A prominent Muslim cleric in Algeria has issued a religious decree saying God will punish anyone who does not vote in a May 10 parliamentary election, a warning aimed at the large numbers planning to abstain from a vote they view as irrelevant. Algeria’s authorities, under pressure to reform after last year’s “Arab Spring” revolts in neighbouring countries, say the vote will be more free and transparent than ever before. This though is met with scepticism by many ordinary Algerians. Sheikh Chemseddine Bouroubi, a well-known imam who follows a mainstream Algerian school of Islam, said people should vote to prevent foreign powers – who he said included Zionists – from fomenting a violent revolution in Algeria. “Algerians must vote because it is about Algeria’s stability, and it is about preserving our country from any foreign interference,” the imam told Reuters on Wednesday in a telephone interview. Allah will punish those who do not vote… Voting is a religious obligation,” said the cleric, who runs a charity organisation in the capital Algiers.
The cleric said the fatwa was his own initiative and he denied any ties to the authorities. But his message chimes with that of the government, which is worried about a low turnout on May 10 and has been urging people to vote. Algeria’s leaders say they are carrying out a gradual, managed transition towards democracy, as an alternative to the violent revolutions which have toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen over the past 14 months.