Algeria and Islamic Salvation Front

By | December 22, 2021

The violence that since 1992 has relentlessly tormented the Algeria with the terrible toll of over 75,000 deaths (some sources reported as much as 100,000 victims) it was the clearest evidence of the failure of the democratization process initiated in the country at the end of the 1980s. The clash opposed the bloody fanaticism of the ‘Islamists’, responsible for innumerable massacres, with the authoritarianism of the regime, often hostage to the military hierarchies. Third voice, a minority in the country and privileged victim of the violence of Islamic armed groups, that of the secular and democratic forces operating in society. For Algeria military, please check

The Islamic fundamentalists (or Islamists, as they began to be called by accepting their own name Islāmiyyūn), marginalized in the country in the aftermath of independence, imposed themselves in the second half of the Eighties as the only ideological alternative to the regime, accused by several parts of having favored, especially during the presidency of Chadli (Šaḏilī) Ben adīd (1979 – 92), corruption, degradation and social injustice. The progressive failure of the objectives and ideals that had inspired the ‘socialist revolution’ and the policy of dismantling the welfare state inaugurated by Chadli had channeled the strong social malaise towards the Islamist movement, already reinvigorated by the sensational affirmation of ‘ āyatollāh Khomeini in Iran in 1979 and determined to oppose the modernist choices of the regime. But already during the seventies and eighties it was precisely the Algerian political and military elite that allowed the consistency of the Islamist movement to rise: the urgent need to recover sympathy and consensus for the work of the regime had pushed the political class to give ample space to Islam, considered a sort of shock absorber for social conflict and a useful prop for the regime itself. In this perspective, the construction of thousands of mosques at the expense of the state, the reliance on the ῾ulamā᾽ (religious scholars of Islam) of ministries considered minor, such as worship, justice and education, and above all the approval in June 1984 of a family code resulting from an evident compromise between the regime and the Islamist movement. This in fact sanctioned the inferiority of the woman by imposing on her a guardian to be able to marry, introducing polygamy and leaving the husband the right to ask for a divorce without giving reasons.

The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) – born in February 1989 and legalized in October – was the party that managed to catalyze the widespread discontent in the country by relying above all on the feelings of revenge of the less affluent and marginalized classes, but managing to also gather the consensus of the middle classes and of the merchants of the cities that from the second half of the Eighties suffered the repercussions of the economic crisis due to the abrupt contraction of oil revenues. In June 1990 the FIS achieved its first success by winning the administrative elections with about 55 % of the votes, the first open to all parties after the end of the one-party regime and which recorded a strong abstention from voting (about35%).

The victory of the FIS, which caused a climate of strong political uncertainty in the country, rewarded an electoral campaign marked by populism and the pressing appeal to the Islamic identity of the Algerian ‘nation’. During the following year the violent clashes between the FIS militants and the police resulted in over forty victims and the streets of Algiers were filled with sympathizers of the movement ready to rise up. Determined to regain control of the situation, President Chadli suspended the political elections, initially scheduled for the month of June, and ordered the arrest of FIS president Algeria Madanī and vice president Algeria Belhadj. In December 1991 the first round of the general elections registered a new success for the FIS (47,%), Although lower than that registered just a year before, and the defeat of the National Liberation Front (FLN) with 23, 5 % of the votes, the victim of a widespread protest vote; the percentage of participants in the vote was less than 59 %. A few days after the vote, in January 1992, the sudden resignation of President Chadli, imposed by army leaders, was followed by the cancellation of the planned second round of elections decreed by the High Security Council, a pre-existing body that included the prime minister and some senior officers. A High State Committee led by one of the fathers of the Algerian revolution recalled from exile, M. Būḍyāf, assumed presidential powers and declared a state of siege. Promoters of the ‘coup d’état’ were the high hierarchies of the army, who decided to prevent the electoral affirmation of the FIS at all costs. General K. Nezzār, minister of defense, became one of the most influential figures on the committee, whose legitimacy was immediately contested by the main parties; also the FLN, former single party,1989. The repression of the Islamist movement (6 ÷ 7000 militants and sympathizers were arrested and transferred to concentration camps in the south of the country) triggered the launch of a violent terrorist campaign against the regime by the hardest wing of the FIS, outlawed by the court of Algiers on March 4, 1991. The most radical activists of the Front, who went underground, launched into armed struggle, plunging the country into a state of profound crisis, especially after the assassination of President Būḍyāf in June 1992.Engaged in the fight against terrorism and political-financial corruption, Būḍyāf was probably the victim of environments of the so-called local mafia (military leaders, political and economic-financial elites), determined to defend their numerous privileges.

Between 1992 and 1995 the fundamentalist forces intensified the attacks directed above all against exponents of the intellectual world and civil society (especially women) and against foreign citizens. Journalists, teachers, writers, lawyers and oil workers were the main victims of a battle waged in the name of religious purity and against moral corruption favored by the regime. Next to the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS), the armed arm of the FIS, was the Islamic Armed Group (GIA), the extreme faction of Algerian fundamentalism, the organization that most contributed to the intensification of terrorist activity by claiming the assassination of politicians, carrying out massacres of civilians and soldiers and launching a campaign of attacks in France. In January 1994 once his mandate was over, the High Security Council decided to dissolve the High State Committee, and General L. Zeroual (Zirwāl), formerly retired Defense Minister, was appointed head of state for a period of three years. In the first months of his presidency, Zeroual stood out for a more conciliatory attitude than his predecessors, granting house arrest to FIS leaders imprisoned in 1991and relaunching the dialogue with the opposition. The initiative also failed due to the intransigent opposition of the GIA, which decided to launch a new campaign of attacks in the country. In an attempt to eradicate violence and terrorism, the regime, heavily influenced by the military leaders, was responsible for numerous violations of human rights (detentions without trial, little news on the more than 15,000 Algerians detained for terrorist activities). In January 1995the urgency to find a solution to the profound crisis that was going through the country pushed the main parties in opposition and in hiding – FLN, FIS and FFS (Front of the Berber-based Socialist Forces) – to seek an understanding among themselves. The agreements, signed in Rome at the headquarters of the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio, in condemning the use of violence and terrorism, called for the lifting of the state of emergency and the establishment of a government of national unity. Although the signatories guaranteed their adhesion to the multi-party system and respect for women’s rights and fundamental freedoms of language and religion, their statements were not taken into any consideration by the government which decided to reject the document without the possibility of dialogue.

Algeria and Islamic Salvation Front