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Mediterranean Quarterly 12.1 (2001) 100-114

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Islamic Governance in Algeria and Sudan:
A Fading Quest for a Model?

Giampaolo Calchi Novati and Stefano Bellucci

Using a political and historical approach, we seek to review in this essay the development of an Islamic concept of governance and its viability in the light of recent events, namely, the election of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria and the ousting of Hassan al-Turabi as speaker of the Sudanese parliament, which combined to make 1999 a significant year for the entire African Islamic movement (and beyond). Will these events represent the end of the so-called Islamic experiment, which certain Western observers have deemed an unmitigated disaster? The time is ripe for taking stock and assessing the significance of the Islamic movement in Sudan and Algeria, where in the first case it established a hold on power through a military takeover and in the second case was on the verge of winning free elections before they were annulled.

Islamism and the Notion of Statehood

In both Algeria and Sudan, Islam plays a fundamental role in society and consequently in politics. 1 However, what is called Islamism--Islam in [End Page 100] politics--has followed a different political trajectory in these two countries: with a coup in Sudan and (originally) with elections in Algeria. In both cases, Islamists were seeking to set up a new kind of state--the Islamic state--in order to give the Algerian and Sudanese people respectively a sense of "national" pride and identity after years of misgovernment and high levels of corruption in public administration and, in the case of Sudan in particular, in the face of backwardness, social division, and ingrained local inefficiency. It is important to note that the term national refers to the Muslim umma--the community of believers--rather than to the territorial state. In both Algeria and Sudan, the Islamists advocated an end to Western-style multiparty democracy--but that does not mean that they did not look for and command public support.

Generally speaking, African countries need profound political restructuring. 2 Even the traditionally more solid Arab or part-Arab North African nations require national rulers who are fully dedicated to political and economic regeneration. The restoration of the authority and power of the state is the critical first step in the establishment of a multiparty system. In order to create a state that is able to abide by the rule of law, "strong" government is usually necessary. At a social level, a general rise in civil and political maturity is vital in order to empower citizens and enable them to start demanding changes to the system of government. Western societies, which passed through similar periods of social-consciousness building a long time ago, tend to forget the central importance that this process still has in a number of African countries--including, of course, Algeria and Sudan.

The term governance has become widely used since 1990, a time when many Third World countries sought to reform their model of government, but it should not be confused with government. 3 The World Bank and other United Nations system agencies, such as the UN Development Program [End Page 101] (UNDP), all agree on the need for forms of "good" governance in developing countries, which invariably include a certain degree of government accountability and growth of civil society but which also imply respect for the rule of law, a functioning judicial system, and the improvement of the security sector. Governance should not, therefore, be related to political issues per se. This broad definition covers a multitude of concerns, including how power is exercised through a country's economic, social, and political institutions. As explained by Goran Hyde and Michael Bratton, the political elite, in charge of enhancing governance, must be accountable and must take into consideration not only the requests of the civil society and voters but also the interests of the nation at large, which may differ from those of the people. 4 Normally, these considerations should be balanced...


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