Algeria: Peace or else
While the world's eyes are no longer watching the clock for the awaited turn of the century, Algerians are still waiting, with fears and hopes for another important, yet more consequential date. On Jan 13, the plan for "civil concord" proposed by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will end its opportunity for partial amnesty for those took part in the country's violent turmoil. Following that date, according to the plan, those who failed to apply for amnesty will be eliminated by government forces who have vowed to employ "all lawful means to smash the insurgency."
While the proposed date is quickly approaching, fear is winning over hope among Algerians, for the military wing of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) announced Monday that it is temporarily abandoning the agreement with the government for the latter's failure to honor its provisions. Official party sources explained that its military wing is temporarily freezing the terms of the agreement, as the government has fallen short of granting full civil rights to those who turned themselves in under the deal.
Although the word "temporary" used in the party's statement indicates that the FIS's decision was made as a form of protest to the alleged governmental violations of the agreement, the timing of such a decision is certainly worrisome. The increase in the country's violent acts, starting with the assassination of Islamic leader Abdelkadar Hachani late November, and the upcoming amnesty deadline indicates that the government peace deal may initiate an even bloodier era in Algeria's eight year old war, rather than instate peace. Now, with the FIS military wing temporarily out of the pro-peace campaign, the success of Bouteflika's venture is seriously threatened.
There are two fundamental reasons that lead many to see an end approaching to Algeria's bloodbath. The first factor is the public support of Bouteflika during the elections and to his peace initiative thereafter. The second factor is the joining of the FIS in the Algerian Presidential peace efforts. Due to the considerable support that the FIS has accumulated throughout the years, its blessing to the "civil concord" has eased the awaited mission of the Algerian army against the armed groups, which have refused to surrender. It is evident, therefore, that the removal of that important variable -- the FIS that is -- shall make the government's warfare after the Jan 13 deadline nothing but a continuation to the long episode of violence starting in 1992.
Are Algeria's efforts for reconciliation back to square one? Hardly. The two essential components to achieve peace are indeed available. One component is the government's realization that no peace can be acquired without compromise. The other variable is the FIS's trust in the President's sincerity and motivation. Even by freezing the terms of the agreement, the military wing of FIS didn't necessarily lose that sense of trust it held for Bouteflika's efforts.
The party's latest statement issued in regards to exiting the peace deal read, "The forces of evil and injustice within the Algerian power structure are working to sabotage efforts for peace in Algeria." By recognizing the "forces of evil," FIS is acknowledging the existence of the forces of good within the same government. By pulling out "temporarily" from the peace deal, the FIS military wing is sending a message to the good side of the Algerian government, likely manifested in Bouteflika, to eliminate those who have vested interests in the continuation of violence. What makes the FIS's latest step therefore different from its earlier rejection of the government's efforts, is the truth that it aimed to ensure peace that meets their political aspirations, in accordance with the civil concord.
While we shall not overlook the substantial steps taken by Bouteflika to bring peace to the country, we ought to remember the fact that the FIS had similar or even greater courage by accepting the government's proposal. (We ought to remember that FIS's political rights were, after all, the ones violated by the dismissal of the 1992 legislative elections in which the FIS was victorious). It is Bouteflika's turn now to assure the FIS that the agreement will not be breached. The cases, which the FIS claims to have led them to believe that amnesty was not granted fully, must be investigated by an independent committee, so that a solution can be realized before the Jan 13 deadline. Finally, it is important for the two sides to understand that a perfect implementation of the agreement can never be achieved. Yet for the sake of the 150 Algerians who were slaughtered throughout the holy month of Ramadan, concessions must be made, or the Algerian bloodbath will continue.