by Mustapha Tossa
Are we witnessing the return of the Islamist specter in the Maghreb countries? The question arises, considering that two countries in the Maghreb region, Tunisia and Algeria, have felt these fears and showed a noticeable anxiety among its ruling elites. Radical and violent Islamism seems to have a good backbone to justify the political deadlock in the region and is perhaps expected be brought to heel.
In Tunisia, after having coexisted for a long time with the Ennahda movement and its iconic leader Rached Ghannouchi, Kais Saied abruptly decided to put him in prison under the pretext that his declarations and his presence is threatening to provoke a civil war in the country.
It is true that since the Tunisian president had started his authoritarian turn by weaving a tailor-made constitution, he presented the Islamist movement and its ideological approach as a serious threat to peace in Tunisia.
What Kais Saied did was perceived as a paralyzing political contradiction.
Saied’s imprisonment of Rached Ghanouchi,who is highly respected and held in high esteem by the Algerian military ruling class, appears to be a strange move considering that Saied owes a lot of his political capital to the same Algerian elites.
The two men were engaged in courting competition that showed their distinct personalities and political choices.
In the midst of the Algerian crisis with Morocco, Ghanouchi had made the scandalous proposal to form a Maghreb union without Morocco. At the time, this sounded like sweet music to the ears of the Algerian brass.
While Kais Saied had, at the peak of the tension between Rabat and Algiers, received like a real head of state the president of the Western Sahara region, the ghostly SADR, Brahim Ghali, alias Benbatouche.
At the time, this marked Tunisia’s official departure from its legendary neutrality with regard to this regional discord. Since then, Tunisia is regularly presented by the Algerian media as a simple Algerian province without any sovereignty other than that of applying the Algerian agenda in the region.
The other country where radical Islamism is re-fuelled is precisely the Algerian neighbour. Without any warning and without any political or media preparation, the Chief of Staff of the Algerian army, Said Chengriha, the real power broker in Algeria, made a speech with many references to the black decade where fake Islamists and fake soldiers fought a bloody war and whose traumas still resonate in the hearts of Algerians.
The head of the Algerian army has warned the Algerian public about the possible return of Islamist radicals who, according to him, threaten to cause chaos and destabilization and to seize power in the country.
The self-appointed role of the Algerian army is to defend the state and the institutions.
This role has allowed the Algerian military leaders an exceptional powers w while democratic ambitions were nipped in the bud.
Said Chengriha has used a security argument and an ideological tone reminiscent of the 1990s to sow fears of terrorism in the hearts of ordinary citizens.
The return of bloody Islamist chaos in Algeria, the specter of civil war in Tunisia, which are threats to the stability and security of the two countries were used as a strategy to establish more political control and stifle freedom of speech and control the opposition.
For the Algerian regime, which is urged to hand over power to civilians, either through domestic public pressure or through an increasingly visible international pressure.
The threat of having Algeria under an Islamist rule, is used as a form of justification to maintain power within the military institutions and never give it back to civilians.
As for Kais Saied’s Tunisia, it is a question of justifying its anti-democratic coup de force, giving it a political cover and motivations.
It is a step that is still refused by the Tunisians and the international community as seems to be shown by the difficult dialogue between the Tunisian state and the international financial institutions which refuse to validate its domestic policies.