The countries of southern Europe, which fear the fall-out from the mounting violence in their neighbour across the Mediterranean sea, and Arab dictators unneved by the continued failure of an Arab regime to quell an Islamic challenge, are manoevring to intervene through dubious offers of mediation, economic assistance or increased co-operation in combatting terrorism - all in an ill-starred effort to bail out a junta rejected by its own people.
In the course of a single week, France, Italy and Spain express interest in lending a hand in restoring peace, while stepping up their harassment of Islamic activists in their own countries; the Arab interior ministers council announces plans for ending ‘terrorism’ in all Arab States; president Liamine Zeroual begins a three-day State visit to Saudi Arabia expected to lead to increased Saudi aid and a mediation role; and western leaders and media try to pin the responsibility for the escalating violence on ‘suspected Islamic extremists.’
The marked escalation in violence in recent months - at least 5,000 killed since June - and the gruesome acts of barbarism the gunmen have visited on their vicitims have convinced the western and Arab backers of the Algerian regime that the situation will spin out of control, despite government claims to the contrary, unless something is done to bail out the generals, the real rulers of the country since 1962. And although the government rejected previous attempts at mediation, it is not spurning the new moves, even when they are dressed up as impartial.
France, which supports the junta and has been conspicuously silent until now, is at the forefront of the current manipulation. The French president, prime minister and foreign minister have all offered to help end the violence engulfing the country provided all parties to the conflict agree.
But Paris knows that its good offices are not acceptable to the Islamic activists because of its support to the junta, its pursuit of North African Islamic workers throughout Europe, the involvement of French officials and businessmen in Algeria’s pervasive corruption, and the French media’s consistent bias against ‘Islamic extremists.’ This explains the French officials’ unprecedented censure of both the Algerian regime and the Islamic activists for contributing to the mayhem, and their invitation to Italy to join French mediation efforts.
The French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, attacked the Algerian authorities and the Islamic extremists at the end of September for resorting to the use of force and violence, admitting at the same time that his government did not know what was really happening in Algeria and that this lack of knowledge was responsible for its past reticence. ‘We don’t really know how to explain what is happening... it is not like Pinochet’s Chile where democrats were fighting a dictatorial power,’ he said. ‘There is a fanatic and violent opposition fighting a power which itself in a certain way uses violence and the force of the State. So we are obliged to be rather prudent.’
The French foreign minister two days later repeated his government’s readiness to take part in ‘the search for a political solution to the Algerian crisis if all parties agree.’ He added that Algeria ‘is living a deep tragedy under the shadow of daily massacres and clashes that are difficult to understand from outside the country.’
President Jacques Chirac on October 2 expressed his hope at a press conference in Paris also attended by the Italian prime minister, Romana Prodi that Italy would participate in finding a solution to the crisis. He said Prodi offered to do his utmost to restore tranquility to the stricken land, adding that Italy, whose historical ties with Algeria were different from those of France, would succeed in its task.
As if not to be outdone, Spain came up with the idea of a ‘study centre’ to be set up by Middle East and European Union countries to monitor the situation in Algeria. The Spanish foreign minister said that Italy supported the idea but that he doubted whether the EU could help if denied a role by the Algerian government.
The cynical nature of the posturing by the three south European countries is too plain to disguise their bias in favour of the Algerian junta and their absurd claim that they do not know who is responsible for the violence they all profess to deplore.
On September 30, the Italian judicial authorities extended the period of detention in respect of 14 Islamic activists arrested in Italy at the request of the French authorities in connection with alleged bombings in France last year. Six days later, the Belgian authorities arrested 10 Islamic activists in Brussels accused by a French anti-terrorist magistrate of having ‘links to Algerian Islamists.’
The generals in Algiers were clearly pleased by the moves because they expressed interest in the Italian offer of mediation, asking for details after they had rejected out of hand calls by the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, for a dialogue as unacceptable interference in Algeria’s internal affairs.
Algiers also rejected criticism by Mary Robinson, outgoing president of Ireland and now UN high commissioner for human rights. She told the Algerian foreign minister that ‘human rights cannot be contained with frontiers’ and that the murder of children should be investigated.
But one announcement the junta could not have objected to was made on October 6 by the secretary general of the Arab interior ministers’ council about new plans for fighting terrorism in the Arab world. Ahmad Salim said in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, that the council had devised a machinery for implementing ‘anti-terror strategies.’
At the centre of the ‘strategies’ are arrangements for exchange of information, the adoption of measures against the sources of funds for armed groups, and movement of gunmen across Arab borders, he said. ‘All Arab States are alive to the danger of terrorism and express their readiness to fight,’ he added.
The reference to Arab borders and sources of funding is supposed to back a new move by Algiers and its US, EU and Arab friends to claim that ‘Afghan Arabs’ are involved in the fighting in Algeria - especially Libyan, Tunisian and Moroccan citizens. The idea is to bind the North African countries into a single anti-Islamic unit. But that is subject to the satisfactory resolution of the dispute between Algeria and Morocco over Polisario issue, on which James Baker and the Saudis are working.
Muslimedia: October 16-31, 1997