Since the civil war of the 1990s, Algeria’s government has given moderate Islamist parties only a superficial role in politics. Consequently, support for Algerian Salafism, which rejects the country’s political system, has increased, creating for its followers a separate Islamic way of life without engagement in politics or confrontation with the army.  In a new paper, Amel Boubekeur examines how the rise of Salafism indicates the need for Algeria to increase political transparency and participation and engage its citizens, particularly the young, to discourage radicalization outside the political system.

Violence continues to plague the country despite security measures, enacted at the expense of civil liberties. By cancelling elections and outlawing the radical Islamist party Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in 1992, the Algerian government effectively pushed radicals out of the political system. In turn, many turned to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb to advance their agenda, while others joined movements rejecting participatory politics and preserving radicalism, such as Da’wa Salafism.
Key Conclusions:
  • Da’wa Salafism, currently the most popular Salafi movement, refuses to recognize a secular political system and encourages its followers to re-Islamize society outside the framework of a political party. The success of this movement signals the growing disinterest among young people toward more moderate Islamist parties and their fake participatory strategies.
  • The development of Da’wa Salafism is due in large part to Algeria’s recent economic boom. Benefiting greatly from the oil rent through various business networks, Da’wa Salafists adopt a neutral attitude toward the state which, in turn, tolerates them—contradicting the premise that Islamic radicalization is linked to economic depression. 
  • The detachment of Da’wa Salafism has allowed many former FIS militants to reintegrate within civil society. However, it has not provided a complete solution against terrorist violence, or an opportunity to reintegrate repentant terrorists and radicals into a democratic political system. 
  • Since 9/11, the United States has considered Algeria an important partner in the fight against terrorism. However, this legitimacy has also allowed the government to continually postpone any normalization or pluralization in the political field. The evolution of Algerian Salafism reveals a need within the international community to rethink the place of radical movements in democracy promotion, and focus on bringing radicals—not just moderates—into the political system.
  • The Algerian government should empower civil societies, promote the integration of Salafi members into democratic institutions and political parties, make the reconciliation process more transparent, and promote new forms of political legitimacy which are not based on violence and religion.
Boubekeur concludes:
“Social stability and national cohesion are challenged because the Algerian people still do not have real opportunities to engage in a process of dialogue uniting civil, political, and military actors. With their own relationship to the state, Algerian forms of Salafism reveal the deep need to switch from the security-oriented politics that has been in force for sixteen years to new modes of participatory politics.”
Amel Boubekeur is the head of the Islam and Europe programme at the Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels and a research fellow at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales and the École Normale Supérieure, Paris. Her research focuses on North African politics, Euro–Arab relations, and Islam in Europe.