FRENCH COLONIALISM IN ALGERIA AND NORTH AFRICA

FRENCH COLONIALISM IN ALGERIA


Even before the decision was made to annex Algeria, major changes had taken place. In a bargain-hunting frenzy to take over or buy at low prices all manner of property--homes, shops, farms and factories--Europeans poured into Algiers after it fell. French authorities took possession of the beylik lands, from which Ottoman officials had derived income. Over time, as pressures increased to obtain more land for settlement by Europeans, the state seized more categories of land, particularly that used by tribes, religious foundations, and villages. [Source: Helen Chapan Metz, ed. Algeria: A Country Study, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Soon after the conquest of Algiers, the soldier-politician Bertrand Clauzel and others formed a company to acquire agricultural land and, despite official discouragement, to subsidize its settlement by European farmers, triggering a land rush. Clauzel recognized the farming potential of the Mitidja Plain and envisioned the production there of cotton on a large scale. As governor general (1835-36), he used his office to make private investments in land and encouraged army officers and bureaucrats in his administration to do the same. This development created a vested interest among government officials in greater French involvement in Algeria. Commercial interests with influence in the government also began to recognize the prospects for profitable land speculation in expanding the French zone of occupation. They created large agricultural tracts, built factories and businesses, and exploited cheap local labor.*

Called colons (colonists) or, more popularly, pieds noirs (literally, black feet), the European settlers were largely of peasant farmer or working-class origin from the poor southern areas of Italy, Spain, and France. Others were criminal and political deportees from France, transported under sentence in large numbers to Algeria. In the 1840s and 1850s, to encourage settlement in rural areas official policy was to offer grants of land for a fee and a promise that improvements would be made. A distinction soon developed between the grands colons (great colonists) at one end of the scale, often self-made men who had accumulated large estates or built successful businesses, and the petits blancs (little whites), smallholders and workers at the other end, whose lot was often not much better than that of their Muslim counterparts. According to historian John Ruedy, although by 1848 only 15,000 of the 109,000 European settlers were in rural areas, "by systematically expropriating both pastoralists and farmers, rural colonization was the most important single factor in the destructuring of traditional society."

Websites and Resources: Islam Islam.com islam.com ; Islamic City islamicity.com ; Islam 101 islam101.net ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/islam ; BBC article bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/islam ; Patheos Library – Islam patheos.com/Library/Islam ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts web.archive.org ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam britannica.com ; Islam at Project Gutenberg gutenberg.org ; Islam from UCB Libraries GovPubs web.archive.org ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary pbs.org frontline ; Discover Islam dislam.org ; Islamic History: Islamic History Resources uga.edu/islam/history ; Internet Islamic History Sourcebook fordham.edu/halsall/islam/islamsbook ; Islamic History friesian.com/islam ; Islamic Civilization cyberistan.org ; Muslim Heritage muslimheritage.com ; Brief history of Islam barkati.net ; Chronological history of Islam barkati.net

France Takes Military Control of Algeria


A royal ordinance in 1845 called for three types of administration in Algeria. In areas where Europeans were a substantial part of the population, colons elected mayors and councils for self-governing "full exercise" communes (communes de plein exercice). In the "mixed" communes, where Muslims were a large majority, government was in the hands of appointed and some elected officials, including representatives of the grands chefs (great chieftains) and a French administrator. The indigenous communes (communes indigènes), remote areas not adequately pacified, remained under the régime du sabre. [Source: Helen Chapan Metz, ed. Algeria: A Country Study, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

By 1848 nearly all of northern Algeria was under French control. Important tools of the colonial administration, from this time until their elimination in the 1870s, were the bureaux arabes (Arab offices), staffed by Arabists whose function was to collect information on the indigenous people and to carry out administrative functions, nominally in cooperation with the army. The bureaux arabes on occasion acted with sympathy to the local population and formed a buffer between Muslims and rapacious colons.*

Under the régime du sabre, the colons had been permitted limited self-government in areas where European settlement was most intense, but there was constant friction between them and the army. The colons charged that the bureaux arabes hindered the progress of colonization. They agitated against military rule, complaining that their legal rights were denied under the arbitrary controls imposed on the colony and insisting on a civil administration for Algeria fully integrated with metropolitan France. The army warned that the introduction of civilian government would invite Muslim retaliation and threaten the security of Algeria. The French government vacillated in its policy, yielding small concessions to the colon demands on the one hand while maintaining the régime du sabre to protect the interests of the Muslim majority on the other.*

Shortly after Louis Philippe's constitutional monarchy was overthrown in the revolution of 1848, the new government of the Second Republic ended Algeria's status as a colony and declared the occupied lands an integral part of France. Three "civil territories"--Algiers, Oran, and Constantine--were organized as French départements (local administrative units) under a civilian government. For the first time, French citizens in the civil territories elected their own councils and mayors; Muslims had to be appointed, could not hold more than one-third of council seats, and could not serve as mayors or assistant mayors. The administration of territories outside the zones settled by colons remained under a régime du sabre. Local Muslim administration was allowed to continue under the supervision of French military commanders, charged with maintaining order in newly pacified regions, and the bureaux arabes. Theoretically, these areas were closed to European colonization.*

France Colonizes Algeria

European migration, encouraged during the Second Republic, stimulated the civilian administration to open new land for settlement against the advice of the army. With the advent of the Second Empire in 1852, Napoleon III returned Algeria to military control. In 1858 a separate Ministry of Algerian Affairs was created to supervise administration of the country through a military governor general assisted by a civil minister. [Source: Helen Chapan Metz, ed. Algeria: A Country Study, Library of Congress, 1994 *]


Defense of Mazagran, 1840


Napoleon III visited Algeria twice in the early 1860s. He was profoundly impressed with the nobility and virtue of the tribal chieftains, who appealed to the emperor's romantic nature, and was shocked by the self-serving attitude of the colon leaders. He determined to halt the expansion of European settlement beyond the coastal zone and to restrict contact between Muslims and the colons, whom he considered to have a corrupting influence on the indigenous population. He envisioned a grand design for preserving most of Algeria for the Muslims by founding a royaume arabe (Arab kingdom) with himself as the roi des Arabes (king of the Arabs). He instituted the so-called politics of the grands chefs to deal with the Muslims directly through their traditional leaders.*

To further his plans for the royaume arabe, Napoleon III issued two decrees affecting tribal structure, land tenure, and the legal status of Muslims in French Algeria. The first, promulgated in 1863, was intended to renounce the state's claims to tribal lands and eventually provide private plots to individuals in the tribes, thus dismantling "feudal" structures and protecting the lands from the colons. Tribal areas were to be identified, delimited into douars (administrative units), and given over to councils. Arable land was to be divided among members of the douar over a period of one to three generations, after which it could be bought and sold by the individual owners.*

Algerian Colons Exert Their Power in Algeria

Unfortunately for the tribes, however, the plans of Napoleon III quickly unraveled. French officials sympathetic to the colons took much of the tribal land they surveyed into the public domain. In addition, some tribal leaders immediately sold communal lands for quick gains. The process of converting arable land to individual ownership was accelerated to only a few years when laws were enacted in the 1870s stipulating that no sale of land by an individual Muslim could be invalidated by the claim that it was collectively owned. The cudah and other tribal officials, appointed by the French on the basis of their loyalty to France rather than the allegiance owed them by the tribe, lost their credibility as they were drawn into the European orbit, becoming known derisively as beni-oui-ouis (yes-men). [Source: Helen Chapan Metz, ed. Algeria: A Country Study, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Napoleon III visualized three distinct Algerias: a French colony, an Arab country, and a military camp, each with a distinct form of local government. The second decree, issued in 1865, was designed to recognize the differences in cultural background of the French and the Muslims. As French nationals, Muslims could serve on equal terms in the French armed forces and civil service and could migrate to metropolitan France. They were also granted the protection of French law while retaining the right to adhere to Islamic law in litigation concerning their personal status. But if Muslims wished to become full citizens, they had to accept the full jurisdiction of the French legal code, including laws affecting marriage and inheritance, and reject the competence of the religious courts. In effect, this meant that a Muslim had to renounce his religion in order to become a French citizen. This condition was bitterly resented by Muslims, for whom the only road to political equality became apostasy. Over the next century, fewer than 3,000 Muslims chose to cross the barrier and become French citizens.*


Abdel Kader and Napoleon III


When the Prussians captured Napoleon III at the Battle of Sedan (1870), ending the Second Empire, the colons in Algiers toppled the military government and installed a civilian administration. Meanwhile, in France the government directed one of its ministers, Adolphe Crémieux, "to destroy the military regime . . . [and] to completely assimilate Algeria into France." In October 1870, Crémieux, whose concern with Algerian affairs dated from the time of the Second Republic, issued a series of decrees providing for representation of the Algerian départements in the National Assembly of France and confirming colon control over local administration. A civilian governor general was made responsible to the Ministry of Interior. The Crémieux Decrees also granted blanket French citizenship to Algerian Jews, who then numbered about 40,000. This act set them apart from Muslims, in whose eyes they were identified thereafter with the colons. The measure had to be enforced, however, over the objections of the colons, who made little distinction between Muslims and Jews. (Automatic citizenship was subsequently extended in 1889 to children of non- French Europeans born in Algeria unless they specifically rejected it.)

The loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany in 1871 led to pressure on the French government to make new land available in Algeria for about 5,000 Alsatian and Lorrainer refugees who were resettled there. During the 1870s, both the amount of European- owned land and the number of settlers were doubled, and tens of thousands of unskilled Muslims, who had been uprooted from their land, wandered into the cities or to colon farming areas in search of work.*

Insurrection Against the Colons in Algeria

The most serious native insurrection since the time of Abd al Qadir broke out in 1871 in the Kabylie and spread through much of Algeria. The revolt was triggered by Crémieux's extension of civil (that is, colon) authority to previously self-governing tribal reserves and the abrogation of commitments made by the military government, but it clearly had its basis in more long- standing grievances. [Source: Helen Chapan Metz, ed. Algeria: A Country Study, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Since the Crimean War (1854-56), the demand for grain had pushed up the price of Algerian wheat to European levels. Silos were emptied when the world market's impact was felt in Algeria, and Muslim farmers sold their grain reserves-- including seed grain--to speculators. But the community-owned silos were the fundamental adaptation of a subsistence economy to an unpredictable climate, and a good year's surplus was stored away against a bad year's dearth. When serious drought struck Algeria and grain crops failed in 1866 and for several years following, Muslim areas faced starvation, and with famine came pestilence. It was estimated that 20 percent of the Muslim population of Constantine died over a three-year period. In 1871 the civil authorities repudiated guarantees made to tribal chieftains by the previous military government for loans to replenish their seed supply. This act alienated even pro-French Muslim leaders, while it undercut their ability to control their people. It was against this background of misery and hopelessness that the stricken Kabyles rose in revolt.*


Colons in Algeria


In the aftermath of the 1871 uprising, French authorities imposed stern measures to punish and control the whole Muslim population. France confiscated more than 500,000 hectares of tribal land and placed the Kabylie under a régime d'exception (extraordinary rule), which denied the due process guaranteed French nationals. A special indigénat (native code) listed as offenses acts such as insolence and unauthorized assembly not punishable by French law, and the normal jurisdiction of the cudah was sharply restricted. The governor general was empowered to jail suspects for up to five years without trial. The argument was made in defense of these exceptional measures that the French penal code as applied to Frenchmen was too permissive to control Muslims.*

Hegemony of the Colons in Algeria

A commission of inquiry set up by the French Senate in 1892 and headed by former Premier Jules Ferry, an advocate of colonial expansion, recommended that the government abandon a policy that assumed French law, without major modifications, could fit the needs of an area inhabited by close to 2 million Europeans and 4 million Muslims. Muslims had no representation in Algeria's National Assembly and were grossly underrepresented on local councils. Because of the many restrictions imposed by the authorities, by 1915 only 50,000 Muslims were eligible to vote in elections in the civil communes. Attempts to implement even the most modest reforms were blocked or delayed by the local administration in Algeria, dominated by colons, and by colon representatives in the National Assembly, to which each of the three départements sent six deputies and three senators. [Source: Helen Chapan Metz, ed. Algeria: A Country Study, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Once elected to the National Assembly, colons became permanent fixtures. Because of their seniority, they exercised disproportionate influence, and their support was important to any government's survival. The leader of the colon delegation, Auguste Warnier, succeeded during the 1870s and 1880s in modifying or introducing legislation to facilitate the private transfer of land to settlers and continue the Algerian state's appropriation of land from the local population and distribution to settlers. Consistent proponents of reform, like Georges Clemenceau and socialist Jean Jaurès, were rare in the National Assembly.*


The bulk of Algeria's wealth in manufacturing, mining, agriculture, and trade was controlled by the grands colons. The modern European-owned and -managed sector of the economy centered around small industry and a highly developed export trade, designed to provide food and raw materials to France in return for capital and consumer goods. Europeans held about 30 percent of the total arable land, including the bulk of the most fertile land and most of the areas under irrigation. By 1900 Europeans produced more than two-thirds of the value of output in agriculture and practically all agricultural exports. The modern, or European, sector was run on a commercial basis and meshed with the French market system that it supplied with wine, citrus, olives, and vegetables. Nearly half of the value of European-owned real property was in vineyards by 1914. By contrast, subsistence cereal production--supplemented by olive, fig, and date growing and stock raising--formed the basis of the traditional sector, but the land available for cropping was submarginal even for cereals under prevailing traditional cultivation practices.*

Impact of French Colonialism on Locals in Algeria

The colonial regime imposed more and higher taxes on Muslims than on Europeans. The Muslims, in addition to paying traditional taxes dating from before the French conquest, also paid new taxes, from which the colons were often exempted. In 1909, for instance, Muslims, who made up almost 90 percent of the population but produced 20 percent of Algeria's income, paid 70 percent of direct taxes and 45 percent of the total taxes collected. And colons controlled how these revenues would be spent. As a result, colon towns had handsome municipal buildings, paved streets lined with trees, fountains and statues, while Algerian villages and rural areas benefited little if at all from tax revenues. [Source: Helen Chapan Metz, ed. Algeria: A Country Study, Library of Congress, 1994 *]

The colonial regime proved severely detrimental to overall education for Algerian Muslims, who had previously relied on religious schools to learn reading, writing, and engage in religious studies. Not only did the state appropriate the habus lands (the religious foundations that constituted the main source of income for religious institutions, including schools) in 1843, but colon officials refused to allocate enough money to maintain schools and mosques properly and to provide for an adequate number of teachers and religious leaders for the growing population. In 1892 more than five times as much was spent for the education of Europeans as for Muslims, who had five times as many children of school age. Because few Muslim teachers were trained, Muslim schools were largely staffed by French teachers. Even a state-operated madrasah (school) often had French faculty members. Attempts to institute bilingual, bicultural schools, intended to bring Muslim and European children together in the classroom, were a conspicuous failure, rejected by both communities and phased out after 1870. According to one estimate, fewer than 5 percent of Algerian children attended any kind of school in 1870.*


Efforts were begun by 1890 to educate a small number of Muslims along with European students in the French school system as part of France's "civilizing mission" in Algeria. The curriculum was entirely French and allowed no place for Arabic studies, which were deliberately downgraded even in Muslim schools. Within a generation, a class of well-educated, gallicized Muslims--the évolués (literally, the evolved ones)--had been created. Almost all of the handful of Muslims who accepted French citizenship were évolués; more significantly, it was in this privileged group of Muslims, strongly influenced by French culture and political attitudes, that a new Algerian self-consciousness developed.*

Reporting to the French Senate in 1894, Governor General Jules Cambon wrote that Algeria had "only a dust of people left her." He referred to the destruction of the traditional ruling class that had left Muslims without leaders and had deprived France of interlocuteurs valables (literally, valid gobetweens), through whom to reach the masses of the people. He lamented that no genuine communication was possible between the two communities.*

The colons who ran Algeria maintained a condescending dialogue only with the beni-oui-ouis. Later they deliberately thwarted contact between the évolués and Muslim traditionalists on the one hand and between évolués and official circles in France on the other. They feared and mistrusted the francophone évolués, who were classified either as assimilationists, insisting on being accepted as Frenchmen but on their own terms, or as integrationists, eager to work as members of a distinct Muslim elite on equal terms with the French.*

Spain and France Move Into Morocco

In 1860, Spain attempted to exert its influence in North Africa beyond its forts, which it had for centuries on the northern coast of Morocco in Cuenta and Melilla, by invading Morocco and attempting to extend their control inland into the Rif mountains. The incursion ended with an agreement in which Morocco was forced to pay Spain indemnity which it could not afford to pay. Efforts to pay off the debts brought more Europeans into Morocco and attempts to pass European style reforms. Efforts to levy taxes to pay the debts only made ordinary people in Morocco more resentful and distrusting of the central government. This in turn made the rulers more reliant on Europeans to prop them up.


Civil ensign of French Morocco

In the early 20th century the British allowed the French to do what they liked in Morocco and Algeria in return for allowing the British to do what they wanted in Egypt. The French placated the Spanish by giving them northern Morocco and appeased the Italians by letting them have Libya. In 1907, Abd el Aziz was overthrown by his brother Abd al-Hafid, who was unable to contain a tribal revolt and turned to the French to bail him out. After that he had no choice but to accept French terms

According to the terms of the 1912 Treaty of Fez, Morocco accepted French control of foreign relations and finances along with their military presence — and became a protectorate. French recognized a Spanish protectorate over the northern coastal areas and the Rif mountains and what is now known as Western Sahara. Tangier became an international zone.

French Influence in Morocco

Morocco was effectively a French colony from 1912 to 1956. The Morocco sultan was little more than a puppet ruler. The French rulers developed Morocco with respect for Moroccan culture. Rather than razing, developing and modernizing the medinas of Moroccan cities, the French built “new towns” next to them. A new capital was built on the Atlantic coast at Rabat and the port of Casablanca was established


At a conference held in Algeciras, Spain, in 1906, 12 European nations and the United States reaffirmed their respect for Moroccan independence. The protocols of the Algeciras Conference provided that every nation would have equal access to Morocco, but they could not alter the reality that the international community had sanctioned the preeminence of French influence there. In the first decade of the twentieth century, French forces progressively occupied Morocco, and the 1912 Treaty of Fès turned most of Morocco into a French protectorate. Spain was given control of pieces of Morocco in the far north and south and of the Spanish Sahara (now Western Sahara). Tangier received special international status. From a strictly legal point of view, the treaty did not deprive Morocco of its status as a sovereign state. Theoretically, the sultan remained the sole source of sovereignty. He reigned, but he did not rule. [Source: Library of Congress, May 2006 **]

Under the protectorate, French civil servants allied themselves with the French settlers (“colons”) and with their supporters in France to prevent any moves in the direction of Moroccan autonomy. As pacification proceeded, the French government promoted economic development, particularly the exploitation of Morocco’s mineral wealth, the creation of a modern transportation system, and the development of a modern agriculture sector geared to the French market. Tens of thousands of “colons “entered Morocco and bought up large amounts of the rich agricultural land. Interest groups that formed among these elements continually pressured France to increase its control over Morocco.**

The elite were made up primarily of educated French but the majority of “petits blancs” were of mixed Italian, Spanish and French blood. Most were born in the Maghreb and not completely comfortable in France. The French did little to introduce education and health care. Schools were set up according to the lycee model but even as late as 1939, there were less than a thousand local people in each country with a secondary education Tribal uprisings occurred from 1911 to 1933

Impact of European Colonialism on the Muslim World

Jane F. Collier wrote: In his book “‘Culture and Imperialism,’ Edward Said argues that scholars must analyze connections between the histories of Western imperialist powers and the places they colonized and dominated, because only by understanding our shared history can we counteract the divisive and destructive forces of contemporary movements to rediscover "essential" cultural values, be they American, British, Arab, Muslim, Christian, Indigenous, or whatever. Said criticizes both imperialists and those they dominated. [Source: Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993)]

He condemns Westerners for misunderstanding the role of imperial conquests in shaping their culture -- a culture they continue to regard as superior to all others. And he condemns dictatorial leaders of successful national liberation movements for putting national security above the goals of human liberation and democratic participation. Although Said focuses on literature rather than law, his criticism of essentialist thinking is as applicable to legal treatises as to novels. Histories of Western law that ignore the imperialist context in which it developed and histories of dominated peoples that stress their preservation, rather than their innovative uses, of tradition both fuel dangerous stereotypes of Western law as dynamic (whether progressive or decadent) and Islamic law as conservative (whether pure or backward). /*/


French colonial possessions in north and west Africa in 1913


Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Arab News, Jeddah; Islam, a Short History by Karen Armstrong; A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); Encyclopedia of the World Cultures edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994). Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, BBC, Al Jazeera, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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