FIS (The Islamic Salvation Front)

Founded in Algiers on 18 February 1989 in the al-Sunna mosque in Bab el Oued, the FIS was legalised by the Interior Ministry on 16 September 1989.

The FIS centres its ideology on the strict respect of Islamic values. This means legislation has to defer to the imperatives of the Sharia in all fields. The concept of democracy is assimilated to atheism, and the legalisation of parties « which recommend contradicting Islam » is condemned. Before the first round of the December 1991 parliamentary elections, certain FIS leaders spoke of banning secular and socialist parties if there was a FIS majority. Far from being homogeneous, the FIS is marked by clear internal philosophical dissension between the Djazaara clan (the « Djazarists », supporters of dialogue and gradual Islamisation), close to the Egyptian Muslim Brothers, and the Salaafia clan (the « Salafists », supporters of a radical Islamisation of Algerian society and more internationalist).

Since its creation, the FIS has appeared as the country’s leading political party. It rapidly attracted young unemployed or marginalized Algerians, an important portion of the population. During the 12 June 1990 local elections, it won 54.3% of the vote, proving its solid implantation in a large number of regions. The FIS subsequently won 47.3% of the vote (there was an abstention rate of 41%) during the first round of the parliamentary elections of 26 December 1991. Among other things, the FIS benefited from a single member voting system in two rounds based on an arbitrary division of constituencies favouring large blocks (a system designed by the existing government to weaken the position of the democratic parties).

After the army’s show of strength which interrupted the electoral process the following 11 January, the FIS was outlawed (March 1992). The local administrations it managed were dissolved, the mosques it controlled de-politicised and its activists jailed. The party re-organised in exile (in Europe and the United States) and illegally in Algeria.

The Army of Islamic Salvation (AIS), the FIS’s armed branch, became active in July 1992 when it attacked the army and public targets. The AIS is also responsible for murdering intellectuals. The links between the FIS and the most violent armed Islamic groups remain tenuous although some leaders condemn in increasingly strong terms the bloody acts committed by the GIA against the civilian population.

Meeting with other opposition forces (notably the FFS) in January 1995 in Sant’ Egidio in Italy, FIS leaders in exile are co-signatories of the « National Contract » a document condemning violence as a means of political action, calling for the re-establishment of the FIS and envisaging restoring the democratic process as the sole means of achieving a peaceful and long-lasting settlement to the Algerian crisis. More recently, the Executive Board of the FIS in exile approved the November 1996 « Appeal for Peace » (see « FFS »). In January 1996, the hard wing has even been excluded from the leading body of the FIS abroad. Abdelkrim Ould Adda, the present spokesman of the FIS abroad, is a political refugee in Belgium.

The outlawing of the FIS by the military power in March 1992 has been confirmed in the revised constitution of November 1996 – and by a law voted in February 1997 – which bans political parties founded on Islam and Arab identity. The FIS did not participate in the legislative elections of 5 June 1997.

The situation nevertheless changed after the election of President Bouteflika in April 1999. Two months after his election, the AIS proclaimed a unilateral cease-fire which was followed by the pardon given by Bouteflika the next month, on the occasion of Independence Day, of 2,300 jailed Islamists. Simultaneously, the Algerian President presented to Parliament the « National Harmony Law » providing mainly for an amnesty for members and supporters of the AIS. This law was adopted by an overwhelming majority in both houses, with 288 of the 380 members of the lower house voting in favor and 131 of the 150 members of the upper house doing the same, and will be submitted to a referendum before the end of September 1999. With the approval of this law by referendum, some 20,000 more prisonners became eligible for release.

Following declarations of the new Algerian President, the FIS could eventually be recognized in the future as a political party but under a different name as the 1996 constitution bans political parties based on religion. A serious set back in this process has been the assassination in Algiers of FIS number 3, Abdelkader Hachani, on 22 November 1999. Hachani, released from jail in 1997, was considered as the best hope for recreating the FIS as a credible peaceful opposition force.

A new era could open with the liberation of Abassi Madani and Ali Belhadj, the numbers 1 and 2 of the Front, which intervened on July 2, 2003.