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Secular and Religious Ngos in Algeria

Secular and Religious Ngos in Algeria

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The civility & un-civility of the relations between secular and religious NGOs in Algeria

Dr. Francesco Cavatorta School of Law and Government Dublin City University and Centre for Contemporary Middle East Studies University of Southern Denmark E-mail: Francesco.cavatorta@dcu.ie

Paper prepared for the BRISMES Workshop “Liberation, Domination, Expression: Micro-political processes”, University of St Andrews 8-9 February 2009. Please do not quote without author’s permission.

it is not surprising to find that one of the most popular explanations has to do with the ‘variable’ civil society. argued that ‘without a well developed civil society . This does not mean that such study does not have implications for the processes of regime change that are taking place in the region. building on Jamal’s (2007) theoretical framework examines civil society activism in North Africa questioning some widely held assumptions about civility and incivility. This paper builds on this recent work and questions the validity of approaching civil society activism in the MENA within the inflexible paradigm of democratization and with a normative definition of civil society. to have an atmosphere supportive of democracy. The first part of the paper is a general discussion of the state of the literature on civil society in the Arab world. if not impossible. The linkage between civil society and democracy has been particularly strong within the liberal tradition and democratic theory in general postulates that ‘civil society forms the bedrock of good democratic governance’ (Browers. This has given rise to a number of approaches to the study of civil society in the Arab world. while the second part. . writing on Algeria. which have diverging and at times conflicting assumptions. but also share the preoccupation of linking their approach to the wider democratization literature. but it argues equally forcefully that such processes might not go into the direction of political pluralism and might on the contrary be ways in which a different type of political authoritarianism is constructed. it is difficult. this study analyses the reality of such activism with all its nuances and divisions and de-links it from the democratization literature and its normative take on civil society. 2006). Rather. When attempting to analyse the reasons for the absence of democracy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).’ This view is quite typical of the positive normative connotations that civil society enjoyed at the height of democratization studies. More recently. John Entelis (1996). this is changing due to larger problems with the democratization literature from both a theoretical and empirical perspective and changes in the conceptualisation of civil society itself.Introduction In one of the first thorough examinations of civil society activism in the Arab world conducted under the direction of Richard Norton.

The novelty of a number of recent analyses (Brumberg.Civil society and democratization in the Arab world In an article for the Journal of Democracy in 2000. 2005). 2002. 2006) is that these political systems. whereby the process just needed to get started to almost inevitably end with the instauration of democracy even if there were bumps and setbacks on the road. the historical experience of the 1980s and early 1990s processes of democratisation seemed to prove the assumption correct. the majority of the countries in the Arab world had seen the emergence of a significant number of civil society organisations engaged in the promotion of very diverse issues ranging from human rights to governmental accountability and from business transparency to environmental protection (Howe. 2004:3). First and foremost was the quasi-natural acceptance of the theoretical assumption that civil society activism is per se conducive to democratisation where authoritarian exists and to the maintenance of democracy where democracy already exists. Volpi. Laith Kubba proclaimed that the ‘awakening of civil society’ in the Arab world would be the decisive factor in challenging the authoritarian regimes in the region and eventually lead the Arabs to the “promised land” of democratisation. The paradigm of transition to democracy and how the move from authoritarian to democratic governance occurs had always had an in-built teleology and rigidity. on an imagined continuum the vast majority of countries are stuck between rigid authoritarianism on the one hand and democracy on the other. In fact. rather than being transient. First and foremost critics of the transition paradigm concentrated their attention on the reality of world politics and began to argue that when one applies ‘democratic criteria’ in a strict manner.. Hinnebusch. Accordingly. This belief in the positive role of civil society activism stemmed from three factors. 2005. as the cases of Eastern Europe and Latin America are very rarely analysed without mentioning the importance that civil society had in restoring democracy in both regions. Finally. only a handful countries actually managed to make a successful transition to a system of government that is truly liberal and democratic. are examined as if they .’ (Glasius et al. Second. More recently however some scholarship on democratisation has begun to re-consider many of the assumptions of the transition paradigm. ‘Eastern Europe and Latin America …can in a sense claim “ownership” of the revival of the civil society idea in the 1980s.

the experiences of Eastern Europe and Latin America have been empirically re-evaluated and a degree of scepticism has emerged regarding the actual importance of civil society activism in the transitions to democracy in both regions (Tempest. 2007). both as an explanatory variable and a policy-making tool. but has profound implications for political actors central to such processes. 1994). 2004. The first view. Wiktorowicz. 1997). The main problem according to Carothers (2002:7) is that ‘no small amount of teleology is implicit in the transition paradigm’ and that scholars and policy-makers alike should reassess the validity of the supposed sequence leading countries out of authoritarian rule and towards democratic governance (Carothers. argues that it is very difficult for civil society to strongly emerge in a cultural setting that operates . Cavatorta and Elananza. Thus. Finally. including civil society groups and their role. 2008). It follows that they should be studied in their own right without the expectation that they will fully move to the democratic stage. the explosion of civil society activism in the Arab world itself has met with considerable scepticism from regional experts (Langohr.were permanent arrangements. building on the assumption that the concept of civil society is an inherently Western one (Gellner. 1998. Within democratic theory the assumption that civil society is per se a positive development leading to democratic governance or to the strengthening of democratic rule where it already exists has come under severe criticism (Encarnacion. Yom. 2005). following the traditional normative definition of the concept. which presents three main approaches regarding the state and importance of civil society in the Arab World. In addition. there is today a literature arguing that the whole transition paradigm should be abandoned because its assumptions are no longer valid in interpreting the current reality. These wider debates have had a profound influence on the study of civil society in the region. It is therefore unsurprising that the whole concept and practical application of civil society in the context of democratisation has also undergone a profound re-examination. treats it as being exclusively a liberal one and argues that in the region such civil society is very weak and therefore unable to pressure the regime into making democratic reforms (Abootalebi. The re-evaluation of the transition paradigm in terms of the sequence that supposedly characterises transitions has an impact not only on the stages and outcome of processes of democratisation. 2006). 2000. This school of thought.

although underpinned by a different ideological referent. Islamism proposes a ‘catch-all’ discourse that replaces secular nationalism with a religious one. This does not mean that liberal civil society activism is absent in the Arab world.according to different values. the dominant Islamist alternative largely proposes the same corporatist arrangements of the past. civil society began to raise its head again and to turn against the ruling elites. which is appealing to broad sections of the population irrespective of their social and individual status. The weakness of Arab . of the Islamist movements overshadows it. The pre-eminence of Islamism is due to its ability of re-energising the modernisation impetus through religious precepts and symbolism. which is much easier to understand and appreciate for Arab citizens. the first school of thought postulates that. In conclusion. The problem is that such dissent did and still does not coalesce. international equality and domestic social progress. In addition. The project of political Islam is a totalising one because it simply re-frames the conceptual categories which the previous national consensus was built on in religious terms. Through their networks of social activism. civil society was entirely subsumed to the nationalist project which required a high degree of social unity and cohesion and therefore aligned to the position of the authoritarian leaders of the nationalist struggle (Pratt. Once the project of post independence modernisation failed to deliver economic success. but the activism. Islamist groups and associations are practically able to demonstrate that their ideological references are ‘concrete’ in so far as they provide for the welfare of citizens as much as the early nationalist elites were able to do immediately after independence. It follows that while the new liberal civil society actors sharply criticise the authoritarianism of the political system in the name of what are considered to be Western values. there are only very few liberaldemocratic civil society organisations that promote and defend democratic values and Arab states are able to dismantle or co-opt them with relative ease. This view of civil society activism can contribute to explain the absence of meaningful alternatives to the current regimes in power. according to this first school of thought. 2007). based on a strict liberal definition of civil society. both social and political. In the aftermath of the colonial period. although it is admittedly based on an ‘ideal type’ categorisation of associations into Islamist and secular/liberal. Islamists are able to offer a glimpse of the promise of the continuation of non-Western modernisation that ruling elites betrayed.

what are the values they subscribe to. including the provision of social services. while the state still retains a strong hold on Arab citizens. which dominates society. Arab civil society emerges as being rather strong and active because it displays a significant number of groups and associations that operate autonomously from the state and attempt to influence the political system. conceptualises civil society in neutral terms and refuses to assume that the concept has positive connotations. The third view suggests that civil society has indeed been strengthening over the last decade. Accordingly ‘the region is replete with domestic political activism’ (Singerman.civil society is therefore assumed to be a great obstacle to democratisation and political change. while. have fallen to private and autonomous organisations of civil society. an increasing number of activities. however. more importantly. The picture that emerges is therefore one of a strong civil society. particularly in a context where states are quite weak. it emerges quite clearly that the liberal/secular groups represent the civility of democracy and the part of society that the donor community and the West in general should be interacting with and support. while the civility of the liberals is marginalised. Once again. which is. 2004: 149) which is not based on political parties. lack popular legitimacy and are on the ‘retreat’ from the public sphere. This is . Islamism is equated to incivility. following the revisionist approach. Berman (2003) argues that civil society activism is strong. Accordingly. while the Islamists represent the incivility of a new authoritarianism. The argument is that civil society as a whole does not have per se any normative liberaldemocratic traits and does not necessarily promote liberal values. The assumption that Berman makes about civil society in the Arab world is that it is an ‘uncivil’ one because Islamist associations dominate it and the ethos of Islamist organisations is by nature un-democratic and illiberal. at closer inspection. wholly unsuited to promote democracy and human rights because the main groups and associations within civil society are Islamist. The assumption here is that civil society can be strong and ‘uncivil’ at the same time (Kopecky and Mudde. For instance. at the same time. This means that what matters are the groups that make up civil society and. with a significant surge in the numbers of organisations being created. trying to keep it in check. 2003). Thus. but on civil society organisations. The second view. Within this approach.

this is not necessarily a sign that the ruling elites are losing control of their own society. conceiving of Islamist organisations as the forces of darkness. it is an instrument for ruling regimes to keep a very close eye on social developments and issues in order to better pre-empt opposition (Wiktorowicz. leading therefore the majority of them to work and. autonomy of action is really limited and. this approach places in the same category of non-autonomous civil society and therefore unable to produce political change. at worst. but that framing all this within the logic of democratization and therefore point to civil actor wanting democracy and uncivil ones not wanting it is misplaced. due to external and domestic constraints. Rather than considering liberal civil society as the beacon of enlightenment in the region and. which force all civil society organisations to make a significant amount of compromises with the authorities. 2007). In fact. What distinguishes this approach to civil society from the previous ones is that it treats both liberal and Islamist movements as part of the problem for the absence of a meaningfully democratic civil activism. This approach is quite different from the previous ones in so far as it does not make a clear-cut division between the incivility of Islamists and the civility of liberal/secular organisations. the concept of civil society entirely loses its normative value. has had to change considerably. allowing for the formation of associations and groups independent from it. The argument of this study is that not only authoritarian constraints shape the dynamics of civil society differently from the ones that characterise civil society in established democracies. at best. while others are either beholden to the state or fully co-opted. Quite the contrary is true. by implication. This argument is quite interesting and it has a degree of empirical validity because it is beyond doubt that many civil society groups are indeed creation of the ruling regimes. 2005. However. With a different starting .empirically confirmed in a number of studies on Arab countries (Howe. However. 2000). as many civil society organisations are largely creations of the state itself. arguing that the Arab world does not have autonomous groups operating at civil society level does not reflect the reality. indirectly. accept the current system of rule. Sater. In this context. as the Arab state. This generates an artificial civil society where. it attempts to explain civil activism through an analysis of the authoritarian constraints in place.

which then has no interest in dismantling such networks in favour of fairer and more democratic ways of access to decision-makers because this would diminish their benefits. Jamal does not write off the difficult work of many autonomous anti-regime organisations. the analysis of civil society activism in the region might be close to what the reality is and not how it should be. Thus. The argument is that the authoritarian constraints the regime put in place make it necessary for associations to decide which side they are on. have lower levels of social capital because of their more democratic values.assumption.’ These networks however reinforce the central role of the authoritarian regime because they strengthen non-democratic access to decision-makers. can be reasonably certain of positive outcomes for the group. The opposite is also true and anti-regime organisations. Jamal argues that associational life in authoritarian contexts is distinctively different from the one in established democracies. Jamal specifically analyses how they lead to reinforce authoritarian rule and how an increase in trust and social capital has reverse effects on attitudes towards democracy. exist in both authoritarian and democratic contexts. by playing within the constraints provided. which do not allow them to obtain the same level of benefits. it is only through corrupt networks of patronage that the association will be able to satisfy the basic needs of its members and achieve its goals because only the regime can deliver the ‘goods. The dynamics that are produced in the relationships between authoritarian regimes and civil society organizations are fundamentally different despite the fact that similar trends. Civil society under authoritarian constraints In her study of civil society dynamics in the Arab world. social capital increases within these pro-regime associations because their members. it will have to play by the rules of the authoritarian regime. which do not utilise or do not have patronage networks available to them. Paradoxically. The pro and anti-regime labels are probably more effective than the Islamist and secular/liberal ones because they better capture the personalistic nature of many these networks. but civil society in the end does not produce democratisation because authoritarian dynamics . which at times are much more significant than ideological differences. If the association wants to achieve some of its objectives. such as the increase in interpersonal trust among association members.

particularly when they area charitable organizations (Clark. Civil society groups in the Arab world operate in what they perceive to be ‘normal’ conditions and therefore attempt to achieve their goals by working within the given system. a degree of normality is also present. When one examines what individual associations within civil society do. . When it comes to relations with the ruling regime. we suddenly have pro-choice groups being much more influential that in the past when pro-life groups dominated the agenda. This is true for secular and liberal groups. independently from the ideological persuasion they or the majority of the members might have. This makes civil society relations normal and normalised. it is also concerned with the issue of democratization. While Jamals’s study is a much welcome contribution.provide a very rigid structure of incentives for associational life and do not permit the emergence of democratic attitudes. some groups will have the ‘ear’ of the government. This is again quite the standard in established democracies as well where changes of government always reflect in changes at the social level on who dictates the agenda emanating from society. The linkages and networks they build in their cooperative efforts also reflect a ‘normal’ development when examined in broader context. The struggles they have with each other for influence over a certain issue reflect the same ones that we find in established democracies. 204).1 1 For example. The problem with this preoccupation is that the autonomous civil society groups active in the Arab world might not share the same preoccupation with democracy and democratization that Western scholars and practitioners have. The work of the organisation is therefore aimed principally at satisfying the interests of the members on that issue. Sweeping generalisations about the role for civil society are therefore misplaced and easy categorizations should not be attempted. which are usually seen as opponents of the regime a priori while this might not really be the case. with the recent change in the US administration. The competition over limited funds is similar to the competition that we have in democracies where funding sources are also limited. At times. which might or might not coincide with the enhancement of democracy in the country. but also for Islamist ones. it emerges quite clearly that they have a very specific mission. usually contained in their mission statement. concerning the promotion or defense of a rather narrow and specific issue. while other groups are marginalised and have no access.

2003). a much more complex and nuanced picture emerges. French language scholarship on Algeria is a testimony to this dominant interpretation. cultural or artistic activities. Before the democratisation period of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Algerian secular civil society is believed to be not only a rampart against Islamism. freedom of association was severely restricted. if we exclude that an increase in civil society activism is always pro-democracy and that civil society associations cannot be easily divided into civil and uncivil ones. Algeria: preliminary findings The case of Algeria is quite an interesting one to examine because here we find a strong military in a power struggle with its civilian counterparts over the control of the leverages of power (Mortimer. Despite some scepticism emerging within French scholarship about the role of civil society in democratization (Ferrié. In addition. 2006) within a context of political liberalisation. more importantly. as Islamism is per se considered to be uncivil and highly problematic given the secular nature of that should be at the heart of governing any society. From an analytical point of view. The 1964 decree regulating this matter stated that prefects (walis) should ‘impede the formation of associations that. tend to pursue political ends that undermine the internal and external . At a closer look however.In conclusion. particularly when one takes into account the institutional and. under the guise of social. the picture that might emerge from the MENA might be different from the one we imagine and closer to the political reality of groups having to operate within a pseudo-democratic system. It follows that notions of civility and incivility have characterised discussions about civil society dynamics. politics and civil society activism are taking place in post-conflict situation where the role of political violence is still significant. North Africa and Algeria in particular have represented for at least two decades the area where perceived secular civility battled with Islamist incivility. the legal constraints that exist in Algeria when it comes to regulate freedom of association. but also a powerful force for change. It is also in Algeria where we find both a strong secular civil society imbued with the concept of laicité and a strong Islamist current.

In addition an association cannot begin to operate before having been wholly regularized. development and the environment were created. together with the obligation for the association to also submit a huge number of documents. makes the administrative procedures cumbersome and difficult. Such regularization consists of three steps: a) a declaration of incorporation has to be presented to the authorities. b) within 90 days the association has to be issued with a receipt of registration. Specifically.security of the State. Law 90-31 requires that associations cannot be set up before having acquired the permit to operate and fulfilled all the administrative formalities.net/pages/440/page/language/1 . the emergency law which has been in place since 1992 allows the state to override the other decrees in place if they are deemed to be in conflict with the requirements of the emergency law.’2 This gave considerable leeway to the state to close down any possible avenue of dissent. and c) publication of the notification of incorporation in a national newspaper. Law 90-31 still regulates freedom of association in Algeria. but it was not until the passing of Law 9031 in December 1990 that Algeria saw an explosion of civil society activism. Cultural associations with an anti-regime agenda did emerge in the early 1980s among the Berber minority. 2 See http://www. but in a radically changed political environment its provisions seem now very restrictive. At the time a number of organisations dealing with all sorts to issues and activities were created and began to carry out their activism with a significant degree of autonomy as the ruling elites seemed indeed intent on liberalizing the country’s society and political system.euromedrights. Thus. associations are mandated by the authorities to incorporate elements that have to be included in the statues. There are a number of reasons that the state utilizes to reject the registration of associations because the law has a provision whereby associations whose work is deemed to be detrimental to the interests of the struggle for national liberation are not registered and therefore cannot operate. associations dealing with previously sensitive topics such as human rights. The problem with such a wide scope for interpretation of this provision is that it leaves a huge amount of discretionary power to government officials in the Ministry of Interior. national identity. In addition. The application for authorisation is however not a formality and it is by no means a guarantee that the authorisation will be given. In addition to this. This.

it is no surprise that a significant number of organisations were created and that the state did not see fit to make registration difficult. particularly in cases where the issues that the association is involved in are sensitive or controversial. Finally. De facto interference from the authorities also undermines the day to day running of organisations as they might be ‘infiltrated’ by security services. Strict monitoring of how funds are collected and spent occurs very regularly and it is mandated by the law that associations inform the authorities of any funds they receive. The changed nature of the political system and the general political environment due to the military coup. the authorities have again a high degree of discretionary powers to monitor and eventually punish associations.euromedrights. associations that wish to receive donations from foreign organizations ‘must obtain prior authorization from the government. A strict monitoring of members also takes place as the law mandates that associations supply information about individual members to the authorities and this has a negative effect on recruitment of new members because people might be afraid of being monitored in their private activities.Associations that see their registration rejected have no recourse and the state does not have to motivate its rejection. supply information on the donors and the amounts involved and show that these funds will be used to pursue the stated objectives of the association. when it comes to funding and controlling how funds are employed. This sort of interference is permitted because of the emergency law. interference from the state does not cease because their work is monitored quite strictly.’3 When Law 90-31 was first passed it generated a significant amount of enthusiasm because it permitted the creation of organisations of all sorts from cultural to environmental and from human rights to sport. Given the liberal political context at the time. Once an association has been duly registered and can therefore begin its work. The government can for instance require the courts to suspend or disband an organisation if the association is deemed to be breaking the law or not upholding the statute.net/pages/440/page/language/1 . When it comes to public meetings the same emergency law for instance overrides the provisions of Law 90-31 and no public event can be held without the prior authorisation of the Ministry of Interior and the prefect. This indicated a genuine attempt by the state to follow through on its promise of liberalisation. the civil war and the current war on terror has made the 3 See http://www. When it comes to foreign funding.

but the objectives of the civil society groups are the same: satisfy the needs of the members and pursue activities that fulfil the mandate and objectives they have. as mentioned above. The overbearing presence of the security services on civil society activism is both de jure and de facto and it prevents civil society to grow and to be a wholly autonomous force for change. the environment within which civil society operates is quite different from the one in established democracies. It is therefore not surprising that there are a number of organizations dealing with this specific issue despite the fact that this is a controversial issue for the regime. While similar associations. the association has established a cell of psychological support for victims’ families. The organisation also lobbies the government to confer a special status for the victims of terrorism. it can be concluded that civil society associations in Algeria face a very restrictive legal environment. One of the most significant issues for civil society in Algeria is the fate of the disappeared and the help that should be provided to the victims of political violence. The association sis secular and quite close to the government. The civil society dynamics on this issue are quite paradigmatic of the complexity of activism in Algeria and its influence of the political system. Specifically. What becomes important therefore is how organizations manage to achieve such objectives and this where the assumption that civil society as a force for democratization fails the empirical test and where the lines between civility and incivility are blurred.implementation of Law 90-31 more restrictive than it was originally intended to be. This organisation. Thus. as we will see. stands out among the ones dealing with the issue of ‘families of victims of terrorism’ because of its good relationship with the government and in particular for its support for the President’s controversial National Reconciliation Charter. The Organisation Nationale des Familles des Victimes du Terrorisme (ONFVT) was established in 1993 to provide moral. were very sceptical of the charter or outright opposed to it because it guaranteed a general amnesty to perpetrators of crimes. the ONFVT was very much in favour of it. financial and legal assistance of families of the victims of terrorism. but it has faced the opposition of other equally secular organisations opposed to the Charter. If one also adds that the emergency law overrides some of the provisions of Law 90-31. it supports victims’ offspring in their education and professional endeavours and it organises conferences and seminars where the issue of how to deal with the consequences of terrorism is discussed. .

but numerous invitations and requests for meetings with the President and members of cabinet went unanswered. The group has relations of friendship and partnership with political parties such as FFS. for instance. It is this particular stance that put the organisation on a collision course with the authorities at the time when President Bouteflika was pushing through his national reconciliation law. However.but with the similar objective of helping the families of victims and disappeared. Islah and FNA. The Collectif ‘B’net Fathma N’Soumer’. The collectif des familles de disparu(e)s en Algérie was established in 1998 and its has the specificity of being both French and Algerian. it granted a blanket amnesty to perpetrators and only provided some financial compensation to families of victims but no ‘justice. Somoud is a similar group and was established in Algiers in 1996 with the objective of defending the rights of the victims’ families. legal and social support. This testifies to the importance of the issue and to the personal links that members of the organisation have. RCD. as well as with various representatives of political parties. seminars and access to media is a crucial part of their work and it is this public aspect that upsets the government. psychological and administrative assistance to women and children who are the direct or indirect victims of terrorism and political violence. Farouk Ksentini. but it also indicates that on such an issue the . RND. formulating complaints. The families of the victims of terrorism are the main constituency of reference and the organisation tries to influence political actors to try to make this issue central to the political debate. providing them with the necessary guidance. Raising awareness through press conferences. the collectif held a number of meetings with the president of the state’s CNCPPDH (la Commission nationale consultative de promotion et de protection des droits de l’homme) Mr. The organisation has no organic relationship and much like the larger human rights groups in Algeria it was opposed to the Charter. but not with the government.’ The collectif tried to influence the public debate and to have access to policy-makers and were keen on engaging in dialogue with the public authorities. was established with the objective of providing legal. educating and training officials on human rights. to which the collectif was opposed on the ground that it did not reveal anything about the fate of the disappeared. lobbying for truth and justice and fight against impunity. It is dedicated to accompanying and advising families of missing persons.

which grants a full amnesty to both Islamist fighters and members of the security forces. Despite facing such difficulties. Nacera Dutour. moral. the collectif is able to organise numerous events where the issue of the disappeared can be publicly tackled. Djazairouna was established in Blida in 1996 with the objective of providing social. It was founded by the families of the victims who were assassinated or kidnapped as well as of those who managed to survive terrorist attacks. truth and justice. The authorities have systematically refused to grant a legal status to ‘disappeared people’ committees.government was not ready to engage with civil society. The members of the association are all victims of terrorism in the Blida prefecture and in order to become members they need to have a certificate from the security services attesting to their status as victims. This is the reason why the association does not receive any public funding for its work and is barely tolerated by the authorities. the association’s work was disrupted on a number of occasions. especially those organised against the ‘peace and reconciliation charter’. the office in Algiers has to relocate every year as a result of the pressure put by the authorities on the owners of the premises the collectif rents and members of staff in Algiers have had to deal with threats. This political position places them at odds with the regime and with the law of national reconciliation passed by the government. legal and psychological support for the families of the victims of terrorism. psychological and administrative support to over 200 victims every year. whose son disappeared a number of years ago when he was taken by the security forces. The association is very much opposed to what the director terms ‘the occultation of justice by impunity’ and to pursue its objectives. represents SOS Disparus that is ‘vaguely’ Islamist and whose objective . In ‘political’ terms the association works for the arrest and trial of the Islamist terrorists who committed and ordered the acts of terrorism that plagued the Blida prefecture during the civil conflict. the association organizes illegal sit-ins and demonstrations calling on the authorities to honour their duties regarding remembrance. arrests and harassment during demonstrations. The lawyers of the families of the disappeared also face judiciary harassment. Ms. It also pushes for the promulgation of a statute for the victims of terrorism. the association has delivered material. Accordingly. Since its creation. This organisation is obviously very different from the ONFVT and represents the other side of the debate regarding eth disappeared and the victims of political violence.

Thus. Conversely. we find competitive dynamics. Benhadj asserted ‘how dare they speak of national reconciliation when we have been living under emergency law for the last 14 years?’4. If we assume that the struggle to reject the Charter was a battle for civility. This largely involves lobbying the government and using personal contacts to do that. The first significant point to be made is about the civility/incivility dichotomy. this line of thinking finds the agreement of many in the civil society sectors who are liberal secular and would not have much in common with Benhadj. Finally. All this has important repercussions on how one analyses civil society dynamics in Algeria. For instance within the loosely labelled secular/liberal camp we have organisations supporting quite strongly the reconciliation charter clashing with those groups with a similar ethos that considered it a whitewash. which seems to lose its power and meaning in this case. we have organisations such as ‘Our Algeria’. First of all. An examination of the activism of these different organizations within this ‘topic’ leads to a number of interesting observations.is to find out the truth about those who disappeared at the hands of the state. in the only interview of the last 13 years. within the same camp. who argued strongly. April 4th 2006. Thus. Even organisations claiming that they have a poor relationship with the authorities and are harassed by them are ultimately dependent on access to them because without it their activities and impact are even more limited. we would have to argue that some sectors of the so-called liberal and secular 4 Le Monde. we then have to accept that Islamism in this case belongs to the sphere of civility because of its defense of basic human rights. Secondly. cooperating and sharing the same scepticism towards the reconciliation charter with organisations such as SOS Disparus. which was founded to support the victims of state violence (Christiansen. against the law of national reconciliation takes the same side as the Algerian League for Human Rights (LADDH) and Somoud. all organisations attempt to use the same channels and hold similar activities to see their most preferred outcome implemented. which was founded specifically with the objective of providing support to the victims of Islamist violence. 3. The association has similar objectives and mandate to the other more secular ones. 2006). which is linked to the Kabyle parties. the paradox is that Ali Benhadj. there is an interesting cooperative trend between organisations with a different ethos or nature. . p.

but they are not a permanent feature of activism. such as women’s rights. One could say that the organisations in favour of the charter are part of the civil society ‘created’ by the ruling regime to give the impression of pluralism and this might be in a sense correct. the organisations that were against the charter were allowed to organise demonstrations and receive funds from abroad from their activities.civil society are quite uncivil as the defended and promoted a whitewash of the crimes committed during the war. which is only possible by not shutting down all avenues of communication with the regime. This cannot be easily divided into a liberal/secular sector that is inevitably pro-democracy and prohuman rights and into an Islamist sector that is obscurantiste. Does this hinder their independence and autonomy from the ruling elites? This leads to a second important point which has to do with the divisions that exist within civil society. This occurs because all organisations are very aware of the constraints they operate in and as much as they dislike the ruling regime. The relevance of the study is that it concludes that ‘democratisation’ is not a priority of civil society. Sharp dividing lines between laicité and Islamism might resurface in other contexts. In addition. but the organisations are not necessarily reflecting these individuals’ commitment. Most organisations are single issue orientated and therefore to be effective they need to ‘show’ results on that issue. This is true for both Islamist charitable organisations (Clark. . they also need it to achieve some o fits objectives. 2004) and secular ones as the Algerian case demonstrate. but we should also take into account the possibility that such organisations do represent legitimately a sector of society on this issue. The lines are much more blurred and the issue of the families of the disappeared and victims of terrorism is one area where these divisions disappear. The most significant finding of the study is however not that civil society activism might not promote democracy. This is because there seems to be the widespread realisation that the political system within which they are operating is not a transient one and if it is not then it needs to be dealt with if at least some of the objectives of the organisations are to be achieved. A final point is that the evidence from Algeria confirms Jamal’s theoretical assumption about civil society activism actually strengthening authoritarian rule. Individual members and activists might be personally interested in and committed to democratisation.

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