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Ashley Harrison wrote:
For anyone who's interested, here are the notes I took on FIS from my
research so far. Basically this just goes through what spurred FIS and
which groups came to form it, then where the some of the members went
after 1991 and how it led us to the new Justice & Development Front
established yesterday. It also goes into GIA, which splinters and leads
to GSPC, which fractures and forms AQIM.
Something that is interesting to note is that the FIS emerged in a time
when rioters were mainly young Algerians protesting against the
government's economic austerity program, food shortages, an unemployment
rate of 30 percent and a growing gap between the privileged few and the
poor. In this situation the Islamists capitalized upon the unrest just
like the Movement for Algerian Renewal led by Ali Belhadj (well-known
before the rise of FIS, circa 1988). At this time Islamists were very
very organized because the mosques were used as the platform to
disseminate information about the riots and push political agenda. In
June 1988 the Algerian National Assembly approved a law allowing the
creation of opposition parties and 30 groups, including FIS, applied.
Creation of FIS
FIS was created by Ali Belhadj and he invited all Muslim clerics to
join. The first to answer the call was Abassi Madani. March 21, 1989
FIS came into being. Numerous groups came together to form FIS,
including Jamaat at-Tabliq/ Tablighi Jamaat (society of the message),
Ahl at-Talia (People of the Vanguard), Jamaat al-Jihad (society of the
Holy War) and Dawa (the call, also known as Propagation of the Faith).
Al-Tabliq and Jamaat al-Jihad were groups largely confined to mosques
and workplace. Al-Tabliq rejected modernity as the antithesis to Islam,
excluded women, and preached that Islam must subsume all other
religions. As early as the 1980s, the movement sponsored military
training for 900 recruits annually in Pakistan and Algeria. The
militant propagandists of Jamaat al-Tabligh have penetrated the Algerian
working class and have won wide support among the young unemployed with
their message that adherence to a puritanical and exclusive Islam is
Algeria's only hope (Jane's). Dawa focused its efforts on infiltrating
the army with Islamists, but had been rather ineffective. Hocine
Abderrahim, was previously imprisoned for his involvement in the Groupe
Bouyali joined FIS and later became chef de cabinet for Madani.
Other Islamic leaders declined the invitation to join including Sheik
Abdallah Djaballah, head Imam of Constantine, called for patience,
instead. Mahfoudh Nanah, rejected the idea and said an Islamic party
should be lead by an elite of religious thinkers and not by a group of
kids. He went on to form the Hamas party or MSP which advocated the
coexistence of Islamic parties with secular parties in a democratic
system. The main thing here is to look into these groups that came
together to form FIS and see if they persevered after the elections in
1991 or if they stayed true to FIS.
FIS was established at Ben Badis mosque in Algiers, 15 founders sought
to challenge FLN to include the Islmaist expression. Leaders included:
Abbas Madani (well-tempered) and Ali Belhaj (radical and hot headed).
Madani wanted inclusive politics and constructive participation in a
pluralistic society while Belhaj denounced democratic order as a tool of
the West and was able to persuade many to join FIS and drew largely from
the young unemployed and angry men (angry largely due to unemployment).
FIS had no established manner for adopting plans or policies and in
theory it was guided by Majlis al-Shura (consultative council). FIS had
no published regulations of operations and the meetings were held in
private at irregular times. FIS advocated for a vibrant private sector
with enhanced social welfare provisions.
FIS also implemented aspects of Sharia law including banning alcohol at
a number of tourist hotels in Algiers, and outlawed mixed schooling in
Constantine and in Tipazza banned the earing of shorts and swim suits,
but it never used Sharia law to govern.
Members of FIS
It was a broad coalition of militants and moderates, clergy and laymen
as well as young and old. The main constituents of the FIS were small
merchants, civil servants, and first generation college graduates. The
elders of FIS wanted an accountable govt. and greater representation and
they clashed often with the other wing of the party (composed of jobless
young men suffering from escalating unemployment rates). Claims of the
younger wing were more immediate and their patience was more limited.
In the early 1990s broad and general Islamist support came from lower
FLN won in 1991 due largely to the fact that the people just didn't want
FLN in power any longer in addition to their acceptance of Madani's more
moderate message. FIS was outlawed March 4 1992 resulting in massive
Several "Safe parties" were allowed to contest in elections after FIS
was banned, including the Movement of Society for Peace (MSP) (which was
an Islamist option approved by the generals) and was formed by MB, led
by Mahfoud Nahnah. Many Algerians thought that MSP was just an
opposition party for show.
In 1997, after it was founded, MSP and Abdallah Djaballah's party
Movement for National Reform polled 26% of the vote in 2002 and then 21%
in 2002. It is estimated that 25% of the candidates and activists of
these parties are former members of the FIS. Nanah was viewed as a
plausible alternative to the radical Islamists for leadership of the
A dissident wing of Brotherhood-inspired Islamists led by Abdallah
Djaballah formed their own party, El Nahda, which later split and
Djaballah created El Islah, advocating a more hardline stand towards the
government. (Neither is supported by the Muslim Brotherhood's
international organization, which recognizes MSP/Hamas as its Algerian
Many key leaders of FIS were imprisoned after it was banned; therefore
more radical elements were allowed to rise to the forefront, especially
those who formed the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). GIA's philosophy
condemned the FIS electoral strategy and said the failure of FIS to
reclaim power was due to the lack of pursuit of jihad. A number of GIA
leaders were Algerian volunteers who had fought against the Soviets in
Afghanistan during the 80s, so many thought they could use violence to
challenge the regime and spark a mass uprising. They (unlike FIS)
sought to create a new Islamic "utopia" through armed resistance. GIA
leader, Cherif Gousmi who was killed in 1994, said they didn't want
elections or dialogue and that jihad is the only way to act against the
illegitimate regime and moderate Islamists who wanted political
process. First GIA focused on killing academics, intellectuals and
writers and then went on to attack small merchants, and entrepreneurs.
Their shift in targeting small merchants lost some of their support of
the lower class. The problem with the FIS was that it was unable to
reach an agreement within the ruling establishment, aka the military.
In 1995 the Rome Accord/Platform was established which was signed by
FLN, FIS, FFS, MDA, and al-Nahda, among others. All parties who signed
it denounced violence and accepted democratic procedures as the only
means of acquiring and retaining power. All parties also reaffirmed
popular sovereignty as the only basis for legitimate authority.
1995 GIA began to break up due to the defection of several leading
Islamists including Mohammad Said. The men who defected were killed by
GIA under the leadership of Djamel Zitouni for their deviance. By 1997
GIA was no longer a single coordinated organization and broke up into
factions led by independent salafist commanders. Violence flared again
during Ramadan in 1997 and hundreds of Algerians were killed in clashes
between village militias and bands of Islamists, which spread the
violence by adding incidents of vendetta and local dispute to the wider
Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) was the armed wing of FIS. AIS and FIS
members were granted amnesty by Boutlefilka in 1997 under the leadership
of FIS Madani Merzag and Abdelqader Hachani (number 3 man in FIS).
Amnesty was granted after FIS declared a cease-fire.
Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) a radical militant
organization. (GSPC) aims to establish an Islamic state within Algeria.
Additionally it seeks to destroy western targets. The GSPC has been
visible since 1996 and is an offshoot of the GIA. Reportedly the GSPC is
led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar. Belmokhtar is a former soldier who fought in
Afghanistan and became a radical. The GSPC primarily operated in and
around Algeria. The GSPC is reported to have ties to Al-Qaeda. GIA and
GSPC combined are estimated to have between 5,000 and 7,000 militants.