Lord Risby is the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy in Algeria.
Recently l took part in a moving ceremony to commemorate Operation Torch, adjacent to the beach where the Allied landings took place in Algiers 75 years ago.
Across the Maghreb, the Vichy French initially resisted. The North Africa campaign proved to be a major turning point in the Second Word War. During military operations many young Algerian soldiers lost their lives in North Africa, Italy and elsewhere. One can sympathise with Algerians who believe that their role has never been adequately acknowledged, as it should be.
The Second Word War stimulated the desire for separation from France. This culminated in a truly horrific fight for independence, which raged for eight terrible years from 1954. Algeria, despite being an integral part of France, inherited a 90 per cent rate of illiteracy and collapsed administrative structures.
Less than 30 years later the country suffered an attempted Islamist takeover, accompanied by grotesque and barbarous acts of violence of the sort replicated more recently by Daesh. It was ultimately quelled by the Algerian army, but these events became embedded in the country’s collective memory. Today there resides a deep fear of extremist fanaticism and its manifestations.
In a matter of decades the population has quadrupled, and in common with the Arab world there has been an enormous increase in Algeria’s youth population. However, there has been no Arab Spring, and compared with other countries in the region and elsewhere, the numbers leaving Algeria to help Daesh were minimal.
The reason for this, as expressed in Algeria, is a longstanding and comprehensive national de-radicalisation plan, which has evolved with constitutional and parliamentary oversight.
It is worth highlighting some of its elements. In 2006 a Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation was implemented which sought to divorce those involved in terrorism from further radical fundamentalist activity. It included measures of clemency for terrorists who agreed to move on to normality, with the aim of reintegration, but excluded those who had committed rapes, bombing in public spaces, or assassinations, and with compensation offered to affected families.
Earlier a major attempt had been made to find jobs for former jihadist fighters. Additionally Algeria opened up the political process, except for the radical Islamic Salvation Front.
Algeria is constitutionally Islamic. The government oversees the training of imams and female religious guides who enjoy the same status as imams, but who specialise in community outreach, especially amongst women. Mosques are obliged to be solely focused on religion, and to prevent the spread of religious bigotry and radicalisation.
Clear guidance and monitoring have been implemented in schools which are required to teach broad civic values, whilst offering a moderate view of the underpinnings of Islam. In practice this has not always been easy for education ministers implementing such a broad based syllabus.
But perhaps most interesting is the 2012 law on the representation of women in elected bodies. One third of Members of Parliament are women. Some of the key Cabinet posts like education, technology and communications, are held by impressive female Ministers. There is now legal protection for women in marriage.
Algeria is largely a conservative Muslim society. Fairly or unfairly, it frequently receives criticism both from within and from commentators abroad regarding human rights.
However our bilateral relationship is excellent, underpinned by a Strategic Security Partnership. Mutual trade is growing. During the boom years of high oil prices they put aside $200 billion in reserves, which have been deployed following the dramatic fall in the price of oil. Yet tough spending decisions were taken without any significant social disturbances. They recognise the need now to diversify their economy away from energy dependence, and we are assisting them in this process.
Algeria, the biggest country in Africa, has long borders with countries where terrorism and criminality thrive. Each country is different in responding to violent religious fanaticism, but Algeria has tried to develop a comprehensive framework for religious moderation and deradicalisation. It is a fully understandable and considered response to its – at times – uniquely tragic history.