Jews of Algeria Are Relieved at Cancellation of Elections

Algeria’s tiny remnant Jewish community appears not to have been affected yet by the turmoil that followed the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front’s victory in the country’s first democratic elections since its independence from France in 1962.

But a leader of the Jewish community in Algiers, where most of the country’s 200 Jews reside, expressed relief that President Chadli Bendjedid canceled the second round of voting by dismissing Parliament and resigning Saturday.

The leader, who asked not to be identified, said there has been no harassment of Jews by supporters of the fundamentalist party, known as the FIS, since the crisis began.

But on Monday night, the FIS urged the Algerian people to rise against the military and civilian leaders who canceled the elections. Should street violence erupt, the situation of Algerian Jews could be precarious.

The Islamic party made a strong showing in the first round of elections on Dec. 26, winning 188 seats in Parliament, 28 short of a majority.

With strong popular support, the FIS was expected to close the gap in the second round, originally scheduled for Sunday.

But the government, led by Prime Minister Sid Ahmed Ghozali, established a High Security Council, which voided the December election results and canceled the rest of the process.

Its rationale was that Bendjedid’s resignation created a situation not covered by the Algerian constitution and so extreme steps were needed.

Many observers have noted the irony that Algeria’s first democratic elections resulted in victory for a party that would supersede democracy with the religious injunctions of the Koran.

They attributed the broad support for the FIS to the degeneration of the National Liberation Front, which has governed Algeria for 30 years, and the failure of viable alternatives to emerge.

About 35,000 Jews were living in Algeria when it won independence from France in 1962. About 95 percent of them emigrated, mostly to France and North America.

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