Al Qaeda’s North Africa wing has called on Algerians to revolt against the ruling elite and boycott a parliamentary election next month, describing the vote as “plastic surgery”, in an audio message posted on the Internet.
Energy-exporting Algeria is the only country in North Africa whose political system has been virtually untouched by Arab Spring uprisings that unseated autocratic rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
The government has made some moves to ease political restrictions, lifting a 19-year state of emergency, authorising the creation of new political parties for the first time in more than a decade, and inviting European Union monitors to oversee the May 10 vote.
But the head of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said these and other reforms were no more than window-dressing by a degenerate political clique desperate to stay in power, in the recording, titled “Boycott the Election Farce”.
“These elections will not bring the real change that is sought, rather it will be like plastic surgery, the goal of which is to give false legitimacy to this corrupted and corrupting gang,” said Abu Musaab Abdel-Wadud in the 21-minute message, uploaded to Islamist forums on Monday.
“Oh Muslims, your duty today is not to participate in this disgraceful, fake election; your duty is to reject those oppressors in disguise and wage jihad (holy war) and rise up against them,” added Wadud, who is also known as Abdelmalek Droukdel.
The authenticity of the recording could not independently be verified.
AQIM has only limited influence on Algerian society because most of the population is fed up with years of violence.
Algeria, an OPEC member, is a top gas producer and crucial ally for Western governments in the fight against AQIM around the southern edge of the Saharan desert.
Wadud said the government would use every means “including forgery” to contain the influence of Islamists, who are tipped to do well in the election, buoyed by Islamist gains in post-revolutionary north African states.
Long confined to the margins of the political scene or thrown in prison to ensure they stayed that way, Islamists have emerged as important actors in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt following the overthrow of their long-serving leaders.
In Algeria, armed Islamist groups fought the government and its supporters for most of the 1990s after the military cancelled an election Islamists were poised to win.
“They say this time they will accept the results, even if they produce an Islamic state,” said Wadud. “How can anyone sensible believe that those criminals will give up power and leave, just because the people want it and expressed that desire at the ballot box?”