Amid Protests Algerians Mourn Islamist Leader Abbassi Madani

Rabat – Thousands gathered in the streets of Algiers’ Belcourt quarter on Saturday, chanting and singing, some draped in the bright hues of the Algerian flag. Such crowds are a familiar sight for Algeria, which has been rocked by anti-government protests since February, but Saturday’s march was not a demonstration but a funeral procession—that of Abbassi Madani, an exiled Islamist leader who died in Qatar on April 24. He was 88 years of age.Abbassi Madani founded the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) political party, which in 1991 seemed poised to come to power in Algeria. Instead, the military dismantled the organization, incarcerating Madani and other leaders and hurtling the nation into a decade-long civil war. Both hailed as a champion of traditional Algerian values and decried as the instigator of a bloody conflict, Madani has long been a divisive figure for Algerians. But such public emotion at his funeral aired questions about the place of Islamism in the uncertainty of a post-Bouteflika Algeria. A unifying leaderMadani was born in 1931 in Sidi Okba, a small municipality in northwestern Algeria where Okba ibn Nafi, the leader of the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb, is buried. Madani’s father, an imam, initially enrolled him in a religious school. He later got a French education.For an opposition leader, Madani was full of contradictions. He was a staunch Islamist but also Western-educated, obtaining a doctorate from the University of London in 1980. He was a revolutionary and veteran of the 1954 Algerian War but later a professor at the University of Algiers. And though he had once been a National Liberation Front (FLN) loyalist and a childhood friend of revolutionary leader Larbi Ben M’hidi, by the 1980s, he was set against the FLN’s one-party rule. “We entered an era of despair, failure, and disaster [after the FLN came to power],” Madani said in a 1990 interview. “The Algerian state of 1962 had nothing to do with what had been conceived on the first of November 1954, for which we had taken up arms: An independent state founded on Islamic principles.”For years, Madani petitioned Houari Boumediene’s government to adopt Islamic law, creating, in 1963, the Islamic group Al-Qiyam, the forerunner of the FIS. For years, its calls saw few results. But in 1982, Madani led an Islamist demonstration on the campus of the University of Algiers that amassed thousands. Though he was arrested, it was a critical sign of change. Islamism was gaining momentum in Algeria.The preacher and the veteranMadani, a war veteran, a respected professor, and an unwavering moderate, had by the late 1980s the respect of Algeria’s moderate Islamists—the pious business classes and older generations. But Islamism in Algeria at the time was fractured and diverse. He could not unify its more radical elements on his own.In 1989, months after Algeria changed its Constitution to allow multiple political parties to operate, Madani founded the FIS, with Ali Benhadj as his deputy. Benhadj, a charismatic mosque preacher, was far younger than Madani, who was by then in his late 50s. Benhadj gave fiery speeches that appealed to Algeria’s restless youth and lower classes. Under their leadership, the FIS brought together separate Islamist groups in an unsteady alliance. Though its platforms and projects were at times contradicting and vague, in a matter of months the party had become spectacularly popular. In 1990, the FIS won Algeria’s local elections—the first free elections since independence. It seemed certain the group would unseat the FLN in the 1992 parliamentary race.But the FIS never gained power. The military, surprised and distressed by the swift success of Islamist parties, launched a coup on January 11, 1992, bringing Mohammed Boudiaf to power and toppling the FIS. Madani and Belhadj were imprisoned. The Algerian civil war had begun.An uncertain mourningMadani had lived in exile in Qatar since 2003, and died in Doha after a long illness, the Algerian Press Service said. Despite initial doubts that Madani would be buried in Algeria, the burial went forward. On the day of Madani’s death, Morocco’s Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani shared his condolences with Madani’s family in a statement on behalf of the Justice and Development Party (PJD).“[Madani] marked the Algerian nationalist movement against French colonization, his significant participation in the development of independent Algeria, and his participation in promoting reconciliation between the brotherly peoples of Morocco and Algeria,” El Othmani wrote. He continued to say that he felt a “deep sorrow” at Madani’s death.Not all were sure of how to mourn the Islamist figure. Oppositionists on Twitter called him an “extremist” and an “enemy to the nation.”But sorrow was visible at Madani’s funeral procession in Algiers and echoed across social media channels on Saturday. For 17 hours, crowds prayed and paid their respects on Mohamed Belouizdad Avenue in Algiers.“[The] funeral will be a barometric gauge for the ongoing Hirak and the Islamists’ role in the power struggle equation,” predicted political analyst Abdennour Toumi on April 26.And for many Algerians, both the mourners and those opposed, the crowd at Madani’s funeral was indeed a reminder of the lingering strength and solidarity of Algerian Islamists. In 1990, the Arabic language publication Qadaya Dawliyah interviewed Madani at the height of the FIS’s power, asking if the FIS would call for protests if the regime blocked the party in the elections. Madani answered no. Thirty years later, as Algeria’s protests entered their 10th week, Madani’s words seemed to echo their calls.“It is rather the regime that will take to the streets now,” he said in 1990. “The Algerian regime is not like other regimes. It is the child of Algeria and must listen to Algeria. If it does not listen to it and does not take to the streets, who is it then?” read more

Indonesia shows proof Australia paid boat with Lankans

He said the boat had hit a reef and been stranded off Landu island, and if it had been high tide it would have been too dangerous for the local villagers to rescue the asylum seekers.In other revelations, the police officers told Fairfax Media the asylum seeker boat was intercepted by the navy warship HMAS Wollongong and an Australian customs boat in international waters. “The money is now being kept as evidence that this was not a made-up story,” said General Endang. “This is very unexpected. If it happened in Indonesia it would constitute a bribe.”General Endang said he had now handed the police investigation report to the National Police headquarters in Jakarta.“It is now up to HQ what to do next. It is out of our jurisdiction.” Indonesian police have shown the money they claim Australia paid people smugglers to turn a boat with 65 people, including around 54 Sri Lankans, away from Australia and towards Indonesia.Photographs of thousands of US dollars handed over to six people smugglers, which Indonesian police say is proof of bribery by Australian officials, have been provided to Fairfax Media, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. General Endang said the alleged payments could trigger a new kind of crime, where people smuggling syndicates would put fake asylum seekers on a boat in order to extract money from the Australian government. “We have given you the evidence,” said General Endang Sunjaya, the police chief of Nusa Tenggara Timur province. “It’s now up to you and other organisations to demand an answer from the Australian government.” And in a blistering attack, the head of the people smuggling division of Nusa Tenggara Timur province, Ibrahim, said sending 65 asylum seekers back to Indonesia on two boats with just a drum of fuel each was akin to “a suicide mission”, asking: “Where is the humanity?” However, they say the payments to the six crew allegedly made by an Australian official, Agus, took place on Andika near Greenhill Island in the Northern Territory. This could potentially make the payments subject to Australian law.General Endang said the six crew members had all sworn under oath they received about $US5000 ($A6460) from an Australian official to return to Indonesia. Their accounts were corroborated by asylum seekers who were separately interrogated.“We believe the payments happened,” said General Endang. “They all said the same thing: they were paid by Australian officials to return to Indonesia.” General Endang showed Fairfax Media the photographs of the cash, but they were provided for publication from another source.Mr Ibrahim, who interrogated the crew members until 2am on Saturday morning, said the captain, Yohanis Humiang, initially refused to return to Indonesia because the crew would not be paid by a people-smuggling agent until the boat reached New Zealand.The crew had been told they would be paid between 100 and 150 million rupiah ($A10,000 and $A15,000) when the 65 asylum seekers from Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka landed in New Zealand.The revelation sheds light on a possible motivation for the controversial alleged payments by Australia to six people smugglers.Mr Ibrahim said the Andika had just passed Timor-Leste when it was intercepted.The crew members claimed Andika was blocked in international waters by HMAS Wollongong 92 and an Australian customs ship in a stand-off lasting several hours.Mr Yohanis, an experienced sailor, said Australian authorities could not arrest them because they were in international waters.He insisted Andika could make it to New Zealand, a journey he calculated would take 22 days from Pelabuhan Ratu in Indonesia to New Zealand if they travelled at a speed of eight knots.However, Australian officials said they were heading into bad weather and would be in danger if they proceeded.Eventually the crew agreed to be escorted to Greenhill Island in the Northern Territory, a two-day journey in which the Andika was sandwiched between the two Australian ships.Mr Ibrahim said it was here, on board the HMAS Wollongong, that the deal was struck.“Yohanis and the crew were insisting on continuing their journey to New Zealand or they wouldn’t get paid,” he said.Following negotiations with Agus, the crew reportedly agreed to a $US5000 payment each if they returned to Indonesian, he said.“The money was given with one condition: they go back to Indonesia, use the money for business and never do that kind of work ever again,” Mr Ibrahim said.He said the crew and Agus also agreed the Australian ships would guide the Andika back to the Java Sea so they could return to Pelabuhan Ratu.Once the agreement was reached the crew members returned to the Andika, he said, and Agus followed in a speed boat. He handed the crew their money in envelopes on the Andika, he said, an exchange that was witnessed by some of the asylum seekers.Nazmul Hassan, a Bangladeshi, told Fairfax Media he saw the captain put money in his pocket.Mr Hassan said the crew initially told Australian officials they couldn’t go back to Indonesia because they could be jailed for people smuggling.But he said after the meeting, Yohanis told them: “We have to go back. Australia want to pay for us.”“After the meeting, everyone looked happy and they agreed to the proposal,” Mr Hassan said.However, Mr Ibrahim said the Australians reneged on part of their deal and instead of taking the Andika to the Java Sea they went to Ashmore Reef.The asylum seekers were then transferred to the HMAS Wollongong and customs ship for two days.However, instead of returning them to the Andika, the asylum seekers were then transferred to two wooden boats, Jasmine and Kanak.Each boat was supplied with a drum of fuel (200 litres), limited food and water and a laminated google map of Rote island in Indonesia.Mr Ibrahim said: “Yohanis protested, ‘That was not the deal’; 200 litres isn’t sufficient to even reach Rote island.“But Agus said, ‘Agreement off, they have to head to Rote island.’”The two boats were released at the Indonesian border.“The immigrants then fought with the crew. They wanted to continue to New Zealand,” Mr Ibrahim said.Several hours later the Jasmine ran out of fuel. The asylum seekers transferred to the Kanak, which hit a reef near Landu island, in West Rote, where they were rescued by villagers.Village chief Semuel Messak told Fairfax Media he had asked his wife to cook for the people.“The police officer asked me, ‘Will it cost you a lot to feed all these people?’ I said, ‘It’s my money. If I let these people go looking cold and hungry, God will not see me in a good light.’”Mr Ibrahim is incredulous that a wealthy country such as Australia would push back boats with desperate asylum seekers to Indonesia, a country many considered Third World.He said Indonesia was doing its bit to fight people smuggling, with those found guilty facing sentences of 15 years’ jail.“We always co-operate with Australia, we process the arrests,” he said. “Despite everything, this happens. Why can’t Australians deal with [asylum seekers] like they are supposed to?“They are humans, they have problems with their country. Why can’t Australia either deport them or detain them until they are accepted by other countries the way Indonesia does?” read more