Islamic Salvation Front

Islamic Salvation Front

The Islamic Salvation Front (Arabic: الجبهة الإسلامية للإنقاذ, "al-Jabhah al-Islāmiyah lil-Inqādh") ( _fr. Front Islamique du Salut) is an outlawed Islamist political party in Algeria.



On November 3, 1988, the Algerian Constitution was amended to allow parties other than the ruling FLN. The FIS was founded shortly afterwards in Algiers on February 18, 1989, led by an elderly sheikh, Abbassi Madani, and a charismatic young mosque preacher, Ali Belhadj. Its views ranged across a wide spectrum of Islamist opinion, exemplified by its two leaders. Abbassi Madani, a professor at University of Algiers and ex-independence fighter, represented a relatively moderate religious conservatism and symbolically connected the party to the Algerian War of Independence, the traditionally emphasized source of the ruling FLN's legitimacy. Ali Belhadj a high school teacher appealing to a younger and less educated class, made aggressively radical speeches that attracted dissatisfied lower-class youth and alarmed non-Islamists and feminists. He purportedly represents a salafi branch. Madani sometimes expressed support for multiparty democracy, whereas Belhadj denounced it as a potential threat to sharia. Their support of free market trading and opposition to the ruling elite also attracted middle class traders who felt left out of the economy.

Their support base rapidly increased, with the help of activists preaching in friendly mosques, and on June 12, 1990, they swept the local elections with 54% of votes cast, taking 46% of town assemblies and 55% of wilaya assemblies. [ [ ] ] Its supporters were especially concentrated in urban areas: it secured 93% of towns/cities of over 50,000. Its rapid rise alarmed the government, which moved to curtail the powers of local government. The Gulf War further energized the party. Although FIS had condemned Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, public opinion shifted in Iraq's favor once it was apparent that Western intervention was inevitable, and FIS made political capital out of outdoing the government in gestures opposing Desert Storm, including massive demonstrations, blood donation drives, and even calls for volunteers to fight in Iraq.

General strike and arrests of leadership

In May 1991, the FIS called for a general strike to protest the government's redrawing of electoral districts, which it saw as gerrymandering directed against it. The strike itself was a failure, but the demonstrations FIS organized in Algiers were huge, and succeeded in pressuring the government; it was persuaded in June to call the strike off by the promise of fair parliamentary elections. However, disagreements on the strike provoked open dissension among the FIS leadership (the "Madjliss ech-Choura"), and the prolonged demonstrations alarmed the military. Shortly afterwards the government arrested Madani and Belhadj on June 30, 1991, having already arrested a number of lower-ranking members. The party, however, remained legal, and passed to the effective leadership of Abdelkader Hachani after four days of contested leadership by Mohamed Said (who was then arrested).

The rise of the party continued despite the arrests, though its activists were angered as its demands for the leaders' release went unheeded. After some deliberation, it agreed to participate in the next elections, after expelling dissenters such as Said Mekhloufi and Kamareddine Kherbane, who advocated direct action against the government. On December 26, 1991, the FIS handily won the first round of parliamentary elections; with 48% of the overall popular vote, they won 188 of the 231 seats contested in that round, putting them far ahead of rivals. The army saw the seeming certainty of resulting FIS rule as unacceptable. On January 11, 1992, it cancelled the electoral process, forcing President Chadli Bendjedid to resign and bringing in the exiled independence fighter Mohammed Boudiaf to serve as a new president. Many FIS members were arrested, including FIS number three leader Abdelkader Hachani on January 22. A state of emergency was declared, and the government officially dissolved FIS on March 4. On July 12, Abbassi Madani and Ali Belhadj were sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Such activists as remained at large took this as a declaration of war, though FIS would not officially call for armed resistance until 1993, attempting to steer a nuanced course of expressing sympathy for the guerrillas without endorsing their actions. Many took to the hills and joined guerrilla groups. The country inexorably slid into a civil war which would claim more than 100,000 lives, from which it only began to emerge at the end of the 1990s. Initially, the guerrillas were led by members of non-FIS groups, such as Mustafa Bouyali's supporters and people who had fought in Afghanistan, although FIS itself established an underground network, led by Mohamed Said and Abderrezak Redjam, setting up clandestine newspapers and even a radio station with close links to the MIA. From late 1992, they also began issuing official statements from abroad, led by Rabah Kebir and Anwar Haddam.

Soon after taking office in 1994, Zeroual began negotiations with the imprisoned FIS leadership, releasing some prisoners (including such figures as Ali Djeddi and Abdelkader Boukhamkham) by way of encouragement. These first negotiations collapsed in March, as each accused the other of reneging on agreements; but further, initially secret, negotiations would take place over the following months.

Founding of the Islamic Salvation Army

As the radical Armed Islamic Group, hostile to FIS as well as to the government, rose to the forefront, FIS-loyalist guerrillas, threatened with marginalization, attempted to unite their forces. In July 1994, the MIA, together with the remainder of the MEI and a variety of smaller groups, united as the Islamic Salvation Army (a term that had previously sometimes been used as a general label for pro-FIS guerrillas), declaring their allegiance to FIS and thus strengthening FIS' hand for the negotiations. It was initially headed by MIA's Abdelkader Chebouti, who was superseded in November 1994 by MEI's Madani Mezrag. By the end of 1994, they controlled over half the guerrillas of the east and west, but barely 20% in the center, near the capital, where the GIA were mainly based. Their main leadership was based in the Beni Khettab mountains near Jijel. It issued communiqués condemning the GIA's indiscriminate targeting of women, journalists, and other civilians "not involved in the repression", and attacking its school arson campaign.

Meanwhile, following letters from Madani and Belhadj expressing a commitment to pluralistic democracy and proposing possible solutions to the crisis, the government released both from jail to house arrest on September 13. However, no let up was observed in the fighting, and the government was unwilling to allow them to consult with FIS figures that remained in prison; the negotiations soon foundered, and at the end of October the government announced the failure of the second round of negotiations, and published incriminating letters from Belhadj that were allegedly found on the body of GIA leader Cherif Gousmi, who had been killed on September 26.

Work in exile

A few FIS leaders, notably Rabah Kebir, had escaped into exile abroad. During 1994, they carried out negotiations in Italy with other political parties, notably the FLN and FFS, and came out with a mutual agreement on January 14, 1995: the Sant'Egidio platform. This set forth a set of principles: respect for human rights and multiparty democracy, rejection of army rule and dictatorship, recognition of Islam, Arabness, and Berberness as essential aspects of Algerianness, demand for the release of FIS leaders, and an end to extrajudicial killing and torture on all sides. To the surprise of many, even Ali Belhadj endorsed the agreement. However, a crucial signatory was missing: the government itself. As a result, the platform had little if any effect.

Despite the government's extremely hostile reaction to the Rome Platform, though, a third attempt at negotiations took place, starting in April with a letter from Madani condemning acts of violence, and hopes were raised. However, the FIS did not offer enough concessions to satisfy the government, demanding, as usual, that FIS leaders should be released before FIS could call for a ceasefire. In July Zeroual announced that the talks had failed, for the last time.

In 1995, the GIA turned on the AIS in earnest. Reports of battles between the AIS and GIA increased (resulting in an estimated 60 deaths in March 1995 alone), and the GIA reiterated its death threats against FIS and AIS leaders, claiming to be the "sole prosecutor of jihad" and angered by their negotiation attempts. On July 11, they assassinated a co-founder of FIS, Abdelbaki Sahraoui, in Paris (although some question the authenticity of their statement claiming credit for this.)

Declaration of ceasefire

The AIS, faced with attacks from both sides and wanting to dissociate itself from the GIA's civilian massacres, declared a unilateral ceasefire on September 21, 1997 (in order to "unveil the enemy who hides behind these abominable massacres" [ [ Algerie : chronique des groupes armés 1996-1997-1998-1999-2000-2001-2002 ] ] ), and disbanded in 1999. [ [ Al-Ahram Weekly | Region | Algeria's FIS lays down arms ] ] Thousands of AIS fighters surrendered and handed over their weapons to the authorities. In January 2000 those fighters obtained amnesty under the terms of the "Civil Concord" decreed by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika after his election in April 1999. Both Mezrag and Benaïcha offered their services to the authorities to fight the GIA and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), which has links to al-Qaida.

On July 2, 2003, Belhadj and Madani were released. (The former had been in jail, the latter had been moved to house arrest in 1997.) Foreign media were banned from covering the event locally, and FIS itself remains banned. However, their release has had little apparent impact. After a decade of vicious civil conflict, there was little enthusiasm in Algeria for reopening old wounds.


FIS's founders disagreed (and disagree) on a variety of points, but agreed on the core objective of establishing an Islamic State ruled by sharia law. FIS hurriedly assembled a platform in 1989, the "Projet de Programme du Front Islamique du Salut", which was widely criticized as vague. Following the first National Assembly ballot, it issued a second pamphlet. Economically, it strongly criticized Algeria's planned economy, urging the need to "protect the private sector" and encourage competition - earning it support from traders and small businessmen - and urged the establishment of Islamic banking (ie interest-free banking.) Socially, it suggested that women should be given a financial incentive to stay at home rather than working outside - thus protecting sexual segregation (Ali Belhadj called it immoral for men and women to work in the same office) and increasing the number of jobs available to men in a time of chronic unemployment. Educationally, the party was committed to continuing Arabization of the educational system by shifting the language of instruction in more institutions, such as medical and technological schools, from French to Arabic; this measure struck a particular chord with the large numbers of recent graduates, the first post-independence generation educated mainly in Arabic, who found the continued use of French in higher education and public life jarring and disadvantageous to themselves.

Politically, the contradiction between Madani and Belhadj's words was noteworthy: Madani condemned violence "from wherever it came" ("El Moudjahid", 26 December 1989), and expressed his commitment to democracy and resolve to "respect the minority, even if it is composed of one vote" ("Jeune Afrique", 12 February 1990), while Belhadj said simply that "There is no democracy in Islam" ("El-Bayane", Dec. 1989) and "If people vote against the Law of God... this is nothing other than blasphemy. The ulama will order the death of the offenders who have substituted their authority for that of God" ("Horizons" 23 February 1989). In an interview with Daniel Pipes and Patrick Clawson, Anwar Haddam rejected this view of Belhadj, saying, "He has been misquoted. He has been accused of things out of bitterness. He wrote a book in which he expressed himself clearly in favor of democracy. In it, he writes on page 91 that "the West progressed by defeating tyranny and preserving freedoms; this is the secret of the Western world's remarkable progress." Belhadj refers many times to the Western world and to those very values that people are trying to deny us within our own borders." [ [ Anwar N. Haddam: An Islamist Vision for Algeria - Middle East Quarterly ] ]

The ideas, methods and beliefs of FIS have been critically assessed by a contemporary Algerian Islamic scholar, Shaykh Abdul-Malik ar-Ramadani al-Jaza'iri in his book "Madarik un-Nadhr fi's-Siyasah: Bayna't-Tatbiqat ash-Shar'iyyah wa'l-Infia'lat al-Hamasiyyah" [Perceptions of Viewing Politics: Between the Divinely Legislated Application and Enthusiastic Disturbances] ,(KSA: Dar Sabeel il-Mumineen, 1418 AH/1997 CE, 2nd Edn). The book contained prefaces by Shaykh Muhammad Naasiruddeen al-Albaanee and Shaykh Abdul-Muhsin al-'Abbaad.


External links

* [;col1 Algerian Islamists' conception of democracy]

See also

*Algerian Civil War
*Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation

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