Why were the French reluctant to grant Algerian independence
and what factors forced the French to do so?
By tradition, French involvement in Algeria
can be traced back to a day in April 1827 when the Dey of Algiers allegedly
struck the French consul with a fly swatter. Soon thereafter, the French
government tried to establish control over the region and in early 1830 invaded
Algeria to begin the re-establishment of France's overseas empire.
After the landing of the French army on
5 July 1830, the last Dey of Algiers surrendered, marking the end of Algerian
"independence" as a semi-autonomous province in the Ottoman Empire. Only
one important Algerian leader, Ahmad Bey, managed to hold out a few years
longer in Constantine, an interior city far removed from Algiers.
Although the French government had believed
that a quick victory abroad would increase its popularity at home, days after
the French occupation of Algiers, the July Revolution broke out, forcing
Charles X from the throne. This was the first sign that the French
"Algerian experiment" would lead to catastrophe.
In Algeria, efforts to rule through local clients
proved ineffective. Still the number of French settlers became an
ever-growing interest group intent on seeing that France remained in
Algeria. When scattered resistance
continued, led by Ahmad Bey and also Abdelkader ('Abd al-Qadir ibn Muhyi
ad-Din), a Sufi mystic, France sent in more that 100,000 men to subdue the
country in a campaign lasting more than a decade. Total control, however,
continued to elude France until well into the twentieth century.
In 1950 the French police discovered that a
robbery at the Oran post office had been the work of a nationalist organization
called the Special Organization (OS), led by Ahmed Ben Bella. A plethora
of complicated Algerian groupings engaged in various conspiratorial acts
against the French, but on the night of 31 October 1954, a few young, militant
men, taking the name of the National Liberation Front (FLN), issued a leaflet
stating that Algeria should be independent. The FLN also advocated social
democracy within an Islamic framework and decided to use the weapons of guerrilla
warfare at home and diplomacy at the United Nations.
In the following years the situation in Algeria
deteriorated. In February 1955 Jacques Soustelle, a new governor-general,
arrived in Algiers with a reform program that proved to be too little and
too late. On 20 August 1955, a rising at Aïn Abid and at the mine of
Al-Alia near Philippeville (now Skikda) degenerated into a massacre of Europeans,
followed by executions of Muslims.
In 1956, Guy Mollet, the newly-elected
French premier, appointed General Georges Catroux, reputedly a moderate,
as the new governor-general of Algeria, but when Mollet visited Algiers,
he was pelted with tomatoes by the French colons. This led him to name
Robert Lacoste as the new resident minister; Lacoste's policy was forcible
suppression of the Muslim population (The size of the French forces in Algeria
by then had reached almost half a million).
To further complicate the situation, in 1956
the French decided to grant full independence to Morocco and Tunisia--Algeria's
neighbors--while still retaining "French Algeria." The Moroccan sultan and
Tunisian premier prepared to hold a meeting in Tunis with the five principal
Algerian leaders to attempt a solution to the Algerian problem. French
intelligence officers, however, managed to divert the plane chartered by
the Moroccan government to fly the Algerians. The French then arrested the
Algerian leaders and put them in prison in France.
In 1957, the rebels began to use terrorism on
a wide scale to try to paralyze the French administration, but the French
retaliated with elite parachute troops --vividly depicted in the movie, La
Bataillle d'Alger (The Battle for Algiers)--who used torture to extract
information. The French also erected barbed wire fences along the borders
with Tunisia and Morocco where sizable Algerian resistance bands were operating
with the "blind-eye" support of the neighboring governments. Aggravated
by these guerrillas, in February 1958, the French air force bombed the Tunisian
frontier village of Saqiyat Sidi Yusuf, killing a number of civilians, including
children from the local school. An attempted mediation meeting, the
Maghrib Unity Congress in Tangier 27-30 April 1958, failed to yield any
substantial result, so on 19 September a Provisional Government of the Algerian
Republic (GPRA) was set up.
FLN tactics would not have been successful in
achieving independence without the actions of the French colons who provoked
a political crisis in France. On 13 May 1958, thousands of French,
with the understanding approval of the army, sacked the offices of the
governor-general and demanded the complete integration of Algeria with France.
During the demonstrations, there seemed to be a relatively friendly
mixing of Muslim demonstrators with the colons.
In the midst of the mutiny, Charles De Gaulle
returned to power in France. On
4 June 1958, De Gaulle visited Algiers, but he gave no clear indication of
his initial intention to integrate Algeria into France, but he did agree
to granting all Muslims French citizenship. On 30 October, De Gaulle
announced a series of initiatives, such as schools and medical services,
for the Muslim population.
Then in 1959, De Gaulle changed his mind and
declared publicly that the Algerians had the right to determine their own
future; he was now willing to grant Algerian independence to avoid political
trouble in France itself. The French
colons were outraged and rose again in rebellion in January 1960 and again
a year later (The latter time with the support of some French generals, including
Raoul Salan and Maurice Challe--previous commanders in Algeria).
The negotiation process began in May 1961 in
France with representatives of the Algerian provisional government.
Negotiations were broken off in July, however, at which time Ben Youssef
Ben Khedda became the new premier. Settler opposition coalesced around
a body calling itself the Secret Army Organization (OAS), which used terrorism
as its prime weapon. On 8 March
1962, negotiations were resumed, and on 18 March an agreement was finally
According to the terms of the agreement, Algeria
would become independent, provided that a referendum confirmed this intention.
French aid would continue, and Europeans could depart, remain as foreigners
or take Algerian citizenship. The OAS responded to the announcement with
a violent outburst of terrorism, but its futility became obvious. On 1 July
1962, the referendum in Algeria was approved 6,000,000 votes to 16,000.
Algerian jubilation quickly turned to dismay
as dissension emerged within the provisional government. Colonel Houari
Boumedienne, who commanded the Algerian army on the Tunisian border, challenged
the government's authority. Boumedienne was supported by Ben Bella,
just released from jail in France, and by Muhammad Khidr, secretary general
of the FLN. Only after a short civil war, did the leadership solidify
(Ben Bella as premier, Boumedienne as chief of staff, and Khidr as head of
the party organization).
March 1952, widespread anti-french riots
in Tunisia and Morocco.
1954, as a result of the Setif Massacre,
Algeria was made a group of French departments, but few reforms and no
31 October 1954, formal rebellion, led
by the Front Liberation Nationale (FLN), broke out.
7 February 1956, the French premier declared
his intention that Algeria remain French.
March 1956, Morocco and Tunisia became
independent from France.
22 October 1956, Ahmed Ben Bella and
other FLN leaders arrested when the French diverted their plane to
May 1958, demonstrations in Algiers and
Paris by French officers.
29 May 1958, De Gaulle installed as prime
19 September 1958, the FLN formed a
provisional government of Algeria.
16 September 1959, De Gaulle proposed
a referendum to decide Algeria's future.
23 January 1960, rising of colons began
after De Gaulle dismissed General Massu from command in Algeria; ended 1
2 February 1960, De Gaulle granted emergency
13 December 1960, De Gaulle again insisted
on Algerian self-determination in a speech in Algiers.
21 April 1961, four generals, including
Raoul Salan and Maurice Challe, led a second revolt of colons in Algeria
with the army seizing control of the city.
22 April 1961, De Gaulle assumed dictatorial
powers; his appearance on TV is widely credited with defusing the mutiny
by 26 April.
May 1961, negotiations began in France.
18 March 1962, cease fire signed at
8 April 1962, referendum in Algeria and
France overwhelmingly approved independence.
3 July 1962, Algerian civil war ended
when De Gaulle signed the agreement recognizing Algeria's independence.
July 1962, new Algerian gov was headed
by the prime minister Ben Yusuf Ben Khedda, but civil war broke out.
16 September 1963, Ben Bella became president
of Algeria after military unrest and rigged elections.
History is a brief history of Algeria to the 1990s.
Another good background
is located on the Fox News site, while
Algeria: A Country
Study from the Library of Congress is an excellent reference work.
Algeria Resources can be a useful site. If you read French, L'histoire
de l'Algerie (en française) is a good historical essay.
There is a
resource materials available and a
information, covering major cities, museums, foreign exchange, etc, can
easily on the web. Finally, there is another new site
with images and texts.
Two important texts include:
Ben Bella has short biographical entries in
Encyclopedia of the Orient,
There are many sites devoted to the recent violence
in the country, including
bloody war (*.pdf) and Human Rights
Some other sites:
There is precious little that has been written in English
about the Algerian Revolution, with the exception of the classics by Alistair
Horne, A Savage War of Peace (London: Macmillan, 1977) and Franz
Fanon, Les damnés de la terre (Paris,1961); in English as The
Wretched of the Earth (1963)
Jeanine de La Hogue, Mémoire écrite de
l'Algérie depuis 1950: les auteurs et leurs ouvres (Paris:
Editions Maisonneuve et Larose, 1992)
Nicolas d' Andoque, Guerre et paix en Algérie,
1955-1962: l'épopée silencieuse des SAS (Paris,
Erwan Bergot, Le dossier rouge: services secrets
contre F.L.N. (Paris: Grasset, 1976)
Joan Gillespie, Algeria: Rebellion and
Revolution (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1976)
Algeria, Wizarat al-Akhbar wa-al-Thaqafah [Ministère
de l'information et de la culture et Commissariat politique de l'Armée
nationale populaire], De l'A.L.N. à l'A.N.P.: 20e anniversaire
de la lutte de libération (Alger: Le Ministère,
Hartmut Elsenhans, Frankreichs Algerienkrieg, 1954-1962:
Entkolonisierungsversuch einer kapitalistischen Metropole, zum
Zusammenbruch der Kolonialreiche (München: C. Hanser,
Mohamed Lebjaoui, Bataille d'Alger ou bataille
d'Algérie? (Paris, 1972]
Jules, Roy, J'accuse le général Massu
(Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1972]