Abbas Madani, leader of the banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in Algeria, has expressed his reservations over the Charter for Peace and (National) Reconciliation on which the Algerian people voted in a referendum last month.
Madani, who now lives in Qatar, said he cannot call on the Algerian armed groups to lay down their arms and turn themselves in. He said: "If the president (Abdulaziz Bouteflika) guarantees their safety and grants them the right to defend themselves and they do not come down (from the mountains), then we will have something different to say. However, to give them the choice of dying by the sword or dying by the knife, do you call that a choice?"
In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat from Dubai, Madani said the referendum on the Charter of Peace and Reconciliation is "a plot that has been set up for the Algerian people," because "the main and fundamental issue is to bring about reconciliation among Algerians. What happened is that the authorities did not use the referendum as a path to achieving the desired reconciliation, but have used it as a way to falsify the reconciliation and to exclude it and make it impossible."
(Q) How do you view the future of Algeria after the recent referendum on the Charter for Peace and Reconciliation?
(A) The referendum is in fact a plot that has been set up for the Algerian people who want to end the crisis and find a way out of it. Regrettably, the authorities have not fulfilled their promises to Algerians in this matter, but their persistence in their plots shows they lack the will to bring about a solution, and that their interests lie in the continuation of the crisis, and they have no interest in a solution, for they have a purpose in deepening the crisis and making it take root.
(Q) What do you mean by a plot?
(A) The present issue is not the referendum. The main and fundamental issue is to bring about reconciliation among Algerians. What happened is that the authorities did not use the referendum as a path to achieving the desired reconciliation, but have used it as a way to falsify the reconciliation and to exclude it and make it impossible.
(Q) What is the alternative in your view?
(A) The alternative is to give the Algerian people who have been exhausted by poverty, bitterness, and humiliation their right to sovereignty and freedom, a right that has already been recognized by colonialism.
(Q) Since you view the referendum as a falsification of reconciliation, why then did you not call on the Algerian people to boycott it?
(A) I have explained to the Algerian people that they have two choices, and the sweeter of the two is bitter. The authorities have embarrassed the Algerian people by putting them in such a position, but we on our part are not prepared to embarrass them. That is why we asked the people to shoulder their responsibility. That expresses our stand on the need to respect the people. We do not dispose of their destiny, for they are an experienced people and their suffering is known to everyone.
(Q) However, what you are talking about now contradicts what the FIS Executive Committee abroad has urged, for it called on Algerians to participate in the referendum. Does that mean there is a split in your ranks?
(A) The FIS which I head has one united stand, both at home and abroad. We differ in our views, but it is impossible that we differ in our stand. The rumors about an FIS Executive Committee statement are circulated by the authorities who seek by various means to distort the FIS image and depict it as divided. The brothers at home and abroad have said one word, the gist of which is that we should leave the responsibility for the referendum to those on whom the responsibility falls, that is we let the people shoulder their responsibilities. I believe that all what is taking place in this regard does not depart from the attempts of the Algerian authorities to steer the FIS and to make it serve the regime with all its faults and follow its line.
(Q) Do you want to say there are attempts by the Algerian authorities to penetrate FIS?
(A) Is that not clear to any reasonable person who is living through those circumstances? The authorities are trying to depict FIS as divided and in conflict. I believe that in order to achieve such an objective President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was asked to back down on proclaiming the general amnesty which many people had considered to be one of the serious signs of the president adopting the call for reconciliation. After backing down on the general amnesty the authorities tried to split the FIS, when they ascertained that we will not say yes to the referendum in the face of such reneging, so they steered FIS toward saying "no" to the referendum and to boycott it. Hence we considered the referendum to be a plot.
(Q) It appears the referendum has put you in an embarrassing political position?
(A) No. They wanted to put us in such an embarrassing position, but we did not succumb to the scenario which the authorities had planned.
(Q) Is it not strange that you are now content with asking the street to shoulder its responsibilities, while previously you were directing it to adopt the stand you wanted?
(A) Do you not see that the whole world has changed, and that yesterday”s circumstances are not the same as today”s. Therefore it would not be politically wise to remain in the same situation after 14 years.
(Q) Is your popular base the same as it was 14 years?
(A) My confidence in the Algerian people has increased. They are still for what is right and just.
(Q) What is your comment on the big participation by the people in the referendum on the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation?
(A) Do you not know that the instruments of the elections are in the hands of the authorities, and that they dispose of them and modify them as they please? Let me ask you: What is your evidence that the figures announced by the authorities on the number of those who participated in the elections are correct?
(Q) Therefore you doubt the figures announced by the authorities?
(Q) What evidence have you got that the figures announced by the authorities on the percentage of participation in the referendum are doubtful?
(A) As I watched the television cameras covering the referendum I did not observe a great degree of participation by the youth. As Algerian youth represent 70% of the population, their noticeable absence casts doubts on the figures announced by the authorities.
(Q) Does that mean you reject the referendum on the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation?
(A) It is for the Algerian people to reject it. The rejection is by the people, not by me. I do not want to interfere in something I do not know.
(Q) How is that?
(A) I am unable to do so, as I am living in exile.
(Q) Are you refraining from answering clearly because of what you signed for the authorities before your release and in which you pledged not to engage in politics?
(A) That is serious talk. I have no pledge other than to God and the Algerian people. My pledge is to continue to espouse the cause of the people and defend their rights, and I am determined to achieve what is best for them, my homeland, and the Arab and Muslim countries, as long as I live.
(Q) Do you deny that you signed a pledge prior to your release?
(A) What I signed was signed under compulsion. I was in prison and the jailer came to my cell in solitary confinement. Could I refuse? When the Prosecutor General comes and gives you a list, what is the significance of your signing it or not. Of course there is no significance, for does the executioner consult with his victim? I continued to be banned (? from travel) until God”s grace came, and I left as a result of an inveterate disease and they allowed me to leave (the country) for medical treatment.
(Q) How do you answer those who say that your veiled stand that lies between rejection and floating regarding the referendum is basically due to the fact that the Charter for Peace and Reconciliation did not provide for allowing FIS to return to political activity?
(A) FIS is just a means. Our objective is the Algerian cause with which we are engaged. FIS was established to embrace the Algerian people”s cause. We are not infatuated with partisanship and we are not like the National Liberation Front (FLN) which turned from a liberation front to a front that serves persons.
(Q) In light of the political ban on FIS, how will you work to help the people? What are the options available to you in that regard?
(A) Our program is defined as defending Algerians and their cause. That is a matter we have taken upon ourselves a long time ago. Do you see us surrendering our people and leaving them to repression, tyranny, and injustice?
(Q) Has the stability of the regime in Algeria affected your popularity in the Algerian street?
(A) The FIS, like its people, is facing an ordeal, and it is bound to suffer damage. What I can say is that the FIS is forbearing.
(Q) Do you in the FIS take the responsibility for the violent events that occurred in Algeria?
(A) What is your concept of responsibility?
(Q) I mean, do you have a role in what took place. Did you make mistakes? Where did you go wrong?
(A) Making mistakes is in the nature of human beings. Undoubtedly there are mistakes. However, what do you mean by mistakes? Have we acted outside the framework of legality, or are we the victim of the action of institutions that have departed from legality?
(Q) What is the nature of the mistakes you have committed without departing from legality?
(A) I think you are trying to provoke me.
(Q) I am looking for the truth from one of the major parties who has lived the Algerian crisis since its beginnings?
(A) The FIS is not the front of Abbas Madani or Ali Ben-Haj. It is the front of the Algerian people. That is how it has been presented in the past and how it is still being presented. That is why I say we need to convene a conference so that we can know the meanings and determine what is right and what is wrong.
(Q) Are you then about to convene an FIS general conference, and where will you hold it?
(A) If Algeria becomes independent and the people once again have their say, and the rights are restored to those who are entitled to them, then we will be ready to convene the conference.
(Q) What do you mean when you say if Algeria becomes independent? Are you saying Algeria is now a colony?
(A) Algeria is now a colony of neo-colonialism which is controlling the fate of Algerians. It is known that it is imperialism that has kindled sedition among Algerians. The old colonialism recognized (Algeria”s) independence and lifted its hands in appearance, but it has returned in its modern guise which does not serve even France, but serves those who have special interests.
(Q) Do you call on the armed groups in Algeria to lay down their weapons?
(A) They know better than me and are wiser. Can I say — at a time when the president has went back on the promise of general amnesty — to those who have escaped so as to save their lives: go forward and die with your hands tied? Is that a legitimate logic? If the president makes a commitment to guarantee their lives, and grants them the right to self-defense, and they do not come down (from the mountains), then we will have something different to say. However, to give them the choice of dying by the sword or dying by the knife, do you call that a choice?