Leader of Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria.
Born in 1956 in Tunis, Ali Belhaj is a popular figure, fiery preacher, and the second leader of the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut; FIS), the main Islamic opposition party in Algeria. Belhaj's father died in the Algerian war of liberation, and his family originates from the desert city of Ourgal in the south of Algeria. He received an entirely Arabic education at Islamic schools in Algiers and became a secondary school Arabic teacher. He was educated by prominent Algerian religious figures such as Abdellatif Soltani (d. 1983), Ahmad Sahnoun (b. 1907), and Omar Araboui (d. 1984), and was influenced by the Salafi doctrines, particularly those of Ibn Taimiyya and Ibn Qayim alJauziyya, and the writings of Muslim Brothers' leaders such as Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb. Shaped by these influences, Belhadj represents the orthodox and uncompromising trend within the FIS.
Belhadj started his Islamic activities in the 1970s by delivering religious sermons and lectures. He was imprisoned from 1983 to 1987 for his association with the Mustapha Bouyali's armed group that sought to topple Chadli Bendjedid's socialist regime. After his release, he became a prayer leader in the mosques of al-Sunna and al-Qubba in Algiers. Belhadj's thorough religious knowledge, modest lifestyle, and remarkable oratory skills, particularly in addressing the depressed segments of society, enabled him to gain popularity and build a large constituency of followers. This popularity was asserted on several occasions when thousands of people responded to Belhadj's calls for peaceful marches in protest to certain policies of the state. Following a general strike that resulted in violent clashes with the military forces, Belhadj and the FIS's leader, Abbasi Madani, were arrested in June 1991, and Belhadj was later sentenced to twelve years in prison.
Barazi, Tammam al-. "Interview with Ali Belhaj." alWatan al-Arabi 176 (27 July 1990): 25.
Shahin, Emad Eldin. Political Ascent: Contemporary IslamicMovements in North Africa. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998.
— EMAD ELDIN SHAHIN