History of Algeria, Part III

This week, I’m focusing on French colonization and Algeria’s war for independence, both of which events shape Algeria’s modern history. While other French (and European) colonies were simply used for “civilizing and extraction” purposes, Algeria was considered a part of France’s colonial legacy and belonging.

Again, I will be relying on the Library of Congress website.

First steps into The New World: The French monarchy was very unpopular after the Revolution with a series of revolving kings. During that time in Algeria, the dey were having problems keeping an organized government. The French consul in Algiers was insulted by the dey, and the French monarchy decided to blockade Algeria. After three years, in 1830, the French army invaded the territory. With an army of 34,000 soldiers, the French defeated the Arab dey who summoned a total of 43,000 in about three weeks while also destroying the cities and people. In 1834, France officially annexed Algeria and approved of a “general governor” or high-ranking military official to preside over the land. Waves of “colons” or “pieds noirs” from France settled into the area to make a profit on the newfound  territory. What took the most toll on the land was the abundance of French farmers who decided to take the land and crops from the native farmers and use them for cheap labor. 

Muslim Resistance: After the French successfully kicked the Ottomans out of Algeria, jailed resistance leaders were freed from that rule. Seeing how Algeria rule suddenly changed leadership hands, Muslim resistance fighters grouped together to form the Muhyi ad Dinm, or a Muslim brotherhood, led by the young Abd al Qadir. By 1839, he was able to set up local governments under his regime where the French had not yet conquered (mainly the tribal and interior parts of Algeria, almost 2/3 of the modern country). His army continually fought with the French, making and breaking negotiations. Eventually, in 1847, Abd al Qadir surrendered after the weakening of his regime, but his legacy was an important resource for the later Algeria War for Independence.

French Implementation: In 1848, France absorbed three areas of Algeria, Algiers, Oran and Constantine, as part of their “departments” which are regional administrations (France is divided into numbered departments, and colonies were considered extras). French colonists decided to divide governance into three categories: Colon-majority, mixed and indigenous. In colon-majority areas, mostly the major cities and coastal areas, the French kicked out Arab influences in the government. In mixed and indigenous areas, Arab leaders had limited authority and were mostly used as a “buffer” between local resistance and the colons. Laws were in effect for colons to be able to run for office and vote freely while others had to be elected only for certain lower positions. Napoleon III visited in the 1860’s, prompting him to create the “Arab Kingdom” with himself as the king. In this kingdom, he tried to completely reorganize Algeria into three separate purposes (French, Arab and military). However, he was captured in 1870, and local colons gained leadership again. They decreed that Arabs and indigenous were allowed to live in Algeria but were not fully fledged citizens unless they chose to abide by French legal code and denounce their religion (Islam was severely affected by these French legal codes). In 1871, another uprising occurred when pastoral farmers’ grains were emptied onto the market and drove up prices. They sold their crops and were left for starvation when they could not afford to eat grain products. They revolted over the loss of thousands, but the government decided that instead of helping the, they enforced strict rules of conduct which imprisoned and punished them.

In during the next couple of decades, Algeria economically flourished despite marginalization of Arabs and indigenous peoples.

Inkling of Revolution: Although most Muslims lived in abject poverty and in low social status, some families were able to work up to colon standards, sending their children to French universities and working within bigger businesses. These educated Muslims started small political movements (starting with the Young Algerians), mainly during the 1920’s and 1930’s, in order to empower the poor and better social reforms. Splinter groups formed, and depending, focused on Islamic movements, democratization or communism of the Algerian state. This also tied in with the new spread of Pan-Arab Nationalism in North Africa. The colon governments suppressed the groups as best they could.

After WWII, the process of French assimilation begun. Muslims of important social importance (veterans of WWII, professors, doctors, students, etc.) were given French citizenship, but there was an even better issue to be resolved: how to incorporate Algeria into France, and how much independence it would be given. The players were French themselves (under de Gaulle), the colons, the French Muslims and the marginalized, many of which sided with resistance movements. In 1947, the Algerian Assembly was established, but once again, colons ruled, and they decided against a statue to include Arabic as an official language, give more power to Muslim women, etc. Mohamed Ahmed Ben Bella, a revolutionary, organized resistance groups, but reformed and create the “Front de Libération Nationale” or FLN, and its military sector, the ALN. This is the group that officially started the Algerian War of Independence.

War for Independence: In 1954, the FLN attacked many public offices and buildings to signal their start, and on Egyptian radio, they announced their plans to create an independent, democratic and Islamic Algeria. The FLN was successful in that they were able to convince many to join their cause including local groups, students and farmers. The use of violence was extreme and encouraged as -the- way to oust the French. After a massacre in Philippeville, warfare spread to other cities and towns, maybe taking place in the “casbah” or Muslim sections. Many of the attacks and bombings were considered terrorist (in cafes, known as cafe-wars) and many casualties were of civilians and suspected supporters. In 1955, the French military intervened in order to restore peace, and by 1956, National Council of the Algerian Revolution convened to organize the war and the FLN. The FLN, now with a revolving door of leaders and drops in support, weakened by 1957. In 1958, de Gaulle was elected to deal with the situation which was now widespread. He appealed to the colons and Muslims by implementing better reforms within the Algerian government (which was still under France). However, the FLN saw this as an act of neo-colonialism and enacted the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic to counter the French. However, many Muslims and colons voted for de Gaulle’s referendum, but this time of relief did not last. The colons (who formed the significant vigilante group Organisation de l’Armée Secrète, or OAS) had lost faith in the French and Muslims did not see immediate changes they had hoped would be delivered. The FLN did not let up, and the French military did not see an end to the struggle. In 1962, after eight years, the French declared a ceasefire and another referendum which allowed Algerian independence and full citizenship for Muslims and colons who wished to remain. An overwhelming vote pushed this through, and a truce was formed between the OAS and the FLN. A huge percentage of French and Jewish populations emigrated from Algeria to France, and elections were held in 1963, Ben Bella was announced the first President of Algeria.

Next time: Algeria post-war, the civil war and today.


History of Algeria, Part II

As promised, I am going to continue the historical background of Algeria, focusing this post on the spread of Islam, Arabization and Ottoman and Spanish conquests. This time period spans from the late Seventh century until the mid-Nineteeth century. Again, I am relying on the information from the Library of Congress website. Let’s go!

Islamic entree into Algeria (Migration Period, aka Islamic Golden Age): Various Arab groups begun making their way into Algeria and North Africa beginning the Seventh Century as part of their military expeditions to control the Mediterranean. It is important to note that many of these Arab and Isalmic groups had great control in Egypt, and the conflicts there affected migration towards the untouched Algerian land. In addition, there were also missionaries that followed, helping the Berbers whose homelands were destroyed and were more vulnerable to Islamic conversion. These small dynasties continually “handed over power” of Algerian land as they continually moved west towards Morocco but maintained their interest in the breadbasket. The first of these groups, the Fatimids, established control in the area until they left for Egypt. The next Berber dynasty, the Zirids, ruled during the Tenth century until they turned the power over to the Hammadids who strengthened the ports. However, there was a conflict between all of these groups vying for control again. Two other stronghole Berber groups, the Sanhaji and Zeneta, supported the Zirids. However, beduins from Egypt immigrated due to conflict in Egypt and took over western Tunisia. The farmers there migrated towards Algeria for safety. The Almoravid and Almohad movements from Spain and Morocco, however, restored Algeria’s financial sector and trade routes through the Sahara which was lost in the previous conflicts. Though it was initially an Islamic movement, a military formed to keep things in check.

European and wordly influences (Age of Discovery, aka inklings of colonialism): The next sets of dynasties to control Algeria did so in a broader sense; in other words, these groups held control in greater Maghreb. The Zayanids, a hybrid Berber (Zeneta) and Almohad sect, held onto the control over Maghreb despite revolts and calls for autonomy. The main source of their income was through the ports which helped increase trading with Spain. However, when the Inquisition began expelling Jews and Muslums out of the Spain, there was an influx of asylum-seekers in Maghreb including Algeria. Spain extended its power by conquering ports in Algeria but did not pursue a complete colonialization unlike Latin America. Overall, interest in the Mediterranean trade boosted Algeria’s ports and port cities, building them up.

Ottoman Rule (aka Constantinople, not Istanbul): Brothers Aruj and Khair ad Din from the Ottoman Empire began moving into Maghreb in the early Sixteeth century. The sultan gave the Khair ad Din (after the death of Aruj) governance powers and a military to occupy the area, weakening any Spanish control. Anatolian peasants were also recuited to be civil servants as Arabs and Berbers could not officially work for the government. However, there were revolts, and a new government formed with control from the local intitutions (and Ottoman control from the sultan was null). The new control of the region spread, creating a “centralized” (and autocratic) government under the “dey” along the coastline as the Spanish was evenutally kicked out. The dey was elected for life, but most were assassinated. Margainlized groups had small guilds to keep the government in check, but everything was mostly divded by tribes. This mish-mash of local governments was soon to be unified by the French.

Stay tuned for Part III, French invasion and Algerian War of Independence!