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April 19, 2014  |  About the Berkley Center  |  Directions to the Center  |  Subscribe
 
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Algeria: Islamism and the Civil War

In the early 1980s, Islamists began a broad campaign to pressure the National Liberation Front (FLN) government to adopt its understanding of Shari’a, and the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) emerged as the most important Islamist political organization. In 1988, the Algerian constitution was amended to allow parties other than the ruling FLN to participate in elections. Algeria's 1991 elections were held in the context of broad discontent with political corruption and economic mismanagement, resulting in a surprise victory for the FIS over the FLN. In response to the electoral results, the military staged a coup, took control of the government, arrested Islamist political leaders, and banned Islamic political parties. These actions prompted an armed insurrection by various Islamist groups, and the ensuing civil war lasted from 1991-2002, claiming over 150,000 lives. The Islamist insurgent groups rapidly split into various factions, with the some of the most prominent groups including the Armed Islamic Movement (MIA) - later known as the Islamic Salvation Army - and the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). These factions fought each other as well as the government, and maintained sharply divergent policies and ideologies. Over the next few years, the MIA came to work closely with the FIS and eventually agreed to a cease-fire with the government. The GIA, however, adopted increasingly radical tactics, and by 1997, the group began engaging in the systematic massacre of hundreds of Algerian civilians. Such atrocities prompted many dedicated GIA members to abandon their ranks, and the group eventually dissipated under increasing government repression. Today, a GIA splinter group, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, claims allegiance to Al-Qaeda and continues to carry out terrorist attacks from its base in the Algerian countryside. In 2005, A national referendum was passed granting amnesty to those formerly involved in the civil war. Currently, the FIS remains banned from Algerian politics, but other Islamist parties, specifically the Movement for National Renewal (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood), play important roles in the Algerian government.