In This Review

The Battlefield: Algeria 1988-2002, Studies in a Broken Polity
The Battlefield: Algeria 1988-2002, Studies in a Broken Polity
By Hugh Roberts
Verso, 2003, 402 pp

A collection of 22 articles of varying length and written at different times between 1988 and 2002 (without later revision) may sound like a miscellany. Not so. This study of Algeria offers thematic unity, but it is detailed and dense. Read first the afterword, which makes it easier to follow the intricacies of Roberts' chronological coverage. Among his major points: The army rules. The rise of the Islamic Salvation Front (known by its French acronym, FIS) was greatly facilitated by the authorities in the late 1980s. FIS, if it had been allowed to take office after its overwhelming December 1991 electoral victory, would not have created an Islamic state because there was too much pluralism in Algerian politics to allow it; all forces, however, can be manipulated by the army authorities. Houari Boumedienne's rule (1965-78), for all its faults, did provide a unifying nationalist mission -- one that is now lost. And the renunciation of state socialism has been a political setback, leaving in its wake a regime dominated by the military and beholden to France and the West. Roberts, a leading specialist, challenges prevailing interpretations of Algeria as based on inappropriate outside models. He offers, instead, a constructed-from-within elaboration of Algerian political dynamics.