Prominent Algerian opposition leader Abbasi Madani passed away in Qatar on Wednesday at the age of 88.
Madani was born on 28 February 1931 in Sidi Aqba, near Algeria’s southeastern city of Biskra.
He earned a doctorate in education in London and went on to lecture at the University of Algiers.
His activist career started when he was arrested by French occupation authorities on bogus charges in 1954. He stayed in jail until 1962, when Algeria gained its independence from France.
But he soon found himself at odds with the ruling National Liberation Front (NLF) party.
His demand that the government replace French with the Arabic language cost him another jail term in 1982.
Soon after serving a brief sentence, Madani entered politics.
In 1988, Madani and Ali Ben Hadj co-founded the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and grew the movement through preaching in mosques. The FIS, which was associated with small armed militias, skirmished with the regime.
In 1989, the secular regime had to legalise the FIS after mass riots the previous year.
Backed especially by Algeria’s disenfranchised and urban youth, the FIS saw itself as an alternative to the regime and the establishment, which were closely associated with France and the West.
The FIS, which opposed Western dominance in Algeria, evolved into being the only threat to the regime by winning local elections in 1990.
In the parliamentary elections of December 1991, the FIS won even more decisively in the first round of the elections, securing 188 of 231 seats.
To prevent an FIS landslide in the second round of elections scheduled for a month later, General Khaled Nezzar, the France-backed defence minister, staged a military coup.
According to a book by history professor Philip Naylor, Ali Hussein Kafi, an Algerian politician who became chairman of High Council of the State and acting president from 1992 to 1994, criticised Nezzar’s former service in the French military and his late engagement with the Algerian revolution against France.
He even accused Nezzar of infiltrating the ruling National Liberation Front on behalf of France.
The Nezzar-appointed junta reimposed martial law and tortured, murdered and killed thousands extra-judicially.
Enforced disappearances and other acts constituting grave violations of international human rights law were everyday occurrences. These crimes were mostly committed against FIS supporters.
They upheld laws that forced men to shave off their beards in a bid to humiliate practicing Muslims in an overwhelmingly Muslim country.
Nezzar’s iron-fist rule was little different than 132 years of French colonialism and the War of Independence against France that left 1.5 million Algerians dead.
Following the coup, the FIS was outlawed by the army, which then rounded up and imprisoned its leaders, triggering a devastating decade-long civil war.
It is estimated that eventually nearly 100,000 people died, 20,000 disappeared, and 1.5 million were forcefully displaced.
In 1997, after years in prison, the Algerian authorities released Madani, along with prominent FIS leader Abdelkader Hachani (who would be assassinated two years later). In 2000, Madani and his deputy, Ali Benhadj, were banned from engaging in political activity. Three years later, Madani was allowed to leave the country to get medical treatment in Qatar, where he lived until his death.
Madani’s vital role in shaping Algerian politics for decades and his unwavering faith in the nation’s bright future is likely to be remembered for many years to come.
In a 1990 video, Madani summarized the revolutionary struggle of Algeria.
“Either Algeria remains the Algeria of the French, or it becomes the Algeria of the Muslims. As soon as the people wake up and choose Islam, it will be just a matter of time.”
Madani ended his words in the video by underlining France’s double standards in its approach to democracy.
“They ban the democracy march because when democracy is for France, it is YES, but when it is for Algeria it is NO. So we are still colonized.”