Speaking from Kuala Lampur in an Aljazeera exclusive on Sunday, Abbas Madani said the Algerian crisis only allowed for two possible outcomes – either unity and political development or slipping back “into the lap of colonisation once more”.
The first possibility, he said, required the determination of every man, woman and child to embrace “one position for the sake of leaving this dark tunnel”.
Life in jail
Released two months ago, the 72-year old had lived under house arrest and in jail for over 11 consecutive years, and has done time on many different occasions.
He was detained by Army-backed officials shortly before the Salvation Front (FIS) won legislative elections in 1992 – when results were promptly annulled by the military.
Joined the National Liberation Front in 1954 to fight the French in a war that left more than a million Algerians dead.
Spent most of the conflict in jail after he was arrested for leading a failed attack on a radio station.
He later studied for a degree in philosophy before being granted a scholarship to study in Britain, where he took a doctorate in education.
In 1988, riots against economic hardships propelled Madani to the forefront of Algeria’s Islamist movement.
Between 100,000 and 150,000 people were killed in the resulting violence.
Despite his poor health – some members of the political elite still fear the FIS leader may encourage Islamists ahead of presidential elections in April 2004.
Highlighting the need for a political, structural, economic and social solutions to the instability which has wracked Algeria for decades, his televised speech appeared to promote cooperation with the government.
Since President Abd al-Aziz Bouteflika declared an amnesty for all armed groups that surrendered weapons two years ago, violence in the country has decreased noticeably.
But Madani himself has not commented or condemned armed resistance specifically.
The FIS founder even warned viewers of serious consequences when men “back down from obtaining their rights”.
However, he concluded his speech saying nationals from all walks of life and all ideologies need to “extend the hand of cooperation” to achieve a lasting settlement.
The Islamist leader also described the demand for the release of some prisoners as “a step in the right direction toward a solution to the Algerian crisis”.