Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Lessons of Algeria

Last week, journalist Amir Taheri wrote a Wall Street Journal column that is a must read for everyone who believes that the terrorists in Iraq cannot be defeated. As Taheri reminds us, the nation of Algeria has defeated a terrorist insurgency even more vicious than the one in Iraq:

Algeria was one of the first Muslim nations hit by jihadist terror. The first attack came in 1984 when a gang led by Mustafa Bouyali raided a police post outside Algiers, killing four gendarmes. By 1990, terror groups were openly recruiting and training "volunteers for martyrdom" in several Algerian cities while the military-led government continued to believe that it could use the Islamists against democratic and leftist opponents. By 1992, Algeria faced a full-scale terrorist war that at times included set battles between the army and armed insurgents.

By March 1994, many believed that Algeria was lost to the Islamists. French President Fran├žois Mitterrand publicly indicated his readiness to work with an Islamist regime in Algiers. "The rebels could arrive at the capital at any time now," a senior French diplomat told me as we dined in a deserted Hotel Al-Jazayer. He also revealed that Paris had worked out an emergency plan to cope with the arrival of "thousands of boat people" fleeing the Islamist rule.

History, however, is never written in advance. At the darkest moment, some Algerians decided to fight back. More than a decade and some 150,000 deaths later, Algeria has won its war against the most vicious terrorist movement the Muslim world has witnessed in recent times.

It is not just that Algeria was able to defeat the jihadists that is of interest: it's how they did it that is directly relevant to Iraq:

The "big idea" that could break the back of Islamist terror was dimuqratieh (democracy). The process started at the end of 1995 with the first pluralist presidential elections in Algeria's history and has since been followed with six more presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections. To be sure, none of those elections met Western standards. But the exercise has helped foster a culture of democracy that is absent in most other Arab countries. In every election the share of candidates identified with various brands of Islamism has declined, dropping to 1% in last year's presidential election. Algeria's new constitution, inspired in part by Turkey's secular experience, forbids the use of religion as a political ideology.

Clearly, there are differences between Iraq and Algeria. The former has much more ethnic and sectarian conflict. In addition, the terrorist insurgency in Iraq is comprised of Baathist holdouts, criminals, and tribal elements as well as jihadists. There are no quick and easy strategies for defeating it. Still, the experience of Algeria shows that democracy and pluralism can ultimately overcome terrorism. However imperfect the new Iraqi constitution and government might be, they offer Iraq and the region a far more hopeful vision than anything put forth by Zarqawi and the Baathists. As long as America has the courage to stay the course, the terrorist insurgency will be defeated.


Blogger Brian said...

I just approved your blog over at I hope that Algeria isn't the model for Iraq. Iraq would be vastly bloodier and vastly more destabilizing.

9:57 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home