Five years and some 60,000 dead into a brutal conflict between radical Islamists and what Fuller calls an "intellectually and politically bankrupt" military regime, what are the perspectives for Algeria? The author sees the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) remaining a major, if not dominant, voice in the power equation for some years. The worst scenario would be continuing conflict leading to anarchy. FIS could reach power if the regime collapsed in violence and chaos, or by making a deal with the military (two groups that share some affinities). A genuine solution could only be political-by integrating FIS in a truly democratic process.
However it came to power, what would be the domestic and foreign policies of an FIS regime? Fuller speculates that, once in charge, the need to address severe domestic problems plus the dependence on oil and gas income would constrain Islamist activism in regional and foreign affairs. He then examines policy implications for the West, concluding that although an Islamist regime would be inconvenient, it would be tolerable.
Algeria: The Next Fundamentalist State? contains two major weaknesses. First, Fuller may be out of date in seeing FIS as a major, if not dominant force. With civil war degenerating into a brutal multiple conflict, even into a "privatization of violence,"1 a no-win situation has developed. If the military regime cannot stamp out Islamist violence, Islamist rebels cannot defeat the regime, bouyed by oil rents and foreign support. Second, the suggestion of a Western "need" to "test" FIS by exposure to the democratic political process-would it emerge as a "normal" and reduced power, disciplined by constitutional constraints? or become more radicalized? - seems ill-considered. Failure of the "test" would mean for Fuller that Islamists are ill-suited to governance; but to millions of Algerians, and perhaps many others, the costs of this experiment could be dangerously high. Perhaps this explains why one Arab commentator of this study called it "superficial."2
1Le Monde, Jan. 23, 1997.
2 Al-Hayat, Feb. 12, 1997, in Mideast Mirror, Feb. 12, 1997.