The question of whether Political Islam has failed or not due to the internal structure of the Islamic political movement in Algeria or any other country in the Islamic world is important for analyzing politicized Islamic phenomena. Olivier Roy sees the movement as a failure, not only in Algeria but also in the whole area from Casablanca to Tashkent. The movement has failed due to many common reasons among all divisions of the movement, regardless of their different socio-economic and political backgrounds that may be responsible for generating such movements. The Algerian case is the best example of Roy’s theoretical analysis of the failure of political Islam.
The Islamic movement started in Algeria at the end of the 1980s after a long era of corrupt regime and economic inefficiency. This led the country to live under extremely harsh living standards for the average individual. 75% of Algerian citizens are under 30, meaning a high rate of job creation is necessary, especially with a population growth rate of up to 3%. Thirty percent of the Gross National Product was used to service the payment of the national debt, resulting in a decline in the growth rate of the GNP. The fall of natural gas revenues during the 1980s made the situation even worse. After the dual fall of the price of oil and the value of the dollar, the demographic expansion pushed the GNP’s growth curve below the horizontal for the first time in years. Such economic conditions were responsible for the instability and weakening of the legitimacy of the FLN government.
The plummeting of oil prices in the 1980s, combined with the mismanagement of Algeria’s highly centralized economy, brought about the nation’s most serious economic and social crisis since the early days of independence. Housing conditions were extremely bad, and it was normal for the average citizen to live in one room with six other people. The economic frustration was general among Algerian citizens and still is. This frustration led to street riots that were not characterized by an Islamic attitude but rather a normal frustration that any population would feel towards an inefficient, corrupt regime that seems to be directly responsible for such economic status. The masses that took to the streets of Algerian cities in October 1988 were not only Islamists but also workers, students, secularists, leftists, feminists, and Berberists, all demonstrating their disillusionment with the FLN (National Liberation Front). The FLN government responded by Army intervention and the arbitrary arresting of the protesters.
They used torture against people, which ultimately created a high measure of resentment and destruction of government legitimacy. Moreover, the government’s doctrine to reform the Algerian economy was so supportive of those who already had money that it gave no benefit to the crushed masses striving under poor standards of life. This is the case in most countries undergoing transitional periods of economic reform, where the desperate need for investment forces the government to grant investors more rights and fewer duties to ensure an attractive business environment. However, the corrupt regime seemed to do this for its own benefit, since most of the rich Algerians were either government officials or had strong connections with the authority. Thus, the economic reform backfired on the FLN. Meanwhile, there was another severe problem affecting the country’s domestic politics: the problem of identity.
As a French colony under French authority prior to independence, Algeria suffered from what Arab writers and journalists call farnasah,” which means the Frenchization of Algeria. This is noticeable in most, if not all, French colonies. Spencer mentions that language has been politicized since independence and continues to present problems for national unity, largely due to the colonial legacy of France. The French suppressed any attempt to apply Arabization of education and succeeded in creating an elite of French speakers. After independence, Arabization of education in Algeria began to grow, giving rise to a frustrated Arabic-speaking population that suffered from a lack of job opportunities. This was a form of discrimination against those who cannot speak or write French in a country that is a former French colony.