Why one Arab nation acts as peacemaker

The way Algeria ended its violent civil war helps it act as a broker today in other conflicts, teaching that political solutions can quell terrorism.

AP Photo
Algeria's Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra speaks during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters on Oct. 1.

If experience is a great teacher, Algeria should by now have wisdom to impart. The large North African nation has experienced much since the 1950s: an anti-colonial war of independence, a democratic uprising (before the Arab Spring), a violent civil conflict with Islamist fighters, and lately, a strong attempt at national reconciliation.

Indeed, since 2013, Algeria has begun to stand out among the countries of the Middle East and Africa in its attempts to mediate the internal conflicts of its neighbors. Last spring, US Secretary of State John Kerry praised Algeria for its “constructive” role in global counterterrorism, such as hosting a conference on the deradicalization of Islamist fighters.

The grand lesson that Algeria tries to teach these days is that many terrorists can be pacified with a political solution instead of violence. The country learned a lesson during its “black decade” of the 1990s, a time of extreme killing by Islamist rebels and the government in which 200,000 people died. Eager for peace, Algerians embraced a “reconciliation charter” proposed by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika that offered amnesty to the Islamists who laid down their arms, which most did.

While Algeria’s security forces still often crack down on the remaining rebel groups, the foreign minister, Ramtane Lamamra, has intervened in other conflicts as an “exporter of stability.” He helped resolve a crisis in Tunisia, where an Islamist party was forced to step down from power. And to help quell Islamist fighters in Libya and Mali, Algeria helped broker talks in both countries.

Such attempts at peacemaking are rare in a region that is currently experiencing wars in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, not to mention renewed violence between Israelis and Palestinians. For sure, Algeria has a security interest in preventing conflicts from spilling over its borders, and especially to keep Islamic State from planting itself in the country. But as a longtime leader of “nonaligned” nations, it also seeks a larger role in teaching lessons about bringing radical extremists into civil society.

Algeria could earn more respect as a peace broker if Mr. Bouteflika and the ruling National Liberation Front were to further open the country’s democracy and ensure a stable transition once Bouteflika leaves office. But for now at least, Algeria has enough credibility, based on how it ended its civil war, to be welcomed as a mediator of today’s conflicts.

As famed American baseball player Vernon Law supposedly said, “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.”

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