In December 2010 and January 2011, Algerians and Tunisians took to the streets. While in Tunisia hundreds of thousands of citizens stood up to bully dictator Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali, to the West, cities across Algeria erupted into widespread rioting. Though the 29 December to 10 January riots were of an intensity not seen since the October 1988 uprising that put an end to the former single-party system of the National Liberation Front (FLN), they dissipated as suddenly as they began, with no bloodshed. Meanwhile, Tunisian mass demonstrations ultimately forced Ben Ali to flee, both marking the Tunisian Revolution of January 14th and debuting the Arab Uprisings.
Karama, or dignity protests, as they have been subsequently described, erupted across the region in the months that followed. In little more than a year’s time, four Arab leaders have been chased from power. Ben Ali, Mubarak, Qaddhafi, and Saleh are now specters of the past, while Bashar al-Assad’s days look increasingly numbered. Since, post-authoritarian Egypt and Tunisia successfully organized legislative elections: anchored Islamist political movements-cum-parties won resounding victories in both, as they did in Morocco, where King Mohammed VI organized early elections in response to Morocco’s own protest movement. Meanwhile, tribal, regionalist, and sectarian violence appear to be on the rise in Libya and Yemen – calling into question their ability to move forward with organized fair and free elections – while the specter of this scenario in Syria haunts regional and international powers now calling for al-Assad to step down. Whereas less than a year ago one could have said that the thread binding the so called “Arab Spring” was a fundamental reorientation of how Arab regimes and society perceive and engage politics, the thread now seems frayed, if not split into two strands: Islamist electoral victory at the polls or prolonged violence and quasi-civil war. At least, it is through this lens that Algerians globally view the achievements of the Arab Uprisings.
After all, as Algerians are happy to point out, Algeria’s uprising occurred twenty-two years ago, in October 1988. Algerians know that the ante for sitting at the table is accepting the risk of or opportunity for Islamist electoral victory, while the costs of failure are grim. The Algerian civil war claimed an estimated 200,000 lives. And in a strange, if not ominous twist of fate, the 2010-2011 riots began and ended nearly nineteen years to the day of the 26 December 1991 Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) parliamentary election victory and the 11 January 1992 military’s decision to annul the elections and take power: critical events which Islamists and secularists date as the debut of the Algerian civil war.
It is with these heavy thoughts in mind that Algerians go to the polls on 10 May 2012 – the fourth multiparty elections since the annulled 1991 vote.
Anticipating 10 May 2012: Surfing the Green Wave of the Arab Uprisings?
The so called “Arab Spring” is tinged green. Hitherto banned Islamist movements won post-revolutionary elections in Egypt and Tunisia, while the "palace Islamist" Party for Democracy and Justice (PJD), surged to an electoral victory in Morocco, winning a plurality, taking close to a quarter of the seats, and leading the current coalition government. The Algerian scenario is likely to be different. As Mouloud Mammeri wrote more than sixty years ago, “Le printemps, chez nous, ne dure pas.” While the Arab Uprisings have temporarily emboldened Algeria’s Islamists, it is unlikely that this momentum will translate into an Islamist-led coalition government, as in Morocco. Even if this were the case, those electoral gains will not significantly challenge the political status quo as in Egypt and Tunisia.
Since 1995, the regime has adopted a policy of measured political Islamist inclusion and limited but symbolic (and lucrative) power sharing. The strategy has divided the movement into multiple, increasingly moderated Islamist parties. Their routine participation in local, legislative, and presidential elections has sapped part of the movement’s mystique. The degree to which the Arab Uprisings has temporarily emboldened Algeria’s Islamists, or the degree to which their continued participation in politics has turned political Islam into a banality, however, is hard to measure. Lacking credible public opinion surveys by which we can gauge popular support for the Islamist movement vis-à-vis the entrenched nationalist bloc, or for individual Islamist parties, the most we can say about Islamist gains and the total break down of the Islamist vote is that: 1) everything hinges on the transparency of the election; 2) Islamist parties are likely to increase their overall proportion of the vote, and probably their share of parliamentary seats, though not equally. So, while an Islamist plurality is possible, an Islamist majority seems highly unlikely; And 3) while an Islamist party will join the government, it will be in a coalition with the National Liberation Front (FLN) and/or National Democratic Rally (RND), and will probably remain a junior partner with an expanded ministerial portfolio.
1) Everything hinges on the transparency of the elections
Since the annulled 1991 legislative elections, Algerian polls have been marked by election day irregularities (1997, 2002) or administrative interference in party affairs in the lead up to the elections (2007). Though the results of each assembly broadly represented the three ideological blocs (nationalists, secularists, and Islamists) that have dominated the Algerian political arena since the 1988 opening in varying degrees and in different manners, the outcome of each was engineered to specific purposes.
Both government and political parties have underscored the importance of the 10 May 2012 elections, going so far as to label them “a second 1st of November.” To mark the occasion - and to entice parties not to boycott – the government announced an expansion of the National Assembly from its current 389 seats to 462. Signaling its commitment to transparent elections, the government accredited a National Election Observation Commission (CNSEL) composed of representatives of Algeria’s major political parties, and has invited 500 international observers. While the CNSEL is currently at odds with the Ministry of Interior on a number of issues, both its autonomy and the presence of observers are clearly a departure from the past, indicating a recognition that the elections will somehow be different than recent polls. Fundamentally, what is at stake is not an unlikely Islamist electoral majority, but rather participation. Participation has secularly declined over the past decade and a half: 65.49 percent in 1997, 46.06 percent in 2002, and 35.65 percent in 2007. A further sink in participation delegitimates not just President Bouteflika’s recent reforms, but also the entire political class, including the Islamists. It too would project an image of a frail regime in international eyes. The purpose of these elections, then, is widespread participation for legitimacy.
The degree to which the exigencies of participation in the system will override an unfortunate history of ballot tampering recently decried by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will only be known on Election Day.
2) Algeria Islamist parties are likely to increase their overall proportion of the vote, and probably their share of parliamentary seats, though not equally
Algeria’s political Islamists have everything going for them. Buoyed by the electoral success of Islamists in neighboring countries, Algeria’s three main contenders for the Islamist vote (below) are optimistic. While hardly downplaying this region-wide euphoria, a number of factors may well impinge on an Islamist tsunami on 10 May 2012. Unlike Egypt and Tunisia, Algeria’s political Islamist movement has been legal since the 1989 political opening. And unlike Morocco, Algeria’s Islamist movement is divided into rival, accredited political parties that seek the same electorate.
In addition to the banned FIS, Mahfouz Nahnah’s Movement for Society of Peace (MSP) and Abdallah Djaballah’s Islamic Renaissance Movement (an-Nahda) participated in the annulled 1991 legislative elections. Hardly straw men, the leaders of both parties had a long history of Islamist activism that pre-dated the foundation of the FIS in 1989, and their historic legitimacy translated into the 1991 polls. MSP and an-Nahda siphoned a combined 500,000 votes from the Islamist bloc the FIS claimed to represent. MSP and a series of parties led by Djaballah (see below) have consistently participated in presidential and legislative contests since.
The MSP is widely, though perhaps erroneously, viewed as Algeria’s pro-regime party. It has participated in all elections, in one way or another, since 1991. Historic MSP leader Mahfouz Nahnah won 25 percent of the vote in the 1995 presidential elections. In 1997, he led his party to second-place in parliamentary elections, and accepted ministerial posts in the National Democratic Rally (RND) government. Despite holding ministerial seats in a pro-regime coalition government, the administration blocked Nahnah’s 1999 presidential bid. The party suffered a significant setback in 2002, when Djaballah’s new party, al-Islah (see below) displaced it as Algeria’s number one Islamist group in parliament. Former Minister of Small Business (1997-1999), later Minister of Labor and Social Affairs (1999-2001) and MSP Vice President Bouguerra Soltani took the reigns of the party following Nahnah’s death in 2003. MSP joined the FLN and RND-led Presidential Alliance, supporting Bouteflika’s second mandate a year later. MSP displaced rival al-Islah in the 2007 elections following that party’s implosion, and supported President Bouteflika’s third mandate in 2009.
As both a member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s international organization and long-standing seats in Algeria’s ruling coalition, MSP has developed an impressive party infrastructure that effectively link party militants to both state bureaucracy and “green” business community. Resources from both are used to maintain and to generate new support, as well as to finance its electoral campaigns. Beneath the appearance of maintaining if not developing a well-oiled machine, Soltani’s leadership of the party has faced serious challenges, underscoring ongoing and yet unresolved leadership questions asked in the wake of the 2002 defeat and transfer of authority following Nahnah’s untimely death. Elected party leader in 2003, Soltani’s attempts to consolidate power have since been contested by rivals, who continue to see him as a peer from the Nahnah days rather than a leader. While criticisms have been multiform, invariably they are tied to Soltani’s “autocratic style” and the impact membership in the Presidential Alliance has on the independence and probity of the party.
These tensions came to the head at the 2008 Party Congress, when former Minister of Industry (1997-2002) and MSP Vice President Abdelmadjid Menasra challenged Soltani’s leadership. In last-hour reconciliation, Menasra withdrew his leadership bid in exchange for Soltani’s resignation as Minister of State without portfolio: a post emblematic of proximity to power. Though Soltani promised to distance the party from the regime, the MSP nevertheless supported President Bouteflika’s April 2009 re-election bid. Less than a week after the Constitutional Council ratified the president’s third mandate, Menasra and sixteen of the party’s 51 legislators, a handful of senators and thousands of militants broke ranks with the party. While the degree to which Menasra’s departure has siphoned MSP militant support remains unclear, his bloc was solicited to ally with the FLN in a number of regions during the 2009 senatorial elections – alliances in contradiction with the Presidential Alliance, and which underscore real support in the local and regional assemblies. In late February 2012, the Ministry of Interior accredited Menasra’s new political party, the Front for Change (FC).
Unlike the MSP under Nahnah and Soltani, Abdallah Djaballah has steadfastly remained in the opposition. While this unwavering position has earned him the respect of grassroots militants, it has been a major source of contention with party cadres in Djaballah’s two political parties (an-Nahda, 1990-1998; al-Islah, 1999-2007), costing him the leadership of both. Shortly after the 1997 elections, an-Nahda cadres usurped Djaballah’s leadership, in hopes of gaining ministerial posts in the government. He founded al-Islah two years later, bringing the majority of party militants with him. Al-Islah won the second most votes and third most seats in the 2002 polls, catapulting the party to the head of the Algerian opposition, and wrestling all but one seat from his former party. Whereas MSP joined the Presidential Alliance in support of Bouteflika’s 2004 presidential campaign, Djaballah organized regular press conferences with rival presidential candidates Ali Benflis (FLN) and Saïd Sadi (Rally for Culture and Democracy) to denounce administrative irregularities. Repeating the an-Nahda debacle, Djaballah suffered a second leadership crisis in the lead-up to the 2007 parliamentary polls. Again, he quit the party, taking rank and file with him. Lacking Djaballah’s leadership and prestige, the party lost all but three seats. While he sat out of the 2009 Presidential election, Djaballah returns to the political arena in 2012, heading the newly accredited Front for Justice and Development (FJD). Perhaps a sardonic wink to past cadre demands, Djaballah has indicated the this time around, his party will entertain working in a coalition government – a position that suggests as much a growing realization of the confidence his militant base places in him as the expanded role he can play in the Algerian political arena.
Whether MSP’s continued presence in the government or the series of corruption scandals will benefit Menasra and his newly accredited FC in anticipation of the 10 May 2012 legislative elections remains unclear. However, as noted above, MSP’s links to government and the ‘green’ business community, as well as an embedded party apparatus, gives Soltani an organizational advantage over both upstart Menasra and Djaballah, whose new party is still in formation. To parry criticisms, in January 2012, MSP announced its departure from the Presidential Alliance with much fanfare, though it has kept its ministerial portfolios. And in March, Soltani announced a ‘Green Alliance’ with Islamist parties An-Nahda and al-Islah. Though hardly functional – combined, the two parties received only eight seats in the 2007 elections – the alliance nevertheless gives Soltani a symbolic boost with much media coverage. More importantly, the MSP-led alliance pulled the carpet out from under FC’s feet: Menasra had long championed an Islamist alliance, whereas Djaballah has consistently argued that an alliance among Algeria’s Islamists is neither desirable nor possible. In recent weeks, Menasra has pandered to the former FIS, winning the support of a former high-ranking member of its Majlis Shura, Sheikh Hachemi Sahnoun. The impact of Sheikh Sahnoun’s support may be limited, however. Many (former) FIS voters now vote Djaballah, and having made the switch, are unlikely to defect for former minister Abdelmadjid Menasra. That Menasra now threatens to boycott the elections, less than two months after receiving party accreditation, perhaps indicates the organizational capacity limits of what may well be just another ego-driven party.
The best organized of the three major contenders for the Islamist vote, the MSP, remains mired in an extended crisis that is ironically linked to the key to its recent success: Soltani and the coalition government. While in the past Djaballah has been able to march his troops from party to party and victory to victory, one must ask whether three months organization is enough time to set in place veritable structures that can compete against a much wealthier MSP. Finally, apart from a few fleeting glimpses of local strength and cohesion during the 2009 senatorial elections, Menasra’s impact on MSP remains difficult, if not impossible to gauge. In sum, Djaballah’s party will likely make the most relative gains, and become the MSP’s main rival. MSP will likely lose a fraction of its total share, given Menasra’s entry into the race, though it will probably hold onto its poll position in the Islamist bloc. Menasra’s party will come in a distant third.
3) Toward another coalition government
Although Islamist parties will likely gain an increase in percentage of the vote in the 2012 National Assembly, and increase their total number of seats, it is not clear that either will translate into a larger overall percentage share of seats. Lacking hard data on voter participation intention, let alone party preferences, it is impossible to gauge how well regional Islamist gains have increased their traction with Algerian voters. As noted above, political Islam is not new to Algerian voters, and none of the contending Islamist parties are authentically new to the political arena. The average share of the Islamist bloc in the last three elections has hovered at around eighteen percent. Whether Islamist parties now operate within an enlarged, Arab Uprisings pool or whether the three major contenders in the May elections are fishing in the same, static electoral pool, will be determined on election day.
While it is not impossible that a single Islamist party will emerge with a plurality, the deep divisions over political strategy that mask personal antipathy between the three Islamist leaders will likely block efforts to create an Islamist parliamentary block that can work in unison. Divided, political Islam’s role in a future government will be as a coalition partner. In all likelihood, this will be in conjunction with one or both of the nationalist parties that currently make up the majority, the FLN and RND. While junior partner appears the most likely place for the Islamist party that enters the next government, its ministerial portfolio will likely be modestly expanded. The current majority FLN is in a structurally weak, though far from fatal position, and an expanded, though junior Islamist presence is a likely compromise and stoic nod to political Islam’s place in the Arab Uprisings.
Li Fat Mat
Algeria is heading neither toward an Islamist government, à la Egypt or Tunisia, nor a new civil war. Participation in the system– whether as opposition or as junior partner in coalition government – has transformed Algerian political Islam, a fact that should attenuate fears the Arab Uprisings conjures as Algerians prepare for elections.
Inclusion in the Algerian political system has resulted in a proliferation of Islamist parties, each seeking to capture the existing Islamist electorate, while pushing the boundaries of that electorate outward. Divergent political strategies and strong personalities among parties have divided the movement, hindering its capacity to work in any meaningful way as a unified bloc. Inclusion too seems to have moderated Algerian political Islam. Working in a coalition has its advantages and disadvantages, attested by the continued leadership struggles Soltani and Djaballah have faced, while refusing to accept the system comes at great cost. Banned for twenty years now, FIS support in the electorate has slowly eroded. Former militants and sympathizers alike have either demobilized or migrated to alternative Islamist parties that offer real advantages. In 2012, neither party leadership is likely to support a lift on the FIS ban.
Perhaps the most noteworthy impact the Arab Uprisings have had on Algerian political Islam is not the rise of the Islamic bloc, but the end of older, populist (and armed) methods of taking power. Tellingly, when former FIS number two Ali Belhadj arrived in Bab el Oued in January 2011 to mobilize rioters behind his leadership – as he had done in October 1988 – he was chased by a new generation of youth who shouted “We’re not sheep of our parent’s herd.” In one fell swoop, the Arab Uprisings destroyed the icon of an Islamist past. That part of Algeria’s past is dead, though its specter continues to haunt Algerians. Li fat mat.
 Comments raised by Fawaz Gerges at the “Democracy and Development in the Middle East After the Arab Spring” Asan Middle East Conference 2011. The Asan Institute for Policy Studies. Seoul, Korea. November 4-5, 2011.
 Mouloud Mammeri. 1978 . La colline oubliée. Paris: Union Générale d’Editions: 11.
 For a more in-depth analysis of Algeria’s legislative elections since 1991, see: Hugh Roberts. 1998. “Algeria’s Contested Elections,” MERIP on-line (http://www.merip.org/mer/mer209/algerias-contested-elections); and Hugh Roberts. 2002. “Musical Chairs in Algeria,” MERIP on-line (http://www.merip.org/mero/mero060402).
 The date the Algerian Revolution began in 1954.
 Only one major party is boycotting the elections, the Rally for Democracy and Culture.
 Including the African Union, Arab League, European Union, and National Democratic Institute.
 The CNSEL has identified three contentious issues. First, two days after the voter registration deadline, the Ministry of Defense registered several thousand military personnel in a number of regions. Though it is difficult to say how the Algerian army can force its personnel to vote – a 2004 al-Islah party sponsored law requires military personnel to vote with the population at large – the act amplifies lingering fears of military intervention in politics. Second, the CNSEL is calling for a single voting bulletin, while the Ministry of Interior has proposed individual ballots for each party. In the past, individual ballots have led to voter intimidation and have increased the opportunities for ballot stuffing. Third, the CNSEL has criticized Wilayal candidate screening before the official lists are published. Of the three complaints, only the latter has been resolved in the CNSEL’s favor.
 The FIS received 3.2 million votes in the first round.
 In Algeria, two-third of Senate seats are elected by municipal and regional councilors; the President directly nominates a third.
 Under Djaballah’s leadership, an-Nahda won 915,446 votes and 34 seats in the 1997 legislative elections. That support evaporated in 2002 to a mere 48,132 votes and one parliamentary seat, while Djaballah’s new party, al-Islah won 705,319 votes and 43 seats.
 In 2007, al-Islah lost more than half a million votes, winning 144,800 ballots.
 In October 2009, a Swiss court indicted Soltani on torture, charges that the plaintiff later dropped. A month later, a major scandal broke inside the MSP controlled Ministry of Transports, allegedly linking ministry cadres and party businessmen to a nebulous web of Chinese entrepreneurs and international arms dealer Pierre Falcone.
 This should be unsurprising given the expansion of the National Assembly.
 In fact, the percentage of votes and seats has been declining in tandem with overall participation rates. In 1997, the Islamist bloc received 23.5 percent of the vote and 26 percent of the seats; in 2002 16.5 percent of the vote (20 percent of the seats); whereas in 2007 it received 13.03 percent of the vote and 15 percent of parliamentary seats.
 The FLN is currently in a severe leadership crisis. For continuing coverage of this crisis in real time, consult: www.tsa-algerie.com.
 Maghrebi Arabic, “The past is dead.”