Algeria: Algeria in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Algeria in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

In an effort to discourage privateering from Algerian ports, a British fleet bombarded Algiers in 1816. By this time the dey's power was greatly circumscribed by the three beys and by independent-minded Berber groups, and he effectively controlled only a small part of the coastal region. In the 1820s a minor dispute with the French resulted in Charles X of France imposing a naval blockade of Algeria and then, in June, 1830, invading the country. The dey capitulated in July, 1830, but most of the country resisted.

In 1834 the French renewed their drive to occupy Algeria and in 1837 they took Constantine, the last major city to retain its independence. However, the Berber leader Abd al-Kader, whose power was centered in the hinterland of Oran, held out against the French until 1847, when Gen. T. R. Bugeaud de la Piconnerie led a major military campaign against him. Colonization by Europeans (half of whom were French and the rest mainly Spanish, Italian, and Maltese) began c.1840 and accelerated after 1848, when Algeria was declared French territory. By 1880 persons of European descent numbered about 375,000, and they controlled most of the better farmland. However, France continued to face isolated (but occasionally fierce) resistance, mainly in Kabylia (see Kabyles) and the Sahara region, until 1910.

In 1900 the country was given administrative and financial autonomy and placed under a governor-general, whose advisers were mainly European. By this time the colonists had started large-scale agricultural and industrial enterprises (introducing, among other things, wine and tobacco production) and had built roads, railroads, schools, and hospitals. The cities in particular were modernized. These improvements were intended for the Europeans' own use, and the Muslims benefited little from them, being left with scant political or economic power and with few legal rights. Although the official French policy in Algeria was to encourage the Muslims to adapt to European ways as preparation for full citizenship, very little was done to implement this policy, and there was virtually no mixing between the European and Muslim populations.

After World War I two types of protest groups were started by the Muslims. One movement called for a fully independent, Muslim-controlled Algeria; an early exponent was Messali Hadj, who in 1924 founded the Star of North Africa movement (later called, successively, the Party of the Algerian People and the Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties, or MTLD). The other faction sought assimilation with France and the equality of Muslims and Europeans in Algeria; its chief exponent was Ferhat Abbas, who, however, after several rebuffs by the French, was calling for Algerian autonomy by the mid-1940s and advocated complete independence by the early 1950s.

In World War II, Algeria at first came under the Vichy regime but later became (1942) Allied headquarters in North Africa; it also served for a time as the seat of Charles de Gaulle's Free French government. In 1945, a spontaneous nationalist uprising in Sétif resulted in the killing of more than 100 Europeans; the French responded by a sweeping crackdown during which at least 1,500 Muslims (estimates have run as high as 45,000) were killed. In 1947 the French national assembly passed the Statute of Algeria, under which the Muslims were to be given some additional political power. Most of the statute's provisions were not implemented, however, and the colonists (in partnership with the French government) continued to control Algerian affairs.

A radical group of Muslims seceded in 1954 from Messali's MTLD, formed the National Liberation Front (FLN; its military arm was called the National Liberation Army or ALN), and attacked police posts and other government offices in the Batna-Constantine region. In the following months the revolt gradually spread to other parts of the country. The MTLD was reorganized into the Algerian Nationalist Movement, which, led by Messali, unsuccessfully competed with—and at times fought against—the FLN.

In 1955, the FLN carried out more extensive attacks on the colonists (especially in the Skikda area), and the French responded with severe reprisals. By 1956 the FLN had the support of virtually all Algerian nationalists except Messali, controlled much of the countryside, and was organizing frequent attacks in the cities (especially Algiers). In 1957 the French successfully put down the resistance, and the FLN was forced to concentrate on guerrilla activities in the rural areas; the French also constructed electrified barriers along Algeria's borders with Morocco and Tunisia in order to reduce the infiltration of men and matériel. By this time, about 500,000 French troops were stationed in Algeria.

In 1958 there were demonstrations in Algeria by colonists and elements of the French army who feared that the government in France might negotiate a settlement with the Muslims that would undermine the Europeans' position; an ensuing political crisis in France resulted in the return to power of de Gaulle and the establishment of the Fifth French Republic. Fighting continued, and in 1959 the FLN established at Tunis the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic (GPRA), with Ferhat Abbas as prime minister.

By 1960, de Gaulle had come to recognize the inevitability of some form of Algerian independence; the main problem concerned the future status of the almost one million European colonists, many of whom had been born in Algeria. Sensing the direction of French policy, the colonists and army (both of whom aimed for the full integration of Algeria with France) staged major protests in 1960 and 1961, but both were put down by de Gaulle. In mid-1961, Ferhat Abbas resigned as prime minister of the GPRA and was replaced by Ben Yusuf Ben Khedda. Shortly thereafter, negotiations with the French government began, and in Mar., 1962, an agreement was signed. The accord provided for an end to the fighting and for Algerian independence after a transition period.

The people of France overwhelmingly approved the agreement in a referendum held in early Apr., 1962, but members of the French army in Algeria, banded together in the Secret Army Organization (OAS), launched an armed campaign against Muslims in an attempt to prevent the implementation of the accord. In late April, however, their leader, Gen. Raoul Salan, was captured, and by late June the army revolt had been ended. Already in April colonists had begun to leave Algeria in large numbers; by October only about 250,000 remained, and most of them soon left as well. As a result of the more than seven years' fighting at least 100,000 Muslim and 10,000 French soldiers had been killed; in addition, many thousands of Muslim civilians and a much smaller number of colonists lost their lives.

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