Zeroual celebrates victory over terror

Algerian elections: The President's supporters hail a victory for democracy, but the banned Islamists may yet wreak revenge

ROBERT FISK

Algiers

They thought the war was over. President Liamine Zeroual - tinier than one had remembered him, smiling below his silver moustache among the beefy security men - had no sooner turned up in front of us to thank Algerians for his election victory than the shooting broke out. Plainclothes cops, blue-uniformed policemen, security agents, all heaved huge pistols from their belts and fired into the sky, sometimes only a few feet behind the presidential limousine. Not since independence can Algiers have witnessed so much gunfire.

''We have a democracy now," a policeman assured me, tugging a pistol from his holster. "We have won. It is over." But was this the way to celebrate peace, assuming President Zeroual's 60 per cent of the vote - or the election's officially pronounced 75 per cent turnout - meant peace was assured? The bullets skittered into the air, thousands of them, high over the sun-bathed city, their matchstick crackle mingled with the screams of motorists driving in convoys through the streets, Algerian flags streaming from the windows, bejewelled ladies shouting their love for the little ex-general who had just told us democracy was theirs.

From time to time, amid the crowds, flags and gunfire, you could remember the facts: a cancelled parliamentary election in 1991, thousands of political prisoners, 50,000 dead, the throat-slashings, beheadings, street executions, car bombs and ambushes. And, travelling in a convoy driving from Didouche Murad street up towards the Interior Ministry, I could not help but notice the less friendly, bearded faces of young men who watched our cars and the gun-happy cops with peculiar intensity. Was there not, one wondered at such moments, a price to be paid for all this?

You could not put that question to the authorities yesterday, as they smothered the notice boards with election results. The wilaya of Tipaza, they announced, had an 81.82 per cent turnout and Mr Zeroual had won 62.99 per cent of the vote, his nearest rival - the Hamas leader, Mahfoud Nahnah, only 23.49 per cent. In Djidjel, the turnout was 65.73, Mr Zeroual's share 58.83, Mr Nahnah's, 27.3. Only in Tizi Ouzou, capital of the Berber country, did the Kabyle leader, Said Sadi, pick up 86.2 per cent of the local vote against Mr Zeroual's puny 8.78 per cent.

"How could you doubt the turnout in Algeria of 75 per cent?" a pollster asked, when I suggested I had not seen a million Algerians on the streets of the capital on Thursday.

But there was an election, Algerians did vote and, even if suspicious reporters allowed for a little tampering with the figures, it was difficult to believe Mr Zeroual had not won. Even the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), whose parliamentary election victory in 1991 led to the suspension of the poll and the banning of the party, claimed their own dubious election turnout statistic of 37 per cent was higher than they had expected. The people, the FIS said, had been intimidated by 400,000 soldiers and policemen. But unlike the armed ''Islamists'' who support the FIS, the security men had not threatened to kill every voter who turned up at the polling stations.

So you could see why the dapper ex-general was grinning from ear to ear yesterday morning as he hugged and kissed the tearful supporters around us. He had gambled and won, held an election under the shadow of the knife and persuaded Algerians to vote in it, the turnout - even if you deduct a percentage or two - higher than the poll that would have given Algeria to the FIS three years ago.

The people had changed their views; that was the message the government advertised yesterday. If they had given their vote to "Islamists" in the 1991-92 poll, they now gave it to Mr Zeroual, to "legitimacy", to "stability", to - and how important this word becomes each day in Algeria - "democracy".

Amid the euphoria, few seemed to reflect on the future. If an election boycotted by the opposition and in which the FIS could not be represented is to be the key to turn back on the motor of democracy, what does President Zeroual do next? Tell the West, of course, that he needs help, that a country with a new, proved democratic mandate deserves the economic and political (and military?) support of Europe and the United States. And tell his electoral opponents, Sheikh Nahnah of Hamas and Said Sadi and the Islamist intellectual Nurredine Boukhrou to join him and share power. But does he also try once more to talk to those with whom he was once prepared to negotiate, the FIS? And thus, by inference, to the regime's cruellest enemies, the armed "Islamists"?

Such thoughts did not occupy the minds of the thousands who flocked onto the streets of Algiers last night, dancing to the sound of gunfire, ululating through the traffic jams, celebrating that most illusory of all phenomena - the peace that comes without a ceasefire or a treaty. For, if the celebrations symbolised some form of national relief, they must also - to the unsmiling young men on the pavements - have seemed a provocation, something devoutly to be hated, something to which there must be a response. It was not a happy thought, that there might be a grim price to pay for all this.

"What do you think, Mr Robert?" asked one of the Interior Ministry men amid the gunfire. I smiled, but thought better of replying. When he repeated his question, I just looked at a cop firing a Kalashnikov into the sky. The man shrugged, then grinned. "This is our way, in Algeria," he said.

Suggested Topics
News
Denny Miller in 1959 remake of Tarzan, the Ape Man
people
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl despairs during the arena auditions
tvX Factor review: Drama as Cheryl and Simon spar over girl band

News
Piers Morgan tells Scots they might not have to suffer living on the same island as him if they vote ‘No’ to Scottish Independence
news
News
i100Exclusive interview with the British analyst who helped expose Bashar al-Assad's use of Sarin gas
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Angel Di Maria celebrates his first goal for Manchester United against QPR
Football4-0 victory is team's first win under new manager Louis van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
art
News
newsIn short, yes
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script
tv'Thomas comes right up to the abyss', says the actor
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris claimed the top spot in this week's single charts
music
Sport
BoxingVideo: The incident happened in the very same ring as Tyson-Holyfield II 17 years ago
News
Groundskeeper Willie has backed Scottish independence in a new video
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor poses the question of whether we are every truly alone in 'Listen'
tvReview: Possibly Steven Moffat's most terrifying episode to date
News
i100
Life and Style
Cara Delevigne at the TopShop Unique show during London Fashion Week
fashion
News
The life-sized tribute to Amy Winehouse was designed by Scott Eaton and was erected at the Stables Market in Camden
peopleBut quite what the singer would have made of her new statue...
Sport
England's Andy Sullivan poses with his trophy and an astronaut after winning a trip to space
sport
News
peopleThe actress has agreed to host the Met Gala Ball - but not until 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and i...

Teaching Assistant for KS1 & KS2 Huddersfield

£50 - £65 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: We are looking for flexible and...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Year 1/2 Teacher

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required,...

Day In a Page

These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

The fall of Rome?

Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
Glasgow girl made good

Glasgow girl made good

Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
The landscape of my imagination

The landscape of my imagination

Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories