Zeroual celebrates victory over terror

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



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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
filmReview: In the face of all-round devastation, even Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson appears a little puny
Arts and Entertainment
Bright lights, big city: Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by dusk
Harry Kane makes Paul Scholes' Premier League team of the season
footballPaul Scholes on the best players, managers and goals of the season - and the biggest disappointments
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor