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Algerian Islamists eye historic election win

Abdelkader Bengrina, head of Harakat Al-Bina, speaks during an interview in his office in Algiers, Algeria April 11, 2021. (Photo: Reuters)
Abdelkader Bengrina, head of Harakat Al-Bina, speaks during an interview in his office in Algiers, Algeria April 11, 2021. (Photo: Reuters)
ALGIERS — Islamist parties in Algeria expect to win parliamentary elections in June and take a major role in government, part of a strategy to gradually build clout within a system long dominated by a secular military that regards them with distrust.اضافة اعلان

While the military will retain ultimate power, the Islamists are taking advantage of political ructions caused by the mass protests that forced out veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2019.

The largely secular Hirak protest movement still holds weekly demonstrations to demand a full purge of the old ruling elite and is boycotting the election, viewing it as a charade so long as the military and its allies hold ultimate power.

This leaves the way clear for the Islamists to win votes from the old nationalist parties, which had senior officials jailed for corruption after the protests, but which are still associated with Bouteflika.

"We expect to be in the lead," Abdelkader Bengrina, head of the Harakat Al-Bina, said at his headquarters in Algiers, emphasizing that his party sees its role as working for reform.

If Islamists win the elections, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune could appoint nearly a dozen of them to cabinet roles in the North African energy producer, though not in the key portfolios of interior, finance or justice, analysts say.

Like most of Algeria's other Islamist parties, Harakat Al-Bina has publicly focused on the economy and governmental competence, rather than on the wider movement's ambition to integrate Islamic law, or sharia, into the constitution.

"In many instances the government showed it is unable to tackle the problems of daily life," Bengrina said, adding that in cabinet, his party would be "part of the team ... to address Algeria's political, economic, and social problems".

Its formal program focuses on free market economic reforms and introducing Islamic finance but steers clear of social issues, though women's rights advocates fear it would try to impede reforms of family law which curtail women's freedoms.

Bengrina won 1.5 million votes in the 2019 presidential election and Harakat Al-Bina, which broke off from another Islamist party in 2014, is seen by analysts as most likely to come first in the June election.

When Islamists last won, in 1992, the military canceled the vote, triggering a militant insurgency and civil war that killed 200,000 Algerians before ending in 1999. Islamist parties have since taken part in electoral politics but have voiced only moderate positions.

"Islamist parties have acquired a huge political experience since the 1990s ... political participation rather than confrontation is the trade mark of Algeria's Islamist parties today," said Mohamed Mouloudi, an Algerian publisher and expert on Islamism in the country.

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