In an exclusive interviewer The Middle East magazine, political commentator Severine Labat talked to Chris Kutschera.
Severine Labat is one of the most informed French political scientists on Algeria, author of The Algerian Islamists (Editions du Seuil, Paris, 1995), and currently working on a book on the subject of Hamas, she is one of the rare experts who know -- as much as anyone can really know -- the secret structures of the Algerian regimes. In this exclusive interview for The Middle East she attempts to make some sense of the Algerian question.
TME: What is the nature of the Algerian conflict? Is it a civil war?
S.L: It is a difficult question; a lot is at stake. Some people claim it is a civil war, with two sides, the Islamists and the military. Others, referring to the standards of civil wars, for example Spain and Lebanon, say: `No, we have not reached this stage.' Personally, I would say it is a war against the civilians, waged by two militarised clans who have taken the population hostage, to swing it to their side.
TME: Are the massacres that shocked the international community towards the end of last year something new, or something that has been going on for some time but previously largely ignored?
S.L: I would say both. It has been a dirty war from the beginning; at one time repression was going on on a wide scale, there were many cases of extrajudicial killings. But the massacres which occurred last September and October, on such a scale, with several hundred victims, this is something new.
TME: Why? What is the aim of such aggression?
S.L: I told you: the Islamists want to force the population to swing to their side. They also want to publicise their fight, to bring it to the attention of the World media.
TME: But surely there are other ways to do it? The Palestinians did it by hijacking planes, not by massacring civilians.
S.L: Don't forget that at that time the Palestinians' fight was a just cause, it created an echo in the Arab world and in the West. But the Islamists' cause is not really seen as a just one; it is more difficult to bring the attention of the media to it. When a plane was hijacked by the Palestinians, all the world's cameras were filming it but in Algeria, there is such a news black-out ... This escalation of violence aims at breaking the wall of censorship -- it is difficult to ignore such massacres.
But these massacres are also the result of the `privatisation' of the war: unable, due to the shortage...