Algiers War

The Algiers War was between France and the Algerian National Liberation Front and it happened between the years 1954 to Algiers War1962. The war led to Algeria gaining independence from France and in history this is considered as an important decolonization war because of its complex nature. The conflicts were branded by guerrilla warfare, maquis fighting and the war was also infamous for both the sides using torture against each other. The war later on led to a civil war between the loyalists Algerians who were supporting French Algeria and their Algerian nationalist counterparts.

Events Leading To The Algiers War

One of the main reasons for the Algiers War dates back to more than a century before the actual war took place; it was the invasion of French in Algiers in 1830. The whole invasion was directed by Marshall Bugeaud who became the first Governor-General of Algeria. The invasion turned out to be violent marked by a “scorched earth” policy planned to cut power of the native ruler Dey. The attack by the French included massacres, mass rapes and much other violence. In the year 1834 Algeria became a part of the French military colony and was declared as an important part of France through the constitution of 1848. It was divided into three department called Alger, Oran and Constantine. People of many origins like French, Spanish,   Italians, Maltese and others settled in Algeria. During the second Empire 1852-1871 the Code de l'indigénat (Indigenous Code) was implemented by the Sénatus-consulte of July 14, 1865. According to the Indigenous code Muslims could apply for full French citizenship but it had few takers because it involved relinquishing the right to be governed by sharia law in personal matters and was treated as a renunciation of the Muslim religious belief and principle.

During the World War I, both Muslim and European Algerians too part fighting for France. Algerians Muslims served as tirailleurs and spahis and the French settlers as Zouaves or Chasseurs d’Afrique. In 1918 Wilson announced the Fourteen Points in which the fifth reading said “A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined". Keeping this in mind some Algerian intellectuals or the oulémas, began to cherish the wish for independence or, at least, autonomy and self-rule.

Abd el-Kadir’s grandson organized the battle against the French in the first half of the 20th century and in1926 he founded the Etoile Nord-Africaine (North African Star) party and Messali Hadj joined later. Abd- el Kadir was the member of the directing committee of the French Communist Party and Messali Hadj was the member of the PCF and its affiliated trade union, the Confederation Generale du Travial Unitaire (CGTU).  In 1928, the North African Star broke from the PCF before being liquidated in 1929. There was mounting restlessness among the Algerian population and the Third Republic (1871-1940) accepted some of their demands. The Popular Front initiated the Blum-Viollette proposal in 1936 and this was ideated to enlighten the Indigenous Code by giving the French citizenship to a limited number of Muslim populations.  Algerians of the European origin demonstrated against it violently and the North African Party opposed it leading to the project’s desertion.

The pro-independence party was dissolved in 1937, and its leaders were charged with the illegal reconstitution of a dissolved league. This led to Messali Hadj founding the Parti du People Algerian or the Algerian People’s Party in 1937. This party no longer adopted full independence but only general autonomy but this party was dissolved in 1939. In the year 1938 nationalist leader Ferhat Abbas founded the Algerian Popular Union and in the year 1943 he wrote the Algerian People’s Manifesto.  Abbas was arrested after the Setif massacre in 1945. It was during this attack that the French Army and pieds-noirs mobs killed more than 6000 Algerias. Abbas later founded the Democratic Union of the Algerian Manifesto (UDMA) in 1946 and was elected as a deputy.

Causes in a Nutshell

  • Promise of self rule to Algeria was not kept up after the First World War. The idea for war started brewing.
  • After the Second World War also the promise remained unfulfilled.
  • The civil war started by the members of the Nationalist Liberation Front (FLN) on the 1st of November 1954.
  • The formation of French Liberation Army (FLN)

The civil war practically shook the weak and unstable Fourth French Republic. This civil war also led to the replacement of the Fourth French Republic (1946-58) by the Fifth Republic and it had a strong presidency under leadership of Charles de Gaulle.

French Liberation Army (FLN)

In 1954 FLN succeeded the PPA and its leaders created its armed wing, National Liberation Army to fight the French authorities.  France had lost the Indochina and was not in a mood to lose another anti-colonial war started retaliating and this was the beginning of hostilities. On November 1, 1954 French forces killed Algerian rebels and FLN guerrillas attacked military and civilian targets throughout Algeria and this was called the Toussaint Rouge or the Red All-Saints Day. FLN broadcast from Cairo called the Muslims in Algeria to join the national struggle for the “restoration of the Algerian state – sovereign, democratic and social – within the framework of the principles of Islam."

  • FLN had six historical leaders in Rabah Bitat, Mostefa Ben Boulaid, Didouche Mourad, Mohammed Boudiaf, Krim Belkacem and Larbi Ben M’Hidi.
  • FLN tried to convince and pressurize the Algerian people to support the aims of the independence movement through contributions and they influenced labour unions, professional associations and they also created students’ and women’s organisations to cover their campaign to different segment of population.
  • FLN also used violence as part of their idea to bring in people to their side.
  • FLN campaign of influence spread to rural areas and many European farmers who was living on lands taken from Muslim communities during the 19th century started selling their land and sought refuge in Algiers and other Algerian cities.
  • FLN took on strategies to those of the nationalist groups in Asia and French was not aware of the seriousness of the challenge till 1955 when FLN spread their activities to the urban areas.
  • One of the important attacks in the War of Independence was the massacre of Pieds-Noirs civilians by FLN near the town of Philippeville in August 1955.
  • Till then FLN attacked only military and government targets and the commander decided to shoot up the pressure considerably by attacking the civilians.

More Details Of The War

  • Governor General Lacoste, the successor to Soustelle and a socialist, got rid of the Algerian Assembly. He saw the assembly, which was dominated by pieds-noirs, as hampering the work of his administration, and he undertook the rule of Algeria by declaration. LLacoste stepped up the French military operations and granted the army extraordinary powers to deal with the political violence. Algeria was divided into five districts each had territorial assembly elected from a single slate of candidates. FLN leadership met in August and September 1956 to create a formal policy making body to coordinate the political and military activities. In October 1956 the French Air Force intercepted a Moroccan DC-3 moving in the direction of Tunis carrying Ahmed Ben Bella, Mohammed Boudiaf, Mohamed Khider and Hocine Aït Ahmed, and forced it to land in Algiers. All the leaders of FLN in the aircraft were arrested and put in jail for the duration of the war and this action by the French forces forced the other FLN leaders to harden their stance.  The Battle of Algiers which started on September 30, 1956 was created to increase international and domestic French attention to their struggle. FLN decided to take the conflicts to the cities and a nationwide general strike was called. FLN planted bombs in public places by three women including Djamila Bouhired and Zohra Drif and the bombs were planted at three sites including the downtown office of Air France. Many shootings and bombing were carried out by FLN in 1957 which resulted in civilian causalities and there was tough response from the government. General Jacques Massu was given the authority to use whatever methods to restore peace and order in the city.  The strike was broken by the use of paratroopers and the basic infrastructure of FLN was destroyed in Algiers. FLN stroked at the heart of the French Algeria and also managed to get the support of the urban Muslims.   The brutal methods used by the army had very few supporters. In the year 1956 and 1957 FLN conducted a series of hit-and-run tactics in accordance with guerrilla warfare theory. Even though there were many complaints from the military command in Algiers, the government in France was not ready to admit that the situation in Algeria was out of control. By the year 1956 there were more than 400,000 French troops in Algeria and about 170,000 Algerian Muslims served the French Army mostly as volunteers. Air force and naval units were also sent to Algeria and helicopters were used by the French forces for the first time. The Special Administration Section was created in 1955 by the French army and its main job was to establish contact with the Muslim population. In April 1961 few of the prominent generals of the French army in Algeria attempts to overthrow de Gaulle but was not successful.

Efforts to Curb FLN

  • The French wanted accusation of all separatists and wanted revenge against the separatists through operations by police, military and paramilitary forces.
  • Colon vigilante units carried out rat-hunts against suspected FLN members of the Muslim community.
  • However the political action groups convinced many of the governors sent by Paris that military was not the way to resolve the issue.
  • Jacques Soustelle who went to Algeria as governor general in January 1955 was convinced and started a motivated reformation program called the Soustelle Plan which was aimed at improving economic conditions among the Muslim population.

The attack by FLN in 1955 killed 123 people which included 71 French including old women and babies and Jacques Soustelle was forced to take drastic steps against the FLN. In retaliation the military forces killed 1273 guerrillas and according to FLN 12000 Algerians were killed by the armed forces, police and Pieds-Noir gangs.  After this attack Soustelle declared tougher measures and an all out war started and in 1956, demonstrations by French Algerians prevented the French government to not make any reforms. The campaigns by the French military weakened the FLN army and most of their popular leaders were killed or arrested and the terror attacks practically.

The Aftermath Of The War

The brutal and the cruel methods employed by the French military had very few supporters in Algeria and disturbed support in metropolitan France and also discredited French status abroad.  There were many demonstrations held in Algiers and other important cities favouring independence and United Nations issued a resolution recognizing the right to independence. Following this Charles de Gaulle opened discussions for negotiations with the FLN and the discussions concluded with the signing of the Evian Accords on March 1962. On 8th April 1962 a referendum took place and the French electorate approved the Evian Accords. 91% voted in favour of the ratification of the agreement and again on 1st July the accord was subject to the second referendum and 99.72% voted for independence.

The French withdrawal led to severe crisis and there were many assassination attempts on de Gaulle and attempts of military coups. The underground organisation called Organisation Armee Secrete (OAS) carried out majority of the attacks or coups and this was an organisation formed by French military personnel supporting a French Algeria. In 1962 after the independence more than 900,000 European- Algerians fled to France expecting FLN to take revenge. The government in France was not prepared for this mass exodus of refugees and this created chaos in France. Most of the Algerian Muslims were disarmed and left behind because the treaty between the French and Algerian establishment stated that no actions could be taken against them. Harkins, who had served the auxiliaries of the French army, were treated as traitors by the FLN and more 50000 to 150,000 Harkis and their family members were killed by the FLN and some were abducted and tortured.  Nearly 91,000 managed to escape to France and they and their lineage form a major part of the present Algerian-French population.

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