Ali Benhadj (also Benhadj; Arabic علي بن حاج) was an Algerian teacher of Arabic, an Islamist activist and preacher, and a cofounder of the very popular (for a time) Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) political party. As of 2015 he is vice-President of the FIS.
Born in 1956 in Tunis to parents of Mauritanian origin from the wilaya (province) of Adrar in Algeria, Belhadj became a teacher of Arabic and an Islamist activist in the 1970s. He had close ties to Mustafa Bouyali's Islamic Armed Movement (MIA), and was arrested in 1983 and sentence in 1985 by a state security court. In 1989, after the Algerian Constitution was changed to allow multiparty democracy, he helped found the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an Islamic party which won the first (and so far only) free elections in Algeria since its independence. He was considered the co-head or number two leader of the FIS, along with president Abassi Madani. During this period, he was a preacher at the famous Al-Sunna mosque in Bab el-Oued, a popular district in Algiers.
In 1991, soon after FIS had finished a strike and massive demonstrations in Algiers, he, along with FIS president Abassi Madani, was arrested and jailed on charges of threatening state security. In late 1991, FIS won the first round of parliamentary elections, which were then called off by the military, who banned FIS; Belhadj remained in jail throughout most of the Algerian Civil War that followed. (In December 1994, the hijackers of Air France Flight 8969 demanded Ali Benhadj's release along with Abbassi Madani. The hijackers later dropped those demands in exchange for fuel to fly to France from Algeria.) He was released only after serving a 12-year sentence in 2003 under the condition of abstaining from all political activity. Belhadj has been called a charismatic preacher.
He did not remain free for long; in July 2005, he was arrested for making a statement on Al-Jazeera which praised Iraqi insurgents and condemned Algeria for sending diplomats to Iraq shortly after two Algerian diplomats (Ali Belaroussi and Azzedine Belkadi) had been kidnapped. He was released just under a year later in March 2006, under the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation.
On July 25, 2011, Belhadj's 23 year-old son Abdelkahar, along with three-would be suicide bombers and two of his associates, was shot dead by Algerian security forces while planning a suicide bombing at a military checkpoint in Algiers. Abdelkahar Belhadj was considered to be a high ranking senior leader in Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
In January 2015 he called for early presidential election as "a first step towards solving the country's political crisis". (Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika suffered a stroke in April 2014.)
Seen as the spiritual leader of the most hardline factions of the FIS, he was against women working and condemned democracy as a Western innovation, while emphasizing the importance of Islamic education. In 1990 declared his intention, "to ban France from Algeria intellectually and ideologically, and be done, once and for all, with those whom France has nursed with her poisoned milk." Belhadj declared that "there is no democracy in Islam"
Democracy is a stranger in the House of God. Guard yourself against those who say that the notion of democracy exists in Islam. There is no democracy in Islam. There exists only the shura (consultation) with its rules and constraints. ... We are not a nation that thinks in terms of majority-minority. The majority does not express the truth.
He was also violently against political pluralism
Multi-partism is not tolerated unless it agrees with the single framework of Islam ... If people vote against the Law of God ... this is nothing other than blasphemy. The ulama [religious scholars] will order the death of the offenders who have substituted their authority for that of God.
He described his favorite authors as Ibn Taymiyya, and Ibn al-Qayyim, as well as the more recent Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb. However, his ideology is distinct from his favorite authors. He was often arrested by Algerian police for giving talk in Mosques about current events.
- Entelis, John Pierre (1997). Islam, Democracy, and the State in North Africa. Indiana University Press. p. 64. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
- Kepel, Jihad, 2002: p.168
- « Islamic Politics and the Military: Algeria 1962-2008 » by Riadh Sidaoui, in Jan-Erik Lane et Hamadi Redissi, Religion and Politics: Islam and Muslim Civilisation, éd. Ashgate Publishing, Farnham, 2009, p 228.
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- "AFP: Algerian Islamists' former number two indicted". AFP. 19 January 2011. Retrieved 22 March 2014.
- "Al-Qaeda confirms Belhadj death". Magharebia.com. 3 August 2011. Retrieved 21 March 2014.
- "Ali Benhadj calls for early elections to resolve Algerian crisis". Middle East Monitor. 23 January 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
- Kepel, Jihad, 2002: p.170-1
- Interview with Slimane Zeghidour, Politique internationale, Autumn 1990, p.156
- El-Bayane, Dec. 1989
- Meredith, Martin (2005). The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair : a ... PublicAffairs. p. 453. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
- Kepel, Gilles (2002). Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam. Harvard University Press.