Movement of Society for Peace

Movement of Society for Peace

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The Movement for the Society of Peace (Arabic: Harakat mujtama' as-silm حركة مجتمع السلم, formerly called Hamas حماس, French: Mouvement de la société pour la paix) is an Islamist party in Algeria, led until his 2003 death by Mahfoud Nahnah. Its current leader is Bouguerra Soltani. It is aligned with the international Muslim Brotherhood. It is currently (as of 2004) part of a ruling coalition with the FLN and RND, and holds posts in the parliament and government of Algeria.


Roots in the Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood reached Algeria during the later years of the French colonial presence in the country (1830-1962). Sheikh Ahmad Sahnoun led the organization in Algeria between 1953 and 1954 during the French colonialism. Brotherhood members and sympathizers took part in the uprising against France in 1954-1962, but the movement was marginalized during the largely secular FLN one-party rule which was installed at independence in 1962.

Islamist forces however remained active in religious education, mosques and religious associations, including sympathizers of the Muslim Brotherhood. Brotherhood activists generally refrained from confronting the regime, which did not tolerate independent opposition, but sometimes protested the government and generally argued for a greater role for Islam in the country's politics.

Islamists also called for increased Arabization of education and the state bureaucracy, and gained a foothold through heavy state backing for the early Arabization programs under Presidents Ahmed Ben Bella and Houari Boumédiène. The reformist-Islamist ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, in particular, was strengthened through the recruitment of Arabic language teachers from other Arab countries, particularly Egypt, which is the Brotherhood's main stronghold.

History of the party

When a multi-party system was introduced in Algeria in the early 1990s, the Muslim Brotherhood formed the Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP), led by Mahfoud Nahnah until his death in 2003 (he was succeeded by present party leader Boudjerra Soltani). The party was initially known as the Movement for the Islamic Society, and abbreviated in Arabic as Hamas, but following legal bans on religiously founded parties, the name was changed. (The abbreviation Hamas still remains in use.)

A dissident wing of Brotherhood-inspired Islamists led by Abdallah Djaballah formed their own party, El Nahda, which later split to create El Islah, advocating a more hardline stand towards the government. (Neither is supported by the Muslim Brotherhood's international organization, which recognizes MSP/Hamas as its Algerian wing.) The Muslim Brotherhood in Algeria did not join the Front islamique du salut (FIS), which emerged as the leading Islamist group in the 1990 local and 1991 parliamentary elections, although the rapidly growing FIS did attract some of its supporters.

In 1992, a military coup d'état cancelled elections which the FIS was on the verge of winning, and banned the organization. The Brotherhood condemned the coup, but refused to join the resulting violent uprising by FIS sympathizers and the Armed Islamic Groups (GIA) against the Algerian state and military. Instead, the group urged a peaceful resolution to the conflict and cooperation with the state, which for a time caused some strains with the international Muslim Brotherhood, where many sympathized with the Islamist insurgency.

The MSP/Hamas thus remained a legal political organization, and ran in all elections organized by the state while the ex-FIS and other rebel forces urged a boycott. In retaliation for the party's pro-government stance, several members were assassinated by extremist militants during the war. Since 1997, the party has been supportive of the presidencies of Liamine Zeroual and Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and has participated in government.

In parliament and government, the party has tried strengthen conservative and Islamic trends in state and society, eg. in opposing secularizing changes in the Algerian Famiy Code. It has argued in favor of amnesty and reconciliation efforts towards former Islamist guerrillas, while simultaneously condemning violence and supporting the state in its confrontation with radical groups still fighting, such as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (formerly GSPC).

Electoral participation

In the first round of the 1991 parliamentary elections (Algeria's first multi-party elections) the MSP/Hamas gained 5,3% of the popular vote, becoming the fourth-largest party in parliament. The movement was significantly weaker than the non-Brotherhood FIS, which became the largest party with 47%. The second round of elections were cancelled by a military coup in January 1992, and the FIS was banned.

During the civil war

The MSP/Hamas protested the coup, but also clearly condemned the Islamist insurgency that ensued. The party remained committed to the political process, arguing in favor of peaceful reconciliation, an amnesty for Islamist fighters and a return to democracy, while criticizing both sides of the conflict. In 1995, Sheikh Nahnah participated in the presidential elections as main contender against the military-backed winning candidate, Liamine Zeroual. He finished second with 25.38% of the popular vote.

In the 1997 parliamentary elections, the party gained 14.8% of the vote, finishing as the second-largest party in parliament.[1], and subsequently joining the pro-Zeroual governing coalition under leadership of the RND.

Presidential alliance under Bouteflika

The party would later support Zeroual's successor as president from 1999, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. In the first parliamentary elections under Bouteflika, the MSP received 7% of the vote in the 2002 elections, gaining 38 members in the parliament. In the 2004 presidential elections, the party endorsed and were part of a coalition supporting the reelection of Bouteflika, and it has remained committed to the three-party "presidential coalition" (together with the secular FLN and the RND parties). As part of the presidential coalition, the party has argued for conservative values and the Islamization of society, as well as supported Bouteflika's projects to grant amnesty to former Islamist militants.

In the 2007 parliamentary elections, the MSP again ran as a member of the presidential bloc, earning 9.64% of the popular vote and becoming the third-largest party of the parliament, with 52 members. The party further supported constitutional changes in 2008, designed to allow President Bouteflika to run for a third term. Rather than launching its own candidate, it campaigned in favor of Bouteflika's candidacy in the 2009 presidential elections.

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