MOHAMMED BOUDIAF was one of the few remaining heroes of the Algerian revolution. He was widely respected for his personal integrity and had launched investigations of corruption in the government and the military. All that, however, was not enough to prevent his assassination this week.
After an exile of nearly 30 years in neighboring Morocco, President Boudiaf returned to Algeria in mid-January at the urging of officials who hoped he could unify the country after a tumultuous couple of years. The tumult centered around the rise of the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which seemed on its way to forming a government after the parliamentary elections of last December.
But the troubles trace back further to years of corrupt and inept government. Unemployment among Algeria's largely young population is astronomical. Such conditions have fed the fundamentalist movement.
The FIS was quickly blamed for killing Boudiaf, who had sharply criticized the fundamentalists. But his equally pointed criticism of official corruption leads some to suspect conspiracy from that direction.
Regardless of who did the shooting, the assassins have succeeded in throwing Algeria into even greater turmoil and halting progress toward economic reform and foreign investment.
Would Algeria be better off if its radical Islamists had been allowed to try their hand at governing, instead of being pushed into guerrilla tactics by military intervention? Much of the FIS leadership is presently under arrest. It would be tragic if the country now veered even further away from its democratic experiment and back into military dictatorship.
Governments and potential investors interested in helping Algeria get back on its feet shouldn't retreat now. Their help is more needed than ever.