National Liberation Front (Algeria)
|French name||Front de Libération Nationale|
|Secretary-General||Djamel Ould Abbes|
|Founded||1 November 1954|
|Militant wing||National Liberation Army|
|International affiliation||Socialist International (consultative)|
|Colors||Red, green and white|
|People's National Assembly||
208 / 462
|Council of the Nation||
40 / 144
The National Liberation Front (Arabic: جبهة التحرير الوطني Jabhatu l-Taḥrīru l-Waṭanī; French: Front de Libération Nationale, FLN) is a socialist political party in Algeria. It was the principal nationalist movement during the Algerian War and the sole legal and the ruling political party of the Algerian state until other parties were legalised in 1989.
The FLN was established on 10 October 1954 after a split in the Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties, and was formed largely by former members of the Special Organisation paramilitary group who were in hiding. It succeeded the Revolutionary Committee of Unity and Action (CRUA), which had been formed earlier in the year. It initially had a five-man leadership consisting of Mostefa Ben Boulaïd, Larbi Ben M'hidi, Rabah Bitat, Mohamed Boudiaf and Mourad Didouche. They were joined by Krim Belkacem in August, and Hocine Aït Ahmed, Ahmed Ben Bella and Mohamed Khider later in the summer.
On 1 November 1954 the FLN launched the Algerian War. Didouche was killed on 18 January 1955, whilst both Ben Boulaïd and Bitat were captured by the French. Abane Ramdane was recruited to take control of the FLN's Algiers campaign, and went on to become one of its most effective leaders. By 1956 nearly all the nationalist organizations in Algeria had joined the FLN, which had established itself as the main nationalist group through both co-opting and coercing smaller organizations; the most important group that remained outside the FLN was Messali Hadj's Algerian National Movement (MNA). At this time the FLN reorganized into something like a provisional government, consisting of a five-man executive and legislative body, and was organized territorially into six wilayas, following the Ottoman-era administrative boundaries.
The FLN's armed wing during the war was called the National Liberation Army (ALN). It was divided into guerrilla units fighting France and the MNA in Algeria (and wrestling with Messali's followers over control of the expatriate community, in the "Café Wars" in France), and another, stronger component more resembling a traditional army. These units were based in neighbouring Berber countries (notably in Oujda in Morocco, and Tunisia), and although they infiltrated forces and ran weapons and supplies across the border, they generally saw less action than the rural guerrilla forces. These units were later to emerge under the leadership of army commander Colonel Houari Boumediene as a powerful opposition to the political cadres of the FLN's exile government, the GPRA, and they eventually came to dominate Algerian politics.
FLN violence during and after the war for independence
FLN is considered responsible for over 16,000 Algerian civilians killed and over 13,000 disappeared between 1954 and 1962. After the ceasefire of 19 March 1962, FLN is thought to have massacred between 60,000 and 70,000 harkis: Muslim Algerians who had served in the French army and whom the French, contrary to promises given, had denied a "repatriation" to France.
Independence and one-party state
The war for independence continued until March 1962, when the French government finally signed the Évian Accords, a ceasefire agreement with the FLN. In July the same year, the Algerian people approved the cease-fire agreement with France in a referendum, supporting economic and social cooperation between the two countries as well. Full independence followed, and the FLN seized control of the country. Political opposition in the form of the MNA and communist organizations was outlawed, and Algeria was constituted as a one-party state. The FLN became its only legal and ruling party.
Immediately after independence, the party experienced a severe internal power struggle. Political leaders coalesced into two grand camps: a Political Bureau formed by the radical Ahmed Ben Bella, who was assisted by the border army, faced off against the political leadership in the former exile government; Boumédiène's army quickly put down resistance and installed Ben Bella as president. The single most powerful political constituency remained the former ALN, which had entered largely unscathed from exile and was now organized as the country's armed forces; added to this were regionally powerful guerrilla irregulars and others who jockeyed for influence in the party. In building his one-party regime, Ben Bella purged remaining dissidents (such as Ferhat Abbas), but also quickly ran into opposition from Boumédiène as he tried to assert himself independently from the army.
In 1965, tension between Boumédiène and Ben Bella culminated in a coup d'état, after Ben Bella had tried to sack one of the Colonel's closest collaborators, Foreign Minister Abdelaziz Bouteflika (who was in 1999 elected President of Algeria). A statist-socialist and anticolonial nationalist, Boumédiène ruled through decree and "revolutionary legitimacy", marginalizing the FLN in favour of his personal decision-making and the military establishment, even while retaining the one-party system. Boumédiène held tight control over party leadership until his death in 1978, at which time the party reorganized again under the leadership of the military's next candidate, Col. Chadli Bendjedid. The military remained well represented on the FLN Central Committee, and is widely held to have been the real power-broker in the country. During the 1980s the FLN toned down the socialist content of its programme, enacting some free-market reforms and purging Boumédiène stalwarts.
It was not until 1988 that massive demonstrations and riots jolted the country towards major political reform. The riots led to the constitution being amended to allow a multi-party system. The first multi-party elections were the 1990 local elections, which saw the FLN heavily defeated by the Islamist Islamic Salvation Front (ISF), which won control of over half the local councils; the FLN received just over a quarter of the vote, retaining control of a similar number of councils. Parliamentary elections the following year saw the ISF win a landslide victory, taking 188 of the 231 seats, whilst the FLN won only 15, finishing in third place behind the Socialist Forces Front. However, this was followed shortly afterwards by a military coup d'état against the weakened FLN government, sparking the Algerian Civil War
Algeria was under direct military rule for several years, during which the party remained in opposition to the government during the first part of the war, notably in 1995 signing the Sant'Egidio Platform, which was highly critical of the military establishment. After internal power struggles and a leadership change, it returned to supporting the presidency. After formal democracy was restored, the FLN initially failed to regain its prominent position; in the 1997 parliamentary elections it emerged as the third-largest party, receiving 14% of the vote and winning 69 of the 231 seats. However, it won a landslide victory in the 2002 elections, winning 199 of the 389 seats.
The party nominated Ali Benflis as its candidate for the 2004 presidential elections. He finished as runner-up to the incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika, but received only 6.4% of the vote. The 2007 parliamentary elections saw the FLN reduced to 163 seats, although the FLN's Abdelaziz Belkhadem remained Prime Minister. Bouteflika was the party's candidate in the 2009 presidential elections, which he won with 90% of the vote.
The FLN remained the largest party following the 2012 parliamentary elections, winning 208 of the 462 seats. Bouteflika was re-elected on the FLN ticket in the 2014 presidential elections with 82% of the vote. The elderly and ailing Bouteflika is widely seen as a mere frontman for what has often described as a "shadowy" group of generals and intelligence officers known to the Algerians collectively as le pouvoir (“the power”) and whose individual members are called décideurs with The Economist writing in 2012 "The most powerful man in the land may be Mohamed Mediène, known as Toufiq who has headed military intelligence for two decades". General Mohamed Mediène, the chief of military intelligence from 1990 to 2015 is known to be a leading décideur within le pouvior and for his secrecy with The Economist reporting on 21 September 2013: "Despite his leading role in defeating Islamic militants in a brutal civil war between 1991 and 2000, and his less public role as kingmaker in the pouvoir, General Mediene’s face remains unknown; it is said that anyone who has seen it expires soon after."
The FLN's ideology was primarily Algerian nationalist, understood as a movement within a wider Arab nationalism. It essentially drew its political self-legitimization from three sources: Nationalism, and the revolutionary war against France; Socialism, loosely interpreted as a popular anti-exploitation creed; Islam, defined as a main foundation for the national consciousness, and a crucial factor in solidifying the Algerian identity as separate from that of French Algerians or pied-noirs.
As the name implies, it viewed itself as a "front" composed of different social sectors and ideological trends, even if the concept of a monolithical Algerian polity gradually submerged this vision. A separate party ideology was not well developed at the time of independence, except insofar as it focused on the liberation of Algeria. Its nationalist outlook was also closely interwoven with anti-Colonialism and anti-imperialism, something which would remain a lasting characteristic of Algerian foreign policy; but also with pan-Arab solidarity. This latter aspect led to the denial of or refusal to deal with the separate Berber identity held by Berber-speaking Algerians who made up about 50% of Algeria, something which caused fierce opposition and led to the splintering of the movement immediately after independence, as Hocine Aït Ahmed set up the Berberist and pro-democracy Socialist Forces Front (FFS).
The organization committed itself to socialism, but understood this along the lines of Arab socialism, and opposed doctrinaire Marxism. The existence of different classes in Algerian society was generally rejected, even if several of the party's top ideologues were influenced to varying degrees by Marxist analysis. Borrowed Marxist terminology was instead commonly reinterpreted by party radicals in terms of the conflict with France, e.g. casting the colonizer in the role of economic exploiter-oppressor as well as national enemy, while the label of "bourgeoisie" was applied to uncooperative or pro-French elites. The FLN did for pragmatic reasons absorb communist activists into its ranks during the War of Independence, but refused to allow them to organize separately after the war, and quickly moved to dissolve the pro-Moscow Algerian Communist Party (PCA). This proved of little significance, however, since independent Algeria was set up as a one-party system under the FLN soon thereafter. Many communist intellectuals were later co-opted into the regime at various stages, notably during the early Ben Bella and late Boumédiènne years, but the FLN ban on a communist party and refusal to accept Marxism remained in place.
Also strongly present as an ideological influence on the FLN was Algerian Islam, especially of the reformist-nationalist variety espoused by Ben Badis and his group of nationalist ulama. The movement absolutely rejected atheism and was not overtly secularist, contrary to widespread perception in the West, and during the war Islam was perhaps its most important mobilizing ideology. Still, after independence, the party would in practice assume a strongly modernist interpretation of Islam, supported social transformation of Algerian society, the emancipation of women, etc., and worked only through secular institutions. Religion was thus relegated to the role of legitimizing factor for the party-regime. This was especially the case under the presidency of Col. Houari Boumédiènne (1965–78), but even then Islam was considered the state religion and a crucial part of Algerian identity, and Boumédiènne himself took pride in his Quranic training. His predecessor Ahmed Ben Bella (1962–65) was more committed to the Islamic component of the regime, although always viewed as more of an Arab nationalist than an Islamic activist (and he remains far removed from what is today referred to as Algeria's Islamists). Boumédiènnes successor, col. Chadli Bendjedid (1979–92) would tone down the Socialist aspect of the movement, and during the mid- to late 1980s he reintroduced religiously conservative legislation in an attempt to appease growing Islamist opposition. During and after the Algerian Civil War, the party's position has remained that of claiming Algerian Islam as a main influence, while simultaneously arguing that this must be expressed as a progressive and modern faith, even if the party generally keeps in line with the conservative social mores of Algeria's population. It has strongly condemned the radical-fundamentalist religious teachings of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and other Islamist groups, even while supporting the inclusion of non-violent Islamist parties in the political system and working with them.
During all periods of Algerian post-colonial history, except for a few years ca. 1990–96, the FLN has been a pillar of the political system, and has primarily been viewed as a "pro-system" party. Its role as Algeria's liberators has remained the absolute cornerstone of the party's self-perception, and the defining feature of its otherwise somewhat fluid ideology. Today the FLN is close to president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been made honorary chairman. It mixes its traditional populist interpretations of Algeria's nationalist-revolutionary and Islamic heritage with a pro-system conservatism, and support for gradual pro-market reform qualified by statist reflexes. Since the breakdown of the one-party system and its detachment from the state structure in ca. 1988–1990, the FLN has been in favor of multi-party democracy, whereas before that, it upheld itself as the only organization representing the Algerian people.
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- Official website (Arabic)