A potted history of French Algeria

Last month I wrote a little about the events surrounding the Charlie Hebdo massacres in Paris along with my reflections, observations while travelling in Algeria seven years ago. I am continuing along a similar theme today: Algeria and a broad brushstroke of the events that led to the Algerian War of Independence.

The French colonial empire constituted colonies, protectorates and mandated territories. In fact, there were two French colonial empires – the first was in decline by 1814. Its second began with the conquest of Algeria in 1830 followed soon after by territories in southeast Asia known as Indochina or Indochine. Vietnam was amongst them.

Abd al Qadir

The French invasion of Algeria began in early July 1830 and continued through to 1847. Within a short time, the French had gained control of the coastal areas as well as Algiers, the capital city, and before long, they began infiltrating the rural areas into the mountains and desert. Algeria is a vast and diverse land which at that time was under Ottoman rule. There were rebellions and pockets of Muslim resistance led by such heroes as Abd al Qadir but, eventually, France conquered Algeria. They colonised it and Europeanised it. They ruled it as a French colony with Christian values and paid little attention to the traditions and tribal customs already in place. The Muslims and Jews lost their education systems, their lands, their rights. They were French subjects but not citizens. The countryside was taken for agriculture. Private demesnes, estates were erected. The majority of Algerians were forced to vacate the fertile lands. The colons, European settlers, moved in. Massive vineyards sprung up in a land of abstinent inhabitants. Tobacco, olives, citrus fruits, wheat, all were being produced in abundance and most of the crops were shipped back to France from ports built by the French. The cities and coastal resorts were designed along French planning lines. Some of the cities were beautiful, architecturally elegant. Ports were constructed, roads built… But the lifestyle being assembled had little to do with the Algerians’ way of life. This Mediterranean land was a mixed population of predominantly Berbers and Arabs with communities of Jews who had fled Spain during the years of the Reconquista and had settled peacefully in Algeria.

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