative but went on holding, according to its own vision, consultations that culminated two years later with the organization of the National Consensus Conference in the absence of the political forces that should have attended it, i.e. the three parties that won the elections held on December 1991.

36The national consensus conference, involving only the participants in it, did not prevent the abovementioned three parties from pursuing their joint action, which later extended to other forces. It thus staged a gathering in January 1995 in Rome under the aegis of the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio. In this meeting, the participants came out with a “national contract”. This contract put forth the conditions for sound political practice in the country, according to democratic principles, especially the rejection of violence as a means to attain or remain in power, in addition to respecting the principle of free and fair elections and the principle of power alternation based on the results of these elections.

37Throughout Abdelhamid Mehri’s tenure at the party’s helm, he never recanted his positions, nor did he participate in any consultative or executive committee formed by the ruling power. Moreover, he did not take part in the presidential elections organized toward the end of 1995, which he described as a mere solution for the crisis of the “actual authority” rather than one for the crisis to which the political system as a whole was confronted.

  • 23  Ali ben Mohammad, “Mawsam al-tahrîrjabhat al-tahrîr” (The Liberation season in the National Li (...)

38Summing up the political line adopted by Abdelhamid Mehri, a key party member, former minister and former university professor once said that Abdelhamid Mehri “wanted to convince the ruling power that the National Liberation Front is an ordinary party with its own rules, regulations and militants, and that it does not want power and authority to be given to it as alms. Indeed, it is content with the role of the opposition party until free democratic elections grant it the share earmarked to it by the public… At a decisive time in the history of the country, the ruling power decided to ‘recover’ the FLN…”23

From the “Opposition” Party to a Key Member of the “Presidential Coalition”

  • 24  See the article published in the al-Haqîqa Magazine (which has been banned for many years), Novemb (...)
  • 25  See the interview in al-Khabar magazine, December 25-31, 2004.

39The most noticeable streak in the FLN’s behavior is its inability to sever the ties linking it to the ruling power. This connection to the ruling power is what has prevented it from evolving into a genuine ruling party under the single-party system. It made do, instead, with being an organ of government – as it was called – despite the attempts made in the 1980s, which were foiled by the October 1988 events. Prime Minister Mouloud Hamrouche (1989-1991) commented that the FLN, “like any other party in the country, is a party formed of clans, i.e. of groups which cannot even imagine themselves existing outside the ruling faction, regardless of its nature. Unfortunately,the same observations that can be made with regard to the army and the formal power can be made about the party, as these clans extend into the National Liberation Front24.” The results of these ties reflected on the positions of party officials who described the attempts spearheaded by Abdelhamid Mehri – the party’s secretary general between 1989 and 1996 – to free the FLN from these binds and take part in standard political competition as “a public wrecking of the party’s future”. This is due to the fact that the party’s political culture, which took shape under the single-party system (and perhaps even since the days of the Independence War), did not enable it to assimilate the democratic formulas and find anything more elaborate than temporary solutions for its internal problems. Years after he was removed from his position as secretary general, Abdelhamid Mehri revealed in an interview that “the political change in the country should have transformed the National Liberation Front into a party like all others, i.e. one that is independent from power rather than a part of it. Yet this idea was turned down because they wanted the party to remain part of the regime25.”

40Immediately after the National Contract was issued following the aforementioned Sant’Egidio meeting (this contract was wholly rejected by the ruling power), Abdelhamid Mehri started facing difficulties as the party’s secretary general, especially after he denounced the organization of the presidential elections in November 1995 and refused to have his party take part in them, since he considered – as has been mentioned before – that these elections were a tool used by the “actual authority” to resolve its problem in an attempt to acquire a semblance of legitimacy.

  • 26  See, for instance, al-Watan, November 14, 1995.
  • 27  These include, of course, intelligence services, which Abdelhamid Mehri referred to in the aforeme (...)

41Only days before the presidential elections, Algerian newspapers26 started running stories predicting the implosion of the National Liberation Front Party due to internal divergences over the elections and to the prevalence of the pro-election camp within the party. Since then, the FLN was kept busy with internal disputes, and some of its leaders started making statements expressing their concerns for the party’s fate due to its “deviating” from course. From this point onward, the days of Abdelhamid Mehri at the party’s helm became numbered, particularly after the emergence on the local stage of a prominent member of the party leadership. This former Algerian ambassador to Iran had returned to the country to make some contacts, some of which were kept secret, with parties within and outside the FLN27 in order to foment what was ironically referred to, at the time, as the “scientific coup”. This maneuver lasted a few months, but the secretary general would not be drawn into the maze; rather, he went about his activities as usual until the party’s Central Committee (the deliberation committee) decided to remove him from office in 1996, putting an end to what it called “staking the fate of the National Liberation Front”.

  • 28  Interview with the party’s governor in the capital, April 28, 2008.

42In light of the nature of the Algerian regime and of subsequent developments (especially when the FLN returned to the fold), the opposition stance by which the party abided between 1989 and 1996 can be described as being closer – albeit not necessarily intentionally – to a “functional” opposition than to a normal one. This opposition allowed the regime to gain time, and served its interests (and those of the conservative wing of the FLN), as the public and political forces perceived it as tangible proof of the regime’s true intentions to change. Summing up Abdelhamid Mehri’s experience as the FLN’s secretary general, one can say that the main positions expressed in the party’s name at the time were not those of the party’s leadership as a whole, but rather the positions of the secretary general and a few of his aides who adhered to his political line28. As for the others, they remained in waiting since they were not used to operating outside the framework of the ruling power. It is worth reminding that this came at an ambiguous time when constitutional proceedings were suspended. No sooner had the regime declared its intention to return to constitutional life by organizing presidential elections in November 1995 than Abdelhamid Mehri started facing fierce opposition for refusing to allow the party to take part in them.

  • 29  This person is Abdelhaq ben Hamouda, who had held several high-ranking state positions since indep (...)

43Naturally, the FLN did not witness a total change of political course immediately after its secretary general’s removal in 1996 and the appointment of a figure who can be described as an apparatchik29. Between 1996 and 1999, the party adopted a stance midway between opposing and supporting the regime. One can even say that it was, at the time, in a state of confusion and expectation against a backdrop of important events in the country, mainly:

  • 30  On this seminar, see: Amale Fadel, Aliyyât idârat al-azama fî al-jazâ’er bi uslub al-hiwâr (Crisis (...)

44The consequences of the National Consensus Conference30 (1994-1995), which the party – under the guidance of Abdelhamid Mehri – refused to attend, arguing that it was not serious. This conference culminated in an agreement among all the participating political forces that took part in it on a joint platform.

45The amendment of the constitution in 1996 against a backdrop of the “national tragedy” – as it is called nowadays – resulting from the acts of violence in 1992.

46The amendment of the law on political parties in 1997 in order for parties to be in conformity with the new constitution, especially with regard to banning the use of religion and cultural considerations in politics.

47The complete resumption of political life through legislative elections set to be held during the next year.

48The foundation of the then-called the Administration’s Party, i.e. the National Democratic Rally (RND), the leaders (including ministers) and base of which had resigned from the FLN in preparation for the elections.

49Finally, President Liamine Zeroual submitted his resignation in 1998 for reasons yet to be determined, even if he claimed that his sole motivation was to allow “the power alternation”, keeping in mind that this principle does not mean leaving office before the end of the presidential term. Moreover, this resignation did not lead to the anticipated elections according to the constitution; rather, the outgoing president remained in office until decision-makers designated his successor.

50The National Liberation Front was thrown into further disarray when the RND won the majority of parliamentary seats even though it had been formed only a few months before the election. In contrast, the FLN came in third place after the moderate Islamic party Hamas. The results of these elections were widely contested by the public, including the FLN, which deemed itself the primary victim of rigging. These results were meant to serve the interests of the new party rather than those of the FLN which had not yet returned to the regime’s fold, considering that the victory of any other party was unfathomable. Because the circumstances prevailing at the time were not in favor of the FLN returning to the forefront before a reasonable amount of time had elapsed led to making do with a substitute party while waiting for things to settle down. This is precisely what happened in the ensuing elections in 2002, as the National Liberation Front won the absolute majority, whereas the National Democratic Rally receded to third place behind another Islamic party. The same thing happened again in the 2007 legislative elections in which the FLN maintained its lead, albeit with fewer seats in parliament. Throughout this period, it sought to mend its relation with the ruling power, welcoming its decisions and taking part in the various elections and governments.

51Hence, the return of the FLN to power started with the 1997 legislative elections. The 1998 meeting of the Central Committee (Benuoub, 2001, p. 86) went on with isolating those who opposed this new political line, including key figures such as Mehri, Hamrouche, Bouhara and Ahmad Taleb Ibrahimi, and rehabilitating former key figures, such as Yahiaoui, Cherif Messaida, Bitat and Belhouchet. This process culminated in the 1999 presidential elections in which the party abstained from presenting a candidate of its own, supporting instead the “consensus candidate” in his capacity as “one of the sons of the National Liberation Party”. This held especially true since this candidate’s campaign manager was a leading figure in the party and was appointed by the president-elect immediately after the elections as his chief of staff, then as prime minister following his election as secretary general during the party’s Seventh Congress in 2001. The president, however, fell out with him later on, and the two men ran against one another in the presidential elections organized in the spring of 2004.

52President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika was a historic figure of the liberation movement and held ministerial positions in consecutive governments following independence until 1979. His election in 1999 outlined the beginning of a transformation in the political landscape, which resembles the return to the single-party formula under the guise of a formal pluralism. This new political map was based on two essential principles. The first one pertains to backing the “clemency” policy initiated by the former president in order to allow a chance for “repentance”, considering that those who resorted to armed violence had made a mistake with respect to their own people and that many youths were fooled by leaders who wanted to take over power by force. This step was followed up with the “civil concord” then the “national reconciliation”, which were implemented following a popular referendum. The second principle was based on the conviction that there was an unreasonably high number of parties (around sixty of them) that unsettled and undermined the political process, thus prolonging the crisis.

53Naturally, such an endeavor required an organized political force that would buoy it instead of its contenting itself with a vague popular backing. Likewise, due to the difficulty the regime was confronted to with regard to observing democratic principles, this force could be no other than the FLN. But this time, it sought to convince the other parties to join this process in accordance with the distribution of parliamentary seats resulting from the 1997 elections, hence the formation of the “Presidential alliance”.

  • 31  The premiership is still held to this day alternately by the National Liberation Front and the Nat (...)

54In fact, this “presidential alliance” was an artificial reduction of the political landscape in Algeria based on the assumption that it is essentially composed of three main currents: the “patriotic” current (the National Liberation Front), the “democratic” current (the National Democratic Rally) and the “Islamic” current (the Hamas Movement). Ministerial seats were distributed among them31. Still, this reduction failed to shed a light on a particular paradox: Are “democrats” not patriotic? Are “patriots” not democratic? Are “Islamists” not patriotic and undemocratic in a system that strives to be patriotic and democratic? Are both the “patriotic” and the “democratic” current secular? This goes without mentioning that every alliance gives rise to the following question: In favor of and against whom is this alliance forged?  

55Regardless of the wish to put an end to the partisan chaos, this alliance aimed to extend the monopoly of executive power over the country’s political life and strengthened the ties of the FLN to the ruling power. Yet this time, it was not alone; rather, as has been previously mentioned, it led an alliance of two other parties, which also sought to continue allotting state positions as benefits that are not always distributed according to the election results. It is a form of what is referred to in political analysis as “patrimonialism”.

The Ability of the National Liberation Front to Contribute to the Democratization of the Political System in Algeria

56Before tackling this issue, it is necessary to provide a summarized description of the current situation of the National Liberation Front with regard to its militant base, its relations with society and its internal dynamics.

The FLN’s current situation

The FLN’s militant base

57Firstly, it is necessary to say that this base, especially in major cities, is still emotionally linked to the history of the party ever since its inception as a liberation movement. In other words, it still looks up to the FLN as the party that ousted the colonizing power and restored the dignity of the Algerian people, which was held as being of little value during colonization. In the public’s perception, the National Liberation Front remains the party that is most knowledgeable about preserving this precious independence since it achieved it in the first place. Therefore, affiliation to this party is always a matter of emotional ties, at least for the common militant, rather than merely a tool of political competition. Those members with political ambitions, particularly within the party leadership, undoubtedly exploit this fact.

58On the number and distribution of militants according to the usual sociopolitical variables, three observations can be made: First, this matter is always shrouded in a veil of secrecy; second, as has become the fashion in nascent pluralistic regimes, the numbers that are submitted are always exaggerated for understandable reasons; and third, it seems that the party has not managed to gain total control over the statistics mechanisms. This goes without mentioning the volatility among the party’s bases, especially as elections draw near, keeping in mind that come polling time, many do not care about partisan loyalty inasmuch as they care about winning a seat in elected bodies.

  • 32  The National Liberation Front, The Statistical Bulletin, October 11th, 1986.

59According to statistics published in the 1980s32, the number of militants aligned with the party rose by approximately 210,000 between 1981 and 1989 to 577,000; an annual growth rate of 8% between 1981 and 1986, of 13% between November 1986 and December 1987, and of 50% in the two following years! Strangely, this growth increased in times of tension during which the legitimacy and competence of the political system as a whole was being questioned. This was confirmed by the events of October 1988 and their consequences, which primarily paved the way for the emergence of political pluralism, leading to a massive withdrawal from the FLN in order to establish new parties. The results of these statistics can be interpreted as an attempt to cover up reality.

60According to the non-detailed document issued by the party’s central headquarters, the current number of party militants is as follows:

Table 1. Number of party militants according to 2007 national statistics

Overall number of militants

Number of female militants

Percentage

Number of those under 35

Percentage

University graduates

189,272

12,532

8.38

61,241

33.17

39,790

61Hence, the total number of FLN militants amounted to around 1% of the overall number of voters in the 2007 legislative elections.

62The following table (synthesis) shows the distribution of militants – according to province, since the party’s organization is parallel to the administrative division of Algeria – in the ten most important provinces in terms of the numbers of militants, from top to bottom:

Table 2. Distribution of militants according to provinces

Province

Number of militants

Province

Number of militants

Algiers

10,979

Tamanghasset

6,900

Batna

10,422

Chlef

6,100

Msila

9,280

Sétif

6,013

Médéa

8,875

Béjaïa

6,000

Relizane

8,000

Souk Ahras

5,610

63This table shows that FLN militants have a limited presence in major cities, starting with the capital, which came in first place only because it has a population of 3 million inhabitants. The high number of militants in the province of Batna – which is almost equal to that of the capital, even though Algiers is four times more populated – can be explained by the FLN’s wish to retain this symbolic region, as the first sparks of the Liberation War started there.

64The low rate of women representation (8.38%) is also striking, and militants who are less than 35 years of age represent only one-third of party members. Yet the strangest fact of all is that university graduates represent approximately 20% of the overall number of militants, keeping in mind that the National Liberation Front is a “mass” party known for its reliance on workers, farmers, employees, tradesmen and craftsmen. At any rate, statistics seem inaccurate, even though the party’s organization is computerized. Furthermore, the number of militants is subject to variation.

The FLN’s finances

65The finances of the National Liberation Front under the one-party system were naturally covered by the state with virtually no other resources. Membership fees as such, though of insignificant value, were not tantamount to a contribution in the party’s finances inasmuch as they represented a token of the militant’s loyalty. The party was finding it difficult to collect these fees, which amounted – as declared by the party – to around 48 million dinars in 1987, whereas the “allocated” budget exceeded 6 billion dinars.

66The FLN’s budget under the one-party system was also characterized by ambiguity. The party’s statutes adopted during the Fifth Congress held in December 1983 stated: “The financial resources of the party are composed of membership fees and other sources [sic!].”

67Ever since the adoption of partisan pluralism and the formal severance of the party’s ties with the state, state resources were officially discontinued and the FLN became self-reliant, even though it was, in all likelihood, still receiving state aid under the table. Similarly to other parties, the FLN also does not think twice about exploiting state resources on the local level wherever it controls the majority. This is particularly manifested in electoral campaigns, where it is difficult to make a distinction between serving the interest of the party and that of local government. Nowadays, the party’s budget seems to rely on the following sources: membership fees, donations, MPs’ contributions (one month salary per annum) and state aid in proportion to the number of seats won in various elected bodies. It is worth noting that the party’s patrimony  (including real estate) has not been cleared yet since the party officially separated from the state in 1991.

The FLN’s relation with society

  • 33  This was the case more than 25 years ago and it still holds true to this day. See: Harbi (1982, p. (...)

68The FLN still “reads the current history [of the country] according to its own birth certificate” and perceives society as a bloc where the community takes precedence over the individual and where conflicts are not exploited as a driving force toward further progress33. Still, it is compelled nowadays to adapt its activities to developments on the national level following the adoption of partisan pluralism, as well as on the international level after political systems started adopting explicitly – even if only in theory – the common principles of freedom and human rights (political, social and cultural rights) and involving civil society associations in making public policies

69Under the one-party system, the party could not conceive of its existence as a “vanguard” party without the “mass organizations”, which were considered as “transmission belts” between the leadership of the revolution and the popular base.

70Despite the adoption of partisan pluralism, remnants of the one-party system still overshadow the party’s philosophy regarding its relations with society today. It is, thus, attempting to establish associations in various fields, taking care, however, to maintain excellent relations with notable organizations and unions under the one-party system. These include, first and foremost, the National Mujaheddin Organization and its branches, which were established in light of partisan pluralism – the Sons of Martyrs’ Organization (munazama abnâ al-shuhadâ’) and the Sons of Mujaheddîn Organization(munazama abnâ al- Mujaheddîn) – in addition to the General Union of Algerian Workers (whose secretary general is an FLN militant), the National Union of Algerian Farmers, the National Union of Algerian Youth, the National Union of Algerian Women, etc. It seems that these associations currently serve political aims, namely gaining support and win the elections, rather than as part of a civil society providing efficient forums of expression and communication within the framework of good governance.

The FLN’s conflicts

71The FLN can be considered a special case as an organization that was based on conflicts in the first place. Indeed, it emerged as an armed organization aiming to put an end to pluralism and forcing all political organizations to rally behind it. Since it is labeled as a front, it is no strange fact that it encompassed a variety of divergent opinions. The FLN witnessed many conflicts during the Liberation War between the “Frontists”, i.e. “those who triggered the revolution”, and the “centralists”, i.e. former members of the People’s Party-Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties, who were the first to join the National Liberation Front after seceding from their leader, whom they accused of authoritarianism. However, these conflicts were by no means the most important ones; on the contrary, the confrontation among these factions seemed to take a somewhat easy turn in general since the “Centralists” did not want to be implacable political rivals. Moreover, the “boys” who triggered the war were members of the same party before seceding from it in order to pursue armed action. The most important conflicts during the war, some of which resulted in physical liquidations, took place between internal and external leaders, between “military men” and “politicians”, and between the supporters of the Provisional Government upon independence and those military High Command (EMG) stationed along the border with Tunisia during the war.

72After independence, and due to the imposition of the one-party system, the conflicts moved within the party and took a different, more ideological turn. By and large, there are three main currents: the leftists, the “nationalists” and the supporters of the Islamist trend. The latter two currents being closer to one another than to the leftists, the political mood prevailing at the time reduced the three currents into two: the “progressives” and the “reactionaries”, or Left and Right.

73In contrast, the conflict evolved at the time of the transition (in 1989) to pluralism into one between the supporters of maintaining ties with the ruling regime and those backing the party’s autonomy and modernization. This issue has yet to be settled, even as the FLN has progressively returned to the regime’s fold since 1996. The conflicts that occurred between 2003 and 2004 against the backdrop of the presidential elections did not denote a wish to achieve the party’s autonomy, but rather to confirm the abovementioned ties. The majority who supported the candidacy of the outgoing president instead of the party’s secretary-general’s wanted the same relation between the party and the regime to continue. Clearly, the party has yet to free itself from being a political stake.

74The party’s internal conflicts on the occasion of the presidential elections held in April 2004 led to sequels so dangerous to its existence that it has yet to recover from them. This goes without mentioning possible maneuvers initiated by members with connections to the army (specifically) who wanted to get rid of the president at the time, suffice it to say that the FLN put on quite a show, and the situation grew worse after its Eighth Congress in March 2003. Party headquarters were taken by storm, and there were heated arguments. Some members who were prejudiced by this congress questioned its legitimacy before the authorities, calling on them to intervene in order to abrogate its results. The authorities did intervene, allowing opponents to hold a “corrective” congress of their own in 2005. Despite the appearance it seeks to project currently after the “corrective congress”, the FLN is still locked in a phase of inactivity, and many organizational issues remain pending in several divisions and provinces, which are having various difficulties with reshaping and rejuvenation.

The FLN’s ability to contribute to the democratization of the political system

75In truth, this issue is hard to settle, but one thing is sure: the National Liberation Front must be taken into consideration and involved in any initiative aiming to modernize political practice in Algeria due to the party’s contribution to the country’s independence and its involvement in the management of the country’s affairs ever since independence. It looks as though the evolution of the political system in Algeria hinges on that of the FLN, and this includes its potential demise in any way for one reason or another. One such possibility would be its transformation into “a joint heritage for all Algerians” like Islam, Arabism and the Amazhig heritage, or – according to some – “its relegation to the museum of history”.

76In principle, the FLN is never opposed to the democratization of political practice in Algeria. On the contrary, it is enthusiastic about it even if it is probably more rhetorical than practical. Nevertheless, this position entails two main problems: Firstly, the FLN is not content with contributing to the democratization process like any other party; rather, it wants to be the driving force of it according to its own perception of democratization. In other words, it wants to remain the carrier of a “historical message” and act as a “big brother”, i.e. to return once again to the idea of the “vanguard party”, which had been all too common under the single-party system. If the party considers itself entrusted with such a historical message, it actually has to elaborate and implement it with the other political forces equally, not as a leader distributing roles. Secondly, the FLN is finding it difficult to modernize itself and continues to rely on a bygone legitimacy, citing the “November 1st Revolution” to justify everything instead of seeking to build up its legitimacy for the present and future. Furthermore, the party seems to understand political pluralism under the current circumstances merely as electoral competition, thus turning – as its leaders admitted – into an electoral machine. During the first half of the 1990s, then between 2003 and 2004, it tried to wean itself from the ruling power and sought to renew its political doctrine and inject new blood into its leadership. However, these attempts remained fruitless, probably because the party found it difficult to get over its status as a political stake linked to the ruling power.

77The progress of political process, whether within the FLN or on the level of the political regime, remains linked, first and foremost, to the emergence of a reformist, innovating wing within the party. At the same time, other parties and political forces have to regain the initiative, and improve their organizational and political performance.

Conclusion

78Speaking of the FLN in Algeria is not just speaking of any party; it is rather about a political system and a whole generation imbued with a certain political culture. The generational issue is not a matter of age inasmuch as it is a matter of “universal vision”, which – regardless of political exploitation and shocks resulting from the colonization period and the Liberation War – still maintains a strong presence in the collective imagination of the Algerian political elite. One would almost think that the country is still colonized!

  • 34  The National Liberation Front Party (documents), address delivered by Ali Benflis before the membe (...)

79One striking fact is that the FLN leaders from the post-Liberation War generation have yet to find – or to manage to impose – a method to rid the party of its historical defects so that it becomes a modern party instead of remaining attached to the historical message with which it attributes to itself. For instance, the relatively young former attorney Ali Benflis, the party’s former secretary general (2001-2004) and a former member of the National Human Rights Commission of Algeria (established in 1987, prior to the adoption of pluralism), said in an address delivered before the members of the Central Committee that “the National Liberation Front Party will never recant its natural role [emphasis added]: that of a lamp lighting the nation’s path34.”

80History may never forget the merit of the FLN after independence, as it probably contributed to securing a modicum of sociopolitical stability (both under the single-party system and afterward). Nevertheless, one must admit that oil revenues played a major role in guaranteeing this stability, and this is proven by the sharp deterioration of the situation once oil revenues dwindled in the mid-1980s. The FLN has not been much successful in playing this stabilizing role because of its being stagnant and unable to adapt to domestic and foreign events, and to its adamant assertion that everything is always fine in Algeria. It thus became a force defending the status quo, rather than a force for change.

81This study leads to the following conclusions:

82Based on the experience of the FLN in Algeria, one finds that a liberation movement will almost inevitably become a single party after independence. Yet this evolution is confronted with its own set obstacles, including the extension of former conflicts that started in the days of the armed action, the continued reliance on bygone legitimacy instead of seeking to acquire a new legitimacy after independence, and the need to maintain ties as an annex to the ruling power.

83Political practice is impoverished by the single party’s propensity to act as a conqueror under the pretext that it achieved independence and by its refusing to admit that another political force has the right to participate in power. Moreover, in order to satisfy the greatest number of citizens, it is forced to adopt a populist tone without taking responsibility for any specific political philosophy and without abiding by stable political positions. These positions actually change with each secretary general whose supporters immediately take over party bodies. This propensity undoubtedly accrues in a country that relies on oil revenues.

84The process of having a single party transform into a pluralistic party is a very difficult one, as it entails relinquishing formerly acquired positions (against a backdrop of generational conflict as well) and adopting new political values. Even after the adoption of pluralism, which it is bound to reject from the outset, the single party seeks to ensure the continuation of the single-party system, one way or another, within the framework of pluralism, as though it aims to be “more equal than others”.

85As a matter of fact, one wonders if the FLN is not, actually, sick of its leadership and Algeria sick of its FLN.

Bibliografia

Belkasem Mohamed, Bahloul Hassan, 1993, Al-Jazâ’er bayna al-azama al-iqtisâdiyya wa al-azama al-siyâsiyya (tashrîh al-wada‘iyya) (Algeria between the Economic and Political Crises (situation analysis)), Algeria, [in Arabic, unpublished].

Benyoub Rachid, 2001, « Politique interne, Algérie » (Domestic Politics, Algeria), [in French], in L’Annuaire Politique de l’Algérie 2002, Algiers, ed. ANEP.

Bouchama Kamel, 2008, Le FLN, la refondation ou… le musée! (The FLN, Reestablishment or… the Museum) [in French], Algiers, El Maarifa publishers.

Chikh Slimane, 1981, L’Algérie en armes ou le temps des certitudes (Algeria in Arms or the Time of Certainties), [in French], Paris, Economica.

Dayf Mohammad, 1999, al-Tahawwul al-siyâsî fî al-jazâ’er: Dirâsa lî tajribat al-intiqâl min nizâm al-hizb al-wâhad ila al-ta‘addudiyya al-siyâsiyya (The Political Evolution in Algeria: a Study of the Experience of Evolution from a Single-Party System to Political Pluralism), [in Arabic], M.A. thesis in political science, University of Algiers.

Fadel Amale, 2001, Aliyyat idârat al-azama fî al-jazâ’er bi-uslûb al-hiwâr (Crisis management Mechanism in Algeria through Dialogue) [in Arabic], M.A. thesis in political science, University of Algiers.

Harbi Mohammad, 1982, « Interview sur la situation politique en Algérie » (Interview on Political Situation in Algeria), [in French], Paris, Autrement, n°38.

Hennad Mohammad, 1992, The Experience of the Single Party System in Algeria, United Kingdom, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Exeter.

Hennad Mohammad, forthcoming, Algeria’s Experience with Pluralism: An Example of a Transitional Process.

Lacheraf Mostefa, 1978, L’Algérie: Nation et Société (Algeria: Nation and Society) [in French], 2nd edition.

Meghish Kenza, 2003, Hawla al-wahda wa al-inqisâmât al-dakhiliyya lî hizb jabhat al-tahrîr al-watanî: dirâsa fî istiqrâr al-hizb fî zol al-ta‘adudiyya (On the National Liberation Front’s Unity and Internal Divisions: a Study of the Party’s Stability in light of Pluralism) [in Arabic], M.A. thesis in political science, University of Algiers.

Note

1  According to several Algerian historians specializing in the Algerian War of Independence, in keeping with the official version. For instance Chikh (1981).

2   Most of those involved in the struggle for Algeria’s independence say that their national conscience started developing in the wake of these events.

3   Many of the ideas expressed here were quoted from an analysis piece I wrote in: al-Yawm, 23/3/2003, p. 11.

4   In an interview I had, on October 5, 1985, with Benyoussef ben Khedda, a National Movement leader before the war and the second premier of the Provisional Government during the war, he told me that each of the participants in the Tripoli Conference in June 1962 believed that “we achieved victory thanks to our unity and that this unity should be preserved in order to address the problems of underdevelopment. This led to the emergence of the single party, which later on took its definitive shape”.

5   Ministry of Communication and Culture, “al-Nusûs al-asâsiyya lî jabhat al-tahrîr al-watanî(The essential texts of the National Liberation Front), Algeria, 1979.

6   Chérif Ouzani, « Où va le FLN? » (“Where is the FLN going?”), in Jeune Afrique, n° 2464-2465, April 3-April 12, 2008, p. 64.

7   This constitution was strangely worded because it was drafted by a group called the National Liberation Front, rather than by the Constituent Assembly, which had been elected for this purpose. This assembly was called upon to merely pass this constitution officially.

8   Meanwhile, the Algiers Charter was adopted in April 1964 in order to settle the scores pending since independence and to impose a new balance of forces. Likewise, this charter seems to have been drafted by educated figures who tried to join the requirements of that period and the balance of forces prevailing at the time. This is proven by the fact that they did not heed caution against the dangers of drifting “… into dictatorship, into a bureaucracy by using the organization to promote its own interests, or into an individual dictatorship where the party would merely play the role of a political police organ. These dangers remain to this day!” This is easy to understand in this period of sharp conflicts over the management of the country, as proven by the June 1965 coup.

The National Liberation Front was described as a single vanguard party that worked to “preserve the benefits derived from the Liberation War, to ensure that the revolution goes on” and to prevent “the emergence of multiple harmful parties that may be infiltrated by the ‘enemies of the people’.” (Refer to Section Three under the title of “building means” in which the charter touched on the FLN in addition to other mass organizations.)

9   Both the National Charter and the constitution were issued in the FLN’s name.

10   The phrase “government organ” was an official denomination.

11   See the series of interviews with Ahmed Ghazali, the then-minister of Energy, who regained his standing within the political establishment, attaining the premiership following the suspension of the elections in 1992 (Echorouk, March 2008).

12   This can be interpreted as an attempt by the president to curb the army’s role in national politics, even though he was a colonel himself.

13   These events, which took place on October 5, 1988 and lasted for approximately a week, were a genuine upheaval launched by youths across the country, especially in the capital, to express their resentment of deteriorating living conditions and the total lack of economic prospects. These events came in the wake of an acute economic crisis Algeria experienced as of the mid-1980s due to dwindling oil revenues and mismanagement of the country’s affairs.

14   The National Liberation Front Party (documents), records of the Fifth Congress held from December 19 to December 22, 1983, p. 3.

15   Idem, p. 5.

16   Idem; see also the provisions of the party’s articles of association in the chapter pertaining to “the social forces of the revolution”.

17   In reality, all civil society associations, especially in a country like Algeria, can be described to a certain extent as having a political character since their action implies that they have to cooperate with state authorities.

18   For this reason, many believe, especially within the FLN, that the October events may have been unleashed deliberately to undermine the party primarily.

19   Still, more proof in how difficult this separation is lies in the fact that the president was never able to relinquish the party completely as he became its “president” after having been its “secretary general”, knowing that the FLN’s articles of association never mentioned the position of party “president”.

20   On this separation process, see: M. Dayf (1999, p. 144-145).

21  In an article titled “Pleading for the National Liberation Front”, La Tribune, October 20, 1995. Regardless of any political considerations, the issue at stake pertains to a belief that is fairly prevalent among the older generation. Therefore, it seems that the wanted change hinges on the retirement of this generation, especially considering the age factor.

22  The results of the first round of the elections were as follows: Out of 420 seats, 188 went to the Islamic Salvation Front, twenty-five to the Front of Socialist Forces and fifteen to the National Liberation Front.

23  Ali ben Mohammad, “Mawsam al-tahrîrjabhat al-tahrîr” (The Liberation season in the National Liberation Front) [in Arabic], al-Bilâd, June 30, 2003, p. 24.

24  See the article published in the al-Haqîqa Magazine (which has been banned for many years), November 1-7, 1995, p. 15-17.

25  See the interview in al-Khabar magazine, December 25-31, 2004.

26  See, for instance, al-Watan, November 14, 1995.

27  These include, of course, intelligence services, which Abdelhamid Mehri referred to in the aforementioned interview as follows: “Security services in our country think they are responsible for the management of politics and the media under the pretext that this is necessitated by the situation. This is no secret for anyone.”

28  Interview with the party’s governor in the capital, April 28, 2008.

29  This person is Abdelhaq ben Hamouda, who had held several high-ranking state positions since independence, including one as minister of Finance.

30  On this seminar, see: Amale Fadel, Aliyyât idârat al-azama fî al-jazâ’er bi uslub al-hiwâr (Crisis Management Mechanism in Algeria through Dialogue) [in Arabic], an M.A. thesis in political science, University of Algiers, 2001.

31  The premiership is still held to this day alternately by the National Liberation Front and the National Democratic Gathering. The leader of the Hamas Movement was only allotted the position of minister of State without any specific portfolio. This was undoubtedly meant to retain control over the situation.

32  The National Liberation Front, The Statistical Bulletin, October 11th, 1986.

33  This was the case more than 25 years ago and it still holds true to this day. See: Harbi (1982, p. 125).

34  The National Liberation Front Party (documents), address delivered by Ali Benflis before the members of the Central Committee, September 20, 2001 (upon his election as the FLN’s secretary general in replacement of an old-time party leader).

Autore

Mohammed Hennad is Lecturer at the University of Algiers’ Department of Political Science.

© Presses de l’Ifpo, 2010

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