Abbasi Madani: Profile

Abbasi Madani is the spiritual and political leader of Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front – known in French as the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS).

Madani speaking in Qatar where he is receiving medical treatment

Madani began his political career as an activist in the 1950s during Algeria’s war for independence.

Born in 1931, he holds a doctorate in education from the University of London.

After Algeria gained independence from France in 1962, Madani found himself at odds with the newly instituted country’s ruling party. He taught at Algiers University while the National Liberation Front (NLF) were in power.

In 1982 he was jailed for promoting the Arabic language as a replacement to French, but shortly after his release he returned to politics.

Legitimising FIS

In 1989, he convinced the government to legalise his Islamist party.

The decision to recognise the FIS, however, came as a result of sweeping political reforms which in turn were a result of mass rioting and bloody crackdowns by the army throughout 1988. 

Seeing itself as an alternative to the secular state, which was blamed for being closely associated with France and the West in general, FIS envisioned the creation of an Islamic state based on the sharia (Islamic law).

Madani gained the sympathy of, mostly disenfranchised, urban youths who supported his party to see it win municipal and local elections in 1990 and emerge as the only serious threat to the NLF.

Fifty-nine political parties competed in the first round of the general and presidential elections in Algeria in 1991. The FIS won 188 of the 231 contested seats.

Military steps in

Another eminent victory for the FIS was denied them with the cancellation of a second round of elections – originally due in June 1991 – in January 1992.

The cancellation followed protests against a new electoral law that restricted campaigning in mosques, a strategy that had led FIS to become the most effective opposition party in the country.

Algeria’s president, Chadli bin Jadid, who showed willingness to share power with the FIS, resigned in January 1992 under pressure from the army which vehemently rejected such an alliance.

In January 1992 the Front Islamique du
was banned, a decision that sparked civil war for years

On 30 June 1991, Madani was again jailed, this time on charges of threatening state security. The FIS was banned the following January, a disastrous decision that sparked a civil war that has engulfed the country for years.

Tens of thousands of Algerians, mostly civilians, died in the strife between the army and various Islamist factions, some of which emerged from the ashes of the disbanded FIS.

Twilight years

The grisly tit-for-tat violence from all sides affected politicians, officials, intellectuals and foreigners, in addition to tens of thousands of civilians.

Madani was released from jail in 1997 and immediately placed under house arrest.

Currently he is in Qatar receiving medical treatment following earlier care in Malaysia in August 2003.

Some argue that his political career is in its last phase, an argument validated by the man’s age and ailing health.

None the less, Madani’s role in shaping Algerian politics over the past 20 years is likely to be felt for many years to come. 

Source: Al Jazeera