Ahmed Ben Bella

Political Leader
Date Of Birth:
25 December 1916
Date Of Death:
11 April 2012
Place Of Birth:
Maghnia, Algeria
Best Known As:
Co-founder of FLN and first elected president of Algeria, 1963-65
Ahmed Ben Bella was a key player in the war to free Algeria from French colonial rule and became Algeria’s first president in 1963. Ben Bella’s time in office was a disaster, from failed land reform policies to increasingly autocratic rule, and he was ousted in a 1965 coup by his defense minister, Houari Boumédienne. Born in French-controlled Algeria, Ben Bella joined the French army in 1936 — one way for Muslims to advance in Algerian society. By the end of World War II, Ben Bella was a twice-decorated veteran of combat. When Algerian was not granted independence at the end of the World War II, Ben Bella became a fervent nationalist and helped found the National Liberation Front (FLN, for Front de libération nationale) to fight the French. As a leader of the Algerian movement, Ben Bella was the target of assassination, and during the Algerian war (1954-62) he was kidnapped and held prisoner by the French for more than five years (1956-62). As a national leader, Ben Bella positioned himself as a pan-Arab nationalist and socialist in the mold of Cuba’s Fidel Castro or Egypt’s Gamel Abdel Nasser. After he was ousted as president in 1965, Ben Bella spent 8 months in prison and then 14 years under house arrest. Ben Bella was freed in 1980, lived in France and Switzerland and tried to stay involved in Algerian politics, launching another Islamic party in 1990 (a party banned in 1997). Despite his failures as a political leader, Ben Bella remains a respected figure in the Arab fight against European colonialism.