One of the earliest active figures in the struggle for Algerian self-determination was Messali Hadj, who in 1925 formed the Star of North Africa (Étoile Nord Africaine) movement among Algerian workers and intellectuals in Paris and in 1937 founded the Algerian People's Party (Parti Populaire Algérien—PPA). Banned in 1939, the PPA operated illegally and militantly under the Vichy regime, with strong support from students and workers.
In 1944, Ferhat Abbas formed the Friends of the Manifesto and of Liberty (Amis du Manifeste et de la Liberté—AML), a moderate reform group that was later transformed into the Democratic Union of the Algerian Manifesto (Union Démocratique du Manifeste Algérien—UDMA). In 1946, some AML members joined the PPA and, under Messali Hadj's leadership, formed a legal front organization, the Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties (Mouvement pour le Triomphe des Libertés Démocratiques—MTLD). On a program favoring "the return of the Algerian people to national sovereignty," the MTLD won 5 of the 15 elected seats in the National Assembly elections of 1 November 1946; in 1948, however, the MTLD lost all its seats and was reduced to semi-illegality. Two years later, it was suppressed by the police.
In 1951, an Algerian Front was formed by the MTLD, the UDMA, the Algerian Communist Party, and the Society of 'Ulema, a political-cultural organization. Policy differences in the following years resulted in the creation of three groups: supporters of Messali Hadj; centrists, who hoped to obtain constitutional advances by cooperating with the French administration; and a militant group who proposed violent action. By 1954 there was an open split. The centrist majority repudiated Messali Hadj's leadership. An activist group of nine members formerly associated with an MTLD splinter group calling for armed rebellion then established the Revolutionary Committee for Unity and Action (Comité Révolutionnaire d'Unité et d'Action—CRUA) with headquarters in Cairo, divided Algeria into six military zones and appointed commanders for each, and launched a war with France on 1 November 1954.
Shortly thereafter, the CRUA changed its name to the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale—FLN), and its forces became known as the National Liberation Army. The FLN was an amalgamation of various nationalist tendencies in Algeria. Its membership gradually incorporated most members of the former MTLD, most members of the UDMA, and members of the Society of 'Ulema, as well as former independents and young people with no previous political allegiance. Its goal was the complete independence of Algeria, and it appeared to have the support of the great majority of Muslims. After Messali Hadj broke with the FLN, he formed the National Algerian Movement (Mouvement National Algérien—MNA), supported mainly by Algerians in France. The MNA attacked both the FLN and the war through acts of terrorism in France, but became almost completely without influence following Messali's imprisonment.
In August 1956, an FLN congress established an embryo parliament, the 34-member National Committee of the Algerian Revolution, enlarged in 1957 by 20 more members to a total of about 50, and a 5-member executive body, the Executive and Coordinating Committee, enlarged in Cairo in 1957 by additional members. In September 1958, a provisional government was established with Ferhat Abbas as president and with headquarters in Cairo and Tunis. (Benyoussef Ben Khedda succeeded Abbas as premier in August 1961.) President de Gaulle in effect recognized the FLN as the only political organization that had the authority to speak for the Muslims during peace negotiations with the French government. During this period, French expatriates in Algeria organized the Secret Army Organization, which violently opposed Algerian independence.
After independence, differences of opinion arose among the members of the Political Bureau, the FLN's policy-making body, regarding the organization of the FLN. While Ben Bella envisaged the creation of an elite party, Mohammed Khider (assassinated in Spain in January 1967) sought to create a broader mass party. The FLN mobilized popular political participation by forming mass organizations for peasants, youth, guerrilla veterans, and women. It organized itself into departmental federations, sections, and cells, staffed largely by former guerrillas (mujahidin). In April 1964, the first congress of the FLN adopted the Charter of Algiers, a guideline for government policy that provided for a wide range of agricultural, industrial, and social reforms. The FLN's National Charter of April 1976 outlined a plan for creating a Socialist system commensurate with Islamic principles. A new National Charter adopted in January 1986 deemphasized Socialism and placed greater stress on Islam. The chief organs of the FLN are the Central Committee, the highest policy-making body of both the FLN and the nation, the Political Bureau and the Secretariat. The Islamic Salvation Front is an umbrella organization of groups, which support a government guided by Islamic law. In September 1989 the government approved a multi-party system, and by 31 December 1990, over 30 legal political parties existed, including Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), National Liberation Front (FLN), and Socialist Forces Front (FFS).
With the annulment of elections, several parties, notably the FIS, were outlawed. The main parties that participated in the June 1997 elections included the official government party known as the National Democratic Rally (Rassemblement national pour la démocratie—RND); the Movement for a Peaceful Society (formerly Hamas); Ennahda (a moderate Islamic party); two ethnic-Berber parties, the Socialist Forces Front and the Rally for Culture and Democracy; and the FLN.
Twenty-three parties participated in the May 2002 parliamentary elections. Two Berber parties boycotted the elections, including the Rally for Culture and Democracy and the Socialist Forces Front. The FLN took a majority of seats in the National Assembly. Also winning seats were Islah, the National Democratic Rally, the Movement for a Peaceful Society, the Workers' Party, the Algerian National Front, the Islamic Renaissance Movement, the Party of Algerian Renewal, and the Movement of National Understanding. Independents won 30 of 389 seats.