Noureddine Morceli is not the only Olympic contender monitoring Algeria's unstable political situation. Hassiba Boulmerka, winner of the women's 1,500 meters in last year's World Championships, might be more affected by the outcome.
Despite her surprising victory, Boulmerka's participation at the World Championships in Tokyo drew the ire of Islamic fundamentalists in Algeria. As she told the Italian newspaper La Republica , leaders of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) claimed that Boulmerka offended Muslims by "running with naked legs in front of thousands of men." According to Muslim belief, a woman must be covered from head to toe, including a veil over her face.
Last winter the fundamentalists issued a \o7 kofr\f7 , or pronouncement of disapproval against Boulmerka, who emerged from relative obscurity to become the first Algerian woman to win a world title. The proclamation did not mean much until the FIS's landslide victory in parliamentary elections last December.
With the party poised to control the government in the second round of national elections Jan. 16, Boulmerka, who has an Italian manager, made plans to move to Siena, Italy.
But a military coup has at least temporarily derailed the party's attempt to gain power and impose Islam's strict Sharia law. It has also allowed Boulmerka, 23, ranked second in the world at 1,500 meters, to remain in Algeria.
One of only 14 world-class female athletes in Algeria, Boulmerka could become an even bigger symbol for leaders of the provisional government if she backs her World Championship victory with one in the Olympics.
"In one sense, we (Boulmerka and Morceli) are the best hope they've got," she told journalist Pat Butcher last winter. "That's an awful lot of pressure."