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ISLAMIC SALVATION FRONT. During the 1970s Algeria pursued an ambitious oil- and natural gasbased program of national industrialization that was initially quite successful in providing the urban population with education, jobs, and income. But with the oil price decline of the mid-1980s the program ran into a structural impasse, coinciding with the ascent of a new, postindependence generation to adulthood. For some Algerians the passing of the torch called for an epochal, systemic shift: instead of merely introducing a change in industrial policy, the entire underlying idea of catching up with the industrialized West had to be altered. Nationalism was dismissed as a rank imitation of the West; Islamism, with its emphasis on ancestral (salafi) morality and particularly on female modesty (tawadu’), was offered as the truly alternative, indigenous path toward the establishment of an industrial urban society.

Catching up has been a difficult if not also humiliating process for any eventually successful country, European or non-European, since the Industrial Revolution. Not surprisingly, new generations have sometimes attempted to opt out of the competitive pressure and find alternative ways to industrialization that would also restore their self-respect. Islamism in North Africa and the Middle East is the most recent manifestation of the wider search for an indigenous alternative, sharing many of its attractions as well as its shortcomings.

Political opposition, Islamism included, was still illegal in the mid-1980s. But when popular riots against increases in staple food prices occurred in October 1988, the regime, still too proud of its economic achievements to contemplate fundamental economic reform, incautiously agreed to permit political pluralism; other regimes in the region were more careful, beginning with economic liberalization in order to maintain their control over the political process.

The Islamic Salvation Front (generally known as the FIS, Front Islamique du Salut [Ar., Jabhat al-Inqadh al-Islami]) registered as a party in March 1989 and rapidly developed into the main Islamist opposition party. Membership dues, contributions from the small business sector, and Saudi subsidies (acknowledged in March 1991) enabled the party to run an intense campaign for the communal elections of June 1990, and the FIS promptly captured 850 of 1,541 municipalities. In Algiers, Oran, and Constantine it scored 70 percent of the vote; even in cities of fewer than io,ooo inhabitants it ran no worse than the National Liberation Front (FLN). Everywhere in urbanized Algeria-except for non-Arab Kabylia and non-Sunni Mzab-the party won the support of the mass of young men and women who had at least a primary education but were unable to benefit from state employment.

The party was led by an executive committee composed of the three founding members `Abbasi Madani (president), `Ali Bel Hajj (vice president), and al-Hashimi Sahnfini plus Zubdah Ben `Azzuz (editor of the party newspaper Al-munqidh). They were all self-taught popular preachers except for Madam, a former FLN fighter and a deputy in the Algiers regional assembly; Madam also held a Ph.D. from the University of London and was a professor of education at the University of Algiers. The executive committee presided over a female executive committee and an advisory council (majlis al-shura) of thirty-five or forty members, appointed all members to regional and local party functions, and drafted all decisions taken in the municipal councils, such as the orders for the closing of liquor stores and female veiling. The party eschewed democratic structures; Bel Hajj and Sahnun-1 in particular made no secret of their distaste for democracy and the national constitution.

Central in the FIS ideology is the notion of a hierarchically structured, organic totality, the messianic society (al-mujtama` al-risdh) in which religion and politics form a harmonious whole. The religious scholar (`slim) alone is permitted to interpret religion and law and provides political leadership; the Islamist (islami) as the propagandist of righteousness (saldh) inspires the ordinary Muslim; and the husband protects his wife, producer of men. Equality, as expressed in coeducation, gender mixing at the workplace, and universal national citizenship rights, are pernicious evils through which a still actively crusading West seeks to destroy Muslim authenticity (turath) and to maintain its world dominance. In much of the FIS literature the positive message is overwhelmed by strident militancy, more indicative of defensiveness than of self-confidence.

The government could not retreat from its promise of national elections in June 1991 but tried its best to reduce FIS influence through the gerrymandering of election districts. The FIS responded with increasingly violent demonstrations and strikes that eventually caused the government to cancel the elections, declare a state of emergency, and arrest some fifty top and two thousand middle-level officials. However, when the other, mostly non-Islamist parties raised a chorus of protest, the elections were rescheduled. In the first round in December the FIS once more emerged as the overwhelming winner. With its leaders still in prison, the party gained 193 out of a total of 430 seats outright and was poised to win a large majority of the rest in the runoff scheduled for January 1992.

The runoff never took place. On I I January 1992, the National Liberation Army (ALN) staged a coup d’etat and forced President Chedli Benjedid, the engineer of political pluralization and ironically himself a former colonel, to step down. In the subsequent months the FIS was banned; at least seven thousand more members were put into detention camps in the Sahara; and nearly half the FIS-dominated municipal councils were dissolved. Remnants of the FIS went underground and began a campaign of attacks on soldiers and bombings of public facilities. The new president, Mohammed Boudiaf, an original leader of the FLN who had been invited from his exile in Morocco to give the coup a mantle of respectability, was assassinated on 29 June 1992, although FIS involvement has yet to be proven. The army struck back with force, but the government found it difficult to regain the initiative: with limited credentials at home or abroad and political reform on ice, the overdue economic reforms will not be easily accomplished.

[See also Algeria and the biography of Madani.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The most detailed discussion of Islamism in Algeria is Ahmed Rouadiia’s Les freres et la mosquee: Enquete sur le mouvement islamiste en Algerie (Paris, 199o). Two important articles are Robert Mortimer’s “Islam and Multiparty Politics in Algeria” (Middle East Journal 45.3 [1991]: 575-593) and Arun Kapil’s “Les partis islamistes en Algerie: Elements de presentation” (Maghreb Machrek 133 [July-September 19911: 103-III). The main text containing the ideology of the FIS is ‘Abbasi Madani’s Mushkilat tarbawiyah ft al-bilad al-Islamiyah. (Educational Problems in Islamic Countries; Algiers, 1986).

PETER VON SIVERS

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/islamic-salvation-front/
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  • writerPosted On: June 14, 2014
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