In an exclusive interview with Globalo, the former Algerian Prime Minister spoke about Iran, how to end terrorism with democracy, and the future of the Middle East.

Now retired, Sid Ahmed Gozali, the Algerian PM, has had a long and illustrious political career.

  • An engineer by training, at independence he became a bureaucrat working on energy and mining issues.
  • In the 1980s, he was variously ambassador to Brussels, a Minister of Finance, and finally minister of Foreign Affairs from 1989 to 1991.
  • From 1991-1992, he was the Algerian PM, in a care-taker like government to oversee the country’s first ever free elections following a so-called “Democratic Spring” in 1988.
  • When it became clear that a pro-Islamist party was likely to emerge victorious, a Civil War erupted in Algeria.
  • He ran for president unsuccessfully in 1999 and 2004.

Gozali spoke to Globalo on the sidelines of an MEK-organized rally to call for Iranian Freedom.

  • The MEK is an Iranian national liberation organization that, over a decade ago, renounced violence and calls for an end to the current regime in Iran.
  • The MEK has been organizing the annual rally in Paris for the past decade to highlight the need for a free and democratic Iran, and over 100,000 attended the event.

In addition to the former Algerian PM Gozali, a diverse group of notable people attended the event, including a former EU president, members of the Scottish National Party, and Syrian rebel leaders. The American delegation included a host of former members of the President George W. Bush’s administration such as John Bolton, who was appointed ambassador to the United Nations under Bush. Ideologically, they ranged from Democrats like Howard Dean, to conservatives like Newt Gingrich. Gozali was the senior statesmen of an Arab delegation that included parliamentarians from nearly a dozen Arab states.

Q: We recently had elections in Iran and some say we have a more moderate government in Iran than we had under President Ahmadinejad. How do you view the Islamic Republic of Iran?

A: Because of my experience as Minister of Foreign Affairs in Algeria and the head of government, I have had the opportunity to know the reality of the Iranian regime. In 1992, the government of Algeria cut their relationship with the regime in 1992, because we have seen that they were supporting terrorism against us during the Algerian Civil War. So, through the years, I have had the opportunity to know the various governments in Iran. With Iran, and every dictatorship, there is a tendency to expand and to dominate. There is no consciousness of this fact in Occidental world or of the danger of this regime. They are not seeking to have influence through say communication technology–their strategy is to destabilize and overcome other countries. Look at the destabilization they have done in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and elsewhere. The target is not only the region, it is the entire Arab and Muslim world. Unfortunately, we in the Middle East are the most concerned with this issue, but there are those in the Occident that are also concerned with the fate of Iran. Iran, because of its history, has this organization [the MEK] which is committed to overcoming the regime, and it is democratic.

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Q: Iran was one of the funders of the civil war [in Iraq] and contributed to the instability we saw in Algeria in the 1990s and terrorism there? 

A: Yes. Yes, and it is impossible to have peace in Iraq, [with Iran meddling in the country], there is no negotiation. I don’t mean we should have war, no. No war, but, no negotiation because they don’t respect their word. You’ve never had peace in Syria and Iraq since the Iranian regime has been in place. It’s the cruelest religious dictatorship in the modern world.

Q: How did you get involved with this organization? Did they reach out to you or did you meet them at a conference?

A: The one who made my introduction was Claude Cheysson, he is a former minister of foreign affairs and he pressed President Mitterrand to welcome them in 1980, the MEK opposition that was being tracked by the Iranian regime. So he knew [the MEK] before me, the opposition, so he brought me to meet them and I discovered their cause was our cause. Democracy, peace, and against all forms extremism. They are Muslim, but moderate as [are] the majority of the people.

Q: What is the solution to the problem of terrorism and violent extremism that we see in the Middle East?

A: The problem is the same for all the countries. The problem is a lack of effective governance. So when there is space between the people and the state, terrorism exploits the difference between the people and the government. So I think the problem is how to build new systems in our countries based on the confidence of the people. And this is the problem of democracy. Unfortunately, Western governments do not act [with this appreciation of democracy], they always prefer to favor dictatorships. But, this is not in the best interest of the population. This is the interest of commercial exchange, and so on and so on. All regimes don’t worry about terrorism. They all worry about maintaining the regime, they just cannot do it. Until Obama, 8 years had formulated a new relationship between America, the West, and the Arab world. We were enamored [with this idea], unfortunately the result is that fundamentally the U.S has not changed its policy. They still prefer to support the dictators instead of the democracy. When you look at these examples, the majority of Western countries are supporting it to maintain their relationships, often military relationships, with these regimes. In his farewell address, President Eisenhower warned America about the military-industrial complex, but they have often failed to heed that warning.

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Q: What is the solution to building democracy in your own country, in Algeria?

A: Continue to fight. Continue to fight building new institutions based on the will of the people, and the respect of the rule of law. There is no other solution.

Q: Around the world, oil exporting countries tend not to be very democratic. Do you think oil exports have inhibited democracy in Algeria?

A: Democracy will arrive. It’s a matter of time. It will arrive anyway, regardless of oil. It’s also a matter of price and a matter of time. What is the price we’re willing to pay to change the regime? Until now, the regime has refused any change. Algeria is in danger because the wealth of Algeria is dependent on oil. But, the Algerian society is living with a certain level of [personal] wealth they did not create and is result of our oil exports. Roughly 90% of the exports of Algeria come from oil.

Q: In addition to being a foreign minister and a former prime minister, you were an oil minister as well. Do you think the low oil price we have seen in recent years is part of the Iranian-Saudi geopolitical rivalry, or a reflection of supply and demand?

A: It is impossible to say for sure. However, I think it is more than just supply and demand. I do think it’s true that Saudi Arabia doesn’t do anything without reflection with its allies, and in particular the United States. Saudi Arabia will not act in contradiction to the U.S. in the oil market. That aside, the problem with oil is an internal one in the Middle East. Our countries should not depend on oil and gas, especially internally, as that reduces our ability to export and generate wealth. We should use this wealth to focus on internal development.