Algeria's example is being watched by Egypt and Turkey, secular states under fire from Islamists who want to create Islamic states.
Egypt has forcefully contained its militant Muslim Brotherhood, while Turkey's fiercely secular military is now locked in battle with the country's first Islamist prime minister.
The conflict has been a dilemma for the United States, torn between its professed support for democracy and its fear of a fundamentalist Islamic state in Algeria that might not relinquish power if it were voted in.
There may be a political contradiction between radical Islam, which draws its support from people disillusioned by disparities of wealth, and democracy. Algeria's Islamists openly declared the incompatibity: In 1991, some Islamic Salvation Front leaders called democracy a Western "evil."
The main US interest is stability. Algeria provides Italy, Spain, and Portugal with 20 percent of their natural gas, and militants have proved that they can export terrorism.