In its 189th monthly book, released September 2022 and titled Algerian Visions in Dealing with the Memory of Terrorism (2002-2022): Recovery – Religiosity – Arts, the Al-Mesbar Studies and Research Center examines the attempts, initiatives and practices adopted in Algeria to recover from the bloody decade of 1992-2002. In so doing, it turns a curious eye toward the impact on Algerians’ collective memory of that period, and exploring ways of dealing with the legal, cultural, educational, and psychological ramifications of a wave of terrorism.
The book sheds light on the joint social and governmental attempts at absorbing this trauma, and overcoming it through specific techniques of bargaining and negotiation. It also documents the background of Islamist violence that preceded the so-called “Black Decade”, as well as covering in detail the violent years of the civil war.
The first of the book’s studies is presented by Algerian academic and researcher Smail Latrach. He distinguishes between the direct and deterrent reaction of the state after 1992, before it adopted a strategy of reconciliation and dialogue, with the subsequent period. This latter period was characterized by initiatives such as the “Mercy Law” of 1995, the “Civil Harmony Law” of 1999 and the “Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation” of 2005, which led, according to the study’s narrative, to the surrender of extremists and their descent from their mountain strongholds.
These initiatives were intrinsically linked to the internal and external legitimacy of the Algerian regime, enabling it to achieve conciliatory settlements. This in turn reduced the level of violence, at least prior to the formation of “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb”, which tried to assassinate President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2007, and organized a terrorist attack on the “Tanturine” oil base in 2013.
In another study, Algerian professor of educational sciences, Abdallah Lebbouz, touches upon Algerian society’s collective memory policy of the Black Decade, with a particular emphasis on the authorities’ approach to this issue. He focuses on the absence of approaches to healing as well as of frank discussions concerning the “national tragedy” in educational programs. Indeed, he calls for the establishment of history courses to “play a role in recovering memory, and transforming the legacy of war into a mainstay for building a more coherent and integrated Algerian society”. Algerian authorities, he observes, tended spoke on behalf of the victims of terrorism, adopted a conciliatory approach. This could be seen as a kind of amnesia, where what Algerian society truly needed was a vision for confronting and accepting a painful past.
Alongside these observations, political science professor Abdellatif Bouroubi, devotes his study to the Algerian security sector, with an emphasis on the treatment of prisoners accused of involvement with terrorist groups, as well as measures to overcome the aftershocks of the Black Decade. Following an introduction to the “pragmatic approach” so popular in theories of coping with terrorism in the post-9/11 era, the researcher examines the new security arrangements designed to maintain international security and their impact on Algeria. In particular, he analyzes the development of the so-called “preventive laws”, and their role in countering extremism in the penal system.
As for Algeria’s counterterrorism strategy in the period following the Black Decade, Algerian researcher and academic, Abir Chelighem, tackles this topic head-on. She examines the origins of terrorism in Algeria, from the emergence of the first extremist cells prior to the famous elections in 1991. In many respects, these trace their origin to the Islamic Armed Movement, which Mustafa Bouyali founded in 1982. Moreover, the study examines the wave of violence after the electoral process was halted, with a particular focus on the violence perpetrated by the Islamic Salvation Front. It then proceeds to the third wave of radicalism, emanating from transnational organizations such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
The study presents the policies pursued by Algerian authorities with the aim of eliminating the country’s principal terrorist groups. In broad strokes, these policies centered on deterrence and confrontation at first, but then shifted to a strategy of peace and national reconciliation. Both took shape in the era of President Bouteflika, assuming final form in the approach of the current President, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who spoke of “extending a hand” and “bringing unity”.
Algerian authorities have sought, through both constitutional measures and legislative initiatives, to address the root causes of the problem. Whether by moderating the sorts of religious discourse imported from abroad, or managing diversity in such a way as to mitigate against the spread of xenophobic and intolerant discourse. With this in mind, Algerian researcher Bouhania Goui addresses the legal and procedural measures adopted to combat extremism. He begins with the measures inherited from the Black Decade and the settlements forged in its wake: the formation of counter-terrorism forces, the development of counseling procedures, the encouragement of ideological defections, aiming to open a path for repentant former jihadists to lay down their weapons and take advantage of a declared amnesty.
The study provides a broad overview of transitional justice procedures, including the prescribed steps for integrating and rehabilitating former militants. It concludes by highlighting regional security challenges and the measures deployed by authorities to confront hate speech, and detailing the ramifications of the Imzizo incident.
Although the national tragedy and its narratives are absent from the Algerian educational curricula, the means of overcoming it have not been lost. One study by Algerian educator, Abdallah Soualah, examines efforts to promote peace through the educational system, beginning with the calls to form a “conscience of citizenship”. Soualah analyzes the educational curricula at the primary, intermediate and secondary levels, and assesses the teachers’ ability to draw inspiration from the fundamental values of Algerian society in an effort to promote peace in pre-university education.
As for the university level, Professor Abderrahim Bougatta has contributed a study which focuses on reconstructing the curricula of the “Sharia’a sciences” faculty in Algerian universities following the Black Decade. The study begins by tracing the historical background of the Brotherhood ideology’s permeation in Algerian universities. It continues with a catalog of the ensuing ideological movements which shared some or all of Sayyid Qutb’s ideological propositions: the organizational literature of Saeed Hawwa, the influences of Malek Bennabi, and the Khomeinist revolutionary wave. In his assessment, “the Algerian University provided a fertile space for intellectual conflicts between the Islamists and the Leftists (the Berbers and the Algerian communists) over projects and pacts adopted by the authorities”.
As a result, the Islamists’ strategy shifted toward entering politics and indirectly questioning the legitimacy of the “socialist” State. Their struggle with the left contributed to the authorities’ adoption of an Islamist bloc aimed at counteracting the centers of leftist power. This allowed Malek Bennabi’s movement to benefit, as the central authorities had since 1981 begun employing clerics from outside Algeria, such as Mohammed Al-Ghazali, in an effort to stem the tide against extremist movements.
This study deals with the repercussions of this episode over the course of the Black Decade, before embarking on a description of the curricula of the faculty of “Shari’a sciences” at the Prince Abd-el-Kader University. The researcher notes that this academic institution consciously imitated schools outside Algeria. He also highlights the impact of political advocacy in drafting reformed curricula for teaching Islamic sciences at the Algerian University. This sort of educational reform became more widespread in the years following the Black Decade, as a means of contributing to the healing of the nation’s ruptured social fabric.
Professor Abdelkader Abdelali, a veteran of Algeria’s Ministry of Higher Education, contributes another study concerning the religious measures deployed to combat extremism following the Black Decade. His study focuses on reforms in the field of religious affairs, which the state had been keen to control by prohibiting donations to charitable works and religious associations outside of approved mosques. The State required donations to be collected according to licenses issued by the Directorate of Religious Affairs, so as to restore the Algerian spiritual heritage. It also reconsidered the Qur’anic schools from the standpoints of Qur’an memorization and teaching the core texts of the Maliki school of jurisprudence, as well as the formation of associations of scholars and preachers motivated to promote peace.
Another study considers the role of the religious institution in Algeria’s national reconciliation. Contributed by Agoune Malika, a professor of philosophy at the University of Mua’skar in Algeria, she seeks to answer several fundamental questions: To what extent was the religious institution, given its history, able to contribute to national reconciliation? What influence does it wield over society as opposed to other spiritual touchstones? Could the government claim to dominate the religious sphere in the future?
Professor Malika points out that Islamist movements have marginalized and besieged the role of traditional Algerian religious institutions, creating a parallel, movement-oriented discourse. This discourse is calculated to undermine efforts by both the state and traditionally minded clerics. Her study calls for adopting new legal codes to ward off religious hatred, contempt for religions and to encourage the rehabilitation of former extremists through the traditional moral organizations, which are obligated to respect religious pluralism.
In this same context, another study by Algerian researcher Abdelkarim Achour discusses how mosques and other religious institutions were exploited by radicals in Algeria before the Black Decade. Achour notes that the return of Sufi orders (known as Zawaya) and cultural associations, supported by the amended Associations Law of 2012, all combined to circumscribe radicals’ freedom of maneuver. This effort was supplemented by training programs for imams and teachers of the Qur’an.
In his study, Professor of Sociology Faouzi Bendridi addresses several cultural initiatives aimed at combating radicalism. He begins with a thorough accounting of the Algerian intellectuals who were assassinated by Islamists during the Black Decade. These included Bakhti Ben Auda (1961-1996), Tahar Djaout (1954-1993), Abdelkader Alloula (1939-1994), Azzedine Medjoubi (1945- 1995), Mohamed Boukhabza, Cheb Hasni (1968-1994), Lwennas Matoub (1956-1998), and others. Still other intellectuals fled to Europe, exacerbating the country’s brain drain. Reviving major cultural events was among the first measures to restore balance and compensate for Algerian society for its cultural loss. State efforts were crucial in this respect, as Professor Bendridi makes clear through a detailed analysis of the government budgets allocated to supporting cultural endeavors between the years 2002 and 2022.
Another study, contributed by Professor Zakaria Benseghier, addresses the role of Algerian television and cinema drama in combating extremism throughout the national tragedy between the years (2002-2022). Though tragic in the extreme, these events provided ample grist for a number of cinematic and televised dramas which treated the tribulations of Black Decade with the gravity it deserves. Among these were films such as “Awlad al-Halal”, “Ain al-Jannah”, “Anin al-Ard”, “Daqios and Maqius”, and “Hearts under” Ashes”, “The Suffering of a Woman”, “The Player” and others besides. His research also focuses on those dramas that dealt with the Algerian national tragedy, such as “Rachida”, “Al-Manara”, “Al-Mihna”, “The Repentant”, “Perfumes of Algeria”, and “Gates of the Sun”, as well as “Algeria Forever”. While different in many respects, they each contributed to a shared sense of social solidarity and a rejection of extremism. Benseghier notes the absence of a uniform media strategy in offering guidance for the production of such works. Instead, these works were the products of individual initiatives.
Moroccan researcher in Islamic movements, Mountassir Hamada, presents a study on the impact of the Sufi works of Ahmad al-Alawi, as well as the Algerian peace initiatives. This latter resulted in a 2017 adoption of an initiative by the General Assembly of the United Nations to declare May 16 as the “International Day of Living Together in Peace”.
In conclusion, the Al-Mesbar Center for Studies and Research thanks the researchers who joined in the book’s creation and those who continued to labor over it until its release. The center extends its appreciation to Abdallah Lebbouz, who coordinated the issue, and to Rita Faraj, a member of the editorial board who supervised the coordination, as well as to her fellow researchers. We hope that this book will fill a lacuna in the Arabic library.
Omar al-Bashir al-Turabi