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Anticolonialism in Middle East


Provided a certain flexibility is adopted, it is possible to identify the major templates of anticolonial resistance, which vary according to the nature of the colonizing process. The Algerian case is probably the most extreme because of the extent of the devastation caused by the colonization process over a period of some 130 years. In the months after the conquest of the city of Algiers in July 1830, the French military began to encourage the settlement of French colons in the city's rural hinterland. At the time, Algeria was, if only nominally, an Ottoman province and had no developed political structures. Local leaders in the west of the country turned first to the Moroccan sultan, but the French warned him not to interfere. The leaders then turned to the Sufi orders, the only bodies with an organizational structure, and Muhi al-Din, the leader of the Qadiriyya order, and his shrewd and energetic son 'Abd al-Qadir were asked to lead a tribal jihad against the French.

Between 1832 and 1844 'Abd al-Qadir managed to keep the French at bay with an army of about ten thousand. Initially, he achieved this by making agreements with the French recognizing his authority over certain parts of the country, but by the 1840s the French had decided on a policy of total subjugation and 'Abd al-Qadir, defeated at Isly in 1844, eventually surrendered in 1847. By this time the European population had reached over 100,000, living mostly in the larger towns. In the 1840s, the French had begun a policy of wholesale land confiscation and appropriation, and a number of local risings took place in protest. The settlers had influential allies in Paris, and throughout the nineteenth century the indigenous population faced the gradual erosion of most of their rights. The last major act of resistance until the war of 1954 to 1962 was the rebellion in Kabylia in 1870 to 1871, led by Muhammad al-Muqrani. For a while, al-Muqrani's army of some 200,000 controlled much of eastern Algeria, but it was no match for the better equipped French troops. After the defeat of al-Muqrani's rebellion (he was killed in battle in May 1871) the local communities involved were fined heavily and lost most of their tribal lands.

The Algerian national movement was slow to develop in the twentieth century. The tribal aristocracy had been defeated and no former indigenous governing class or emerging business bourgeoisie existed (as they did in, for example, Morocco, Tunisia, Syria, and Lebanon). Some Algerians felt that France had brought them into the modern world and wanted to become more French—that is, to enjoy the same rights as the French in Algeria without having to give up their Islamic identity. This tendency, generally called assimilationist, was represented by Ferhat Abbas, who sought to become a member of the French Chamber of Deputies. The first strictly nationalist movement, the Étoile Nord-Africaine (later the Parti du Peuple Algérien), which initially had links to the French Communist Party, was founded by Messali Hadj in 1926, recruiting among Algerian workers in France. Yet another tendency was represented by Ahmad Ibn Badis (1889–1940), who sought to reform Algerian popular Islam through the Association of 'Ulama', asserting the Muslim nature of Algeria.

From the 1930s onwards, rapid urbanization fuelled Algerian resistance to France. By the end of World War II there was some hope on the part of moderates both in France and Algeria that compromises could be worked out that might deflect violent nationalism, but the Algerian European community's dogged insistence on maintaining its privileges meant that these hopes soon evaporated. Ferhat Abbas's movement soon became insignificant. Ibn Badis's death meant that the Association of 'Ulama' lacked influence, leaving Messali Hadj dominating the field, with supporters among Algerian workers in France as well as in Algeria. However, his organization was regarded as too moderate, and a splinter group, the Organisation Secrète, seceded from it in the mid-1940s. Its members included such major revolutionary figures as Ahmed Ben Bella, Ait Ahmad, Murad Didouche, Mohammed Boudiaf, and Belkacem Krim. This group subsequently launched the Algerian Revolution, or war of national liberation, on 1 November 1954. The war lasted until 1962, when Algeria became independent; over the eight years, between 1 million and 1.5 million Algerians and 27,000 French were killed. The war proved intensely divisive, especially as more Algerian Muslims fought as soldiers or harkis on the French side than in the Algerian army.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ambiguity - Ambiguity to Anticolonialism in Middle East - Ottoman Empire And The Mandate SystemAnticolonialism in Middle East - Ottoman Empire And The Mandate System, Islam And Anticolonialism, The Economic Impact Of Colonialism, Resistance To Colonialism