Algerians are increasingly weary of the relentless struggle between underground Islamic militants and the armed forces. Mass demonstrations last March against the mounting tide of terrorism expressed the widespread mood of frustration, both at the activities of the fundamentalists and the obsessive repression of the regime.
HUGE PROTEST MARCHES against terrorism on 22 March in Algiers and other large cities were sanctioned by the government, but appear to have been motivated by genuine popular outrage. The organisers, which included the Union generale des travailleurs algeriens (UGTA), claimed 1.5m Algerians turned out around the country. The demonstrations seem to have been the catalyst to pressure the government into a tougher line against fundamentalist extremists.
The government was prompted to break off diplomatic relations with Iran, which is accused of helping Algeria's Islamic militants, and has recalled its ambassador from Sudan, another fundamentalist regime alleged to have provided support to the clandestine opposition. The US State Department has recently accused Sudan of being behind the growing pan-Islamic movement in the Arab world.
Terrorism entered a new phase with the gunning down in mid-March on the streets of Algiers of three men close to power. Two belonged to the National Consultative Council, a purely advisory body of 60 men appointed by Boudiaf. Laadi Flici was an eminent doctor, writer and poet who was shot at pointblank range in his surgery in the Kasbah where he used to give free treatment to the poor. Haif Senhadri, undersecretary at the Ministry of Vocational Training, took four days to die after being shot through the bars of the lift as he was taking his daughter to school. The third victim, Djillali Liabess, was the highly respected director of a government-sponsored research institute charged with looking into Algeria's long-term economic and social problems and a former education minister.
The murders caused outrage. "Good men who were only trying to help the country," said a grief-stricken mourner at one of the heavily attended funerals. "They were not political. Why were they killed?". Many saw the killings as "an attack on science, a secular state, the intelligence of a nation". In the words of one young man, "they want to drag us back to the Middle Ages."
The fundamentalists did not claim responsibility, but the killings were widely assumed to be the work of Islamic extremists. Although television...