Islamic Salvation Front

From Academic Kids

Template:Politics of Algeria The Islamic Salvation Front (Arabic: الجبهة الإسلامية للإنقاذ) (French: 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 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, younger and less educated, made aggressively radical speeches that attracted dissatisfied lower-class youth and alarmed non-Islamists and feminists. 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.

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FIS emblem

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[1] ( 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.

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. 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.

Such activists as remained at large took this as a declaration of war. 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; however, in 1994 the elements of the Armed Islamic Movement reformed themselves under the command of Madani Mezrag into the AIS, or Islamic Salvation Army, in response to the rise of the more radical Armed Islamic Group. After a brief period of uneasy cooperation, the latter turned on the AIS[2] (, which, 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"[3] (, and disbanded in 1999[4] (

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, 26/12/1989), and expressed his commitment to democracy and resolve to "respect the minority, even if it is composed of one vote" (Jeune Afrique, 12/2/1990), 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 23/2/1989).

Its current platform (as of 2002) can be read online (PDF (, although events have made it relatively irrelevant; this document sets forth 43 "values and principles".

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