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Islamic Fundamentalist Election Victory Shakes North Africa

June 15, 1990

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) _ The impact of the election victory by Islamic fundamentalists in Algeria reverberated through North Africa and France on Thursday, buoying other religious hard-liners but alarming moderates.

The government seemed stunned by the results of Algeria’s first free elections since independence from France in 1962.

″We’ve just had our first diploma in democracy,″ said Abderrahmane Belayat, a member of the governing party’s political bureau, on Thursday. ″We’ve decided to pursue our studies until we get a doctorate.″

In France, now home to hundreds of thousands of Algerians, apprehensive politicians warned of a new wave of immigrants fleeing the growing power of the fundamentalists.

Sheikh Abassi Madani’s Islamic Salvation Front won a decisive victory in Tuesday’s local elections.

The Islamic group won 853 of the 1,539 municipal councils at stake, Interior Minister Mohamed Salah Mohammedi announced Thursday.

The governing National Liberation Front carried 487, and the anti-clerical Rally for Culture and Democracy gained 87. The rest went to small parties and independents.

The fundamentalists captured 32 provincial councils, Mohammedi added. The party in power took 14, the Rally for Culture and Democracy one, and independent candidates one.

The minister said the results were final, though two municipalities delayed the elections to a later date for technical reasons.

The turnout was 65 percent of 12,841,769 registered voters, an unusually low total for Algeria. Parties opposed to both the government party and the fundamentalists boycotted the elections.

Madani told the French TV network TF-1 that Algeria was in no danger of being swept by radical Iranian fundamentalism. ″We are Moslems - not fundamentalists,″ he said.

However, his party advocates the use of Islamic law and restricts women to a subservient role.

Moderate governments from Egypt to Morocco appeared reluctant to comment on the election results. But the Moroccan newspaper Al Bayane, usually close to government thinking, said democratic reform in Algeria had benefited ″a movement known for its authoritarian and intolerant leanings.″

″The entire union of the Arab Maghreb is shaken by the way in which its central pivot, Algeria, has been rendered fragile,″ it said.

The Maghreb consists of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya and Mauritania.

Libya bans Islamic fundamentalism and Egypt suppresses it, although the Moslem Brotherhood holds seats in Egypt’s parliament.

In Tunisia, the leader of the unauthorized Islamic Fundamentalist Party, Rachid Ghannounchi, said the election ″was a divine day, by the grace of God, which will have consequences for the entire Maghreb.″

Fundamentalist opposition leaders in Morocco hailed the results. Al Alam newspaper said the June 12 election day will stand as a major date in history.

Iran’s official Tehran Radio said Algerian voters ″have given proof of the fact that the great force of Islam is a decisive factor in political life of all North African countries.″

″In this favorable terrain, Islam can spread very quickly,″ said the radio of the government that came to power in a 1979 Islamic revolution.

Algerian officials have not yet replied to Madani’s demands to dissolve Parliament and hold early national elections, nor to suggestions that the governing party propose a coalition with the fundamentalists.

Between independence in 1962 and constitutional reform last year, the National Liberation Front was Algeria’s only legal political party.

In Algiers, the uncertain political future dominated conversation Thursday.

″Where do we go from here?″ asked retiree Hadj Bensalah. ″The soldiers have gone into the barracks. Will they stay there in this new situation ?″

Many Algerians are anxious to know how women will be affected. Asked why no women candidates were nominated by his party, Madani replied: ″They have their place on our committee on women’s affairs - that is where they belong.″

The two major political parties that contributed to the fundamentalist victory by urging their supporters to boycott the voting were unrepentant.

Former President Ahmed Ben Bella’s secular Movement for Democracy and Berber leader Hocine Ait Ahmed’s Front of Socialist Forces had said the ruling party would rig the count in its favor.

A spokesman for Ahmed’s party, Ait Mohammedi Mouloud, said the ruling party was the main enemy. He praised the boycott for preventing it from winning.

In France, extreme-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen predicted a flood of new Algerian immigrants fleeing Islamic repression. Le Pen favors expelling the Moslem immigrants already in France.

Politicians across the spectrum said fear of a new wave of immigrants would benefit Le Pen’s National Front at the ballot box.

″One extremism creates another,″ remarked centrist politician Jacques Barrot. ″We’ve got to break this vicious circle.″

Michele Andre, secretary of state for women’s rights, said in a news statement: ″No culture, no philosophy, no religion can justify the oppression of women.″

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