Muslim Brotherhood in Algeria
The Muslim Brotherhood first emerged in Algeria in the 1950s as a religious association. In the 1990s, the Algerian Brotherhood launched a political party, the Movement of Society for Peace (“Harakat mujtama’ as-silm” or MSP).
Since its formation, the MSP has worked from within Algeria’s political system to advocate for the national adoption of Islamic ideals in Algeria, including the establishment of sharia (Islamic law). The MSP today functions as part of the Green Algeria Alliance (GAA), an Islamist coalition that has often stood in opposition to the Algerian government, boycotting the 2014 elections and the 2016 constitutional reform process.
According to the MSP’s website, the party seeks to establish a “sovereign Algerian state…within the framework of Islamic principles” and the “adoption of Islamic sharia principles [as the] primary source of legislation in Algeria.”*
Islamist clerics Abdellatif Soltani and Ahmed Sahnoun first founded the Algerian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1953. Soltani and Sahnoun were purportedly inspired by the works of Egyptian Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb.
The history of the Brotherhood’s civic participation in Algeria dates back to 1990, when the country opened itself up to a multi-party system. That year, Algerian cleric and Brotherhood sympathizer Mahfoud Nahnah transformed his religious education and charity organization—Al-Irshad wa-l-Islah (Guidance and Reform)—into a political party, Harakat li-Mujtama’ Islami (“the Movement for an Islamic Society,” also known as MSI or Hamas).
Nahnah advocated three major tenets in his effort to realizing an Islamic state in Algeria: itidal (moderation), musharaka (participation), and marhaliya (gradualism).
The MSI was slow to rise to the forefront in Algerian politics. In the country’s 1991 legislative elections, the party garnered a mere 5.3 percent of the national vote.
When civil war broke out in Algeria later that year, the regime clamped down on Islamist parties affiliated with insurgent groups. When the government barred the Islamic Salvation Front (ISF) from participating in the January 1992 elections, the MSI reportedly sympathized with the ISF, as well as the broader violent Islamist insurgency against the government.
However, the MSI did not align itself with the Algerian rebel movement, instead preferring to achieve its Islamist objectives from within the existing Algerian political system.* Beginning in the 1990s, the Algerian government began appointing MSI members to several cabinet positions within the government, viewing the MSI as a more palatable alternative to violent Islamist organizations operating at the time.
On 1995, the MSI had made significant headway in nurturing both mainstream and official support for its cause. In the 1995 presidential elections, Nahnah garnered 25 percent of the national vote, coming second to the Algerian army’s candidate, Liamine Zeroual.
During this time, the MSI continued to serve as an ideological intermediary between the secular Algerian government and the rebel jihadist groups, urging reconciliation between the two columns and positioning itself as an alternative solution to both.
In 1997, following a government ban on the use of ideological Islam, the MSI reorganized under the name the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) and changed its slogan from “Islam is the solution” to “Peace is the solution.” For the next six years, Nahnah tempered his message and embedded his party further within the Algerian political elite, joining with it a variety of government-led coalitions.
Nahnah died in 2003, and was succeeded as leader of the MSP by Algerian professor Bouguerra Soltani. From 2003 to 2013, Soltani worked to cement the MSP further within the government elite, though allegedly at the expense of his party’s mission. In a highly controversial move, Soltani unilaterally advocated for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s 2009 bid for reelection, which created a rift within the MSP and resulted in the split of a breakaway faction, the Movement for Preaching and Change (MPC).
Since the Arab Spring in 2011, and the 2013 succession of party leadership from Soltani to the more “radical” leader Abderrazak Makri,* the party has increasingly distanced itself from the Algerian government and instead reestablished itself as a serious opposition party. In 2014, Makri joined up with other Islamist parties and led the MSP in boycotting the presidential elections.
Makri also led the party in boycotting the 2016 constitutional process, claiming that “this constitution, which is neither consensual nor having the potential for great reforms, expresses only the views of the president and his entourage.”
After the MSP came in third in the 2017 parliamentary elections, Makri accused Bouteflika’s ruling coalition of electoral fraud. Makri intended to run for Algeria’s presidency in 2019 but withdrew after Bouteflika announced he would seek a fifth term.
Popular protests calling for Bouteflika’s resignation began in Algeria in February 2019 after the ailing president announced he would seek another term. MSP joined calls for Bouteflika’s resignation and called for the creation of a caretaker government. Bouteflika resigned on April 2, 2019, after more than two decades in power.
MSP has continued to promote itself as the lead opposition as Algeria’s government transitions after Bouteflika’s resignation.* Algerian presidential elections were scheduled for July 2019, but Algeria’s Constitutional Council canceled them on June 2. The council cited no reasoning for the decision, but protesters claimed Bouteflika-appointed members of the government and army were manipulating the elections. Protesters continued to demand free elections by the end of 2019.