Another experiment in democracy bit the dust. President Chadli Benjedid's bold plan to introduce more real democracy in Algeria than any Arab state has known ended Sunday under the tracks of the tanks President Chadli himself sent into Algiers. Their mission was to destroy the movement that would have won the election that was just postponed, and that would in all probability have ended democracy itself.
The arrest of Abbasi Madani, chief of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), his principal lieutenant, Ali Belhadj and hundreds (or thousands) of their followers, along with seizure of their headquarters and two mosques, is a challenge thrown down to the Muslim fundamentalists. It risks civil warfare.
Algeria has been ruled by the tank since its independence from France in 1962. That rule has been secularist and socialist. The Muslim fundamentalist movement has grown up in opposition to the established power and to a French culture that, in France, resists accepting North Africans. President Chadli's reaction to riots in 1988 was to authorize political parties -- 47 now exist -- and an electoral process in which the FIS swept to control of local governments last year.