Algerian War of Independence

Nellie Sanderson, Izzy Esler, and Laura Kington
(exactly 1500 words without headings or citations)

Causes of the Algerian War
The Algerian War was waged between France and its colony of Algeria from 1954-1962. It was primarily caused by French imperialism and Algerian nationalism, but the roots of the conflict began nearly two centuries before that.
In the 18th century, Algeria was located along the Barbary Coast. Pirates from this region had been attacking European ships for hundreds of years. In 1827, a French consul was sent to discuss the problems with the dey, the Turkish governor of the province, but the dey in an intense rage “struck the French consul with a fly whisk"¹ . Because of this and the aforementioned attacks by the Barbary Coast pirates, the French invaded Algeria three years later. The French forced the dey out of power and ended Algeria’s run as a province of the Ottoman Empire.
The French took control of areas on the coast but because other regions of Algeria were uncontrolled by its government they were unable to push any further at the present time. In 1839 Abd-el-Kader, a leader in the west, declared a "jihad," or holy war, on the Christian French. Abd-el-Kader was finally taken down and the French felt powerful enough to fully begin colonization. His pursuits against the French in the name of Algeria made him the “the personification of national resistance to foreign domination."²
The Europeans quickly started to take over Algeria. The population grew rapidly and by the 1880’s “the European population of Algeria [was] more than 350,000."³ However, just as the French population was growing as was the number of Muslims in Algeria. The French made sure that economic and political power was theirs but the Algerian Muslims began to make themselves heard.
World War II postponed the fight against the French but when the war ended demonstrators began carrying Algerian Nationalist flags. Soon after there was an uprising that ended with 88 French deaths and over 1500 Muslim deaths. In response the Paris National assembly set up an assembly in Algeria, in which Muslims formed part of the electorate. Years later, on the night of October 31, 1954 Algerian terrorist attacks were carried out on the French police by the Front de Liberation Nationale or FLN. FLN was an Algerian nationalist group that’s main purpose was to create a “fully independent Algeria"⁴ . Their uprising was the immediate cause of the Algerian War.
France’s attempt at colonizing Algeria was the start of the conflict. It led to Algerian resistance, but the Algerian Muslims own nationalism sustained the fighting. It was the FLN’s attacks in 1954 that finally erupted a war. The conflict began for political and territorial reasons but the war was fought for religious reasons.
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Algeria: The War of Independence 1954-1962 (Symbolic flag © 2000 Brian Train)
Algeria: The War of Independence 1954-1962 (Symbolic flag © 2000 Brian Train)

The Algerian War – the Actual War
The Start of the FLN and War
Organized movements for independence appeared as failed attempts to secure political influence for the Muslim majority of the country. Young radical nationalists founded the Revolutionary Committee of Unity and Action (CRUA) in 1952 to initiate insurrections. In 1954, the CRUA declared the creation of a National Liberation Front (FLN)⁵ . The organization aimed to achieve international recognition, and so, on All Saints Day, coordinated an attack that consisted of multiple bombings and armed attacks, with rebels armed with World War II surplus gear⁶ . This was followed up by the ‘Philippeville massacres’, in which rebels targeted European civilians and killed over a hundred. French forces reacted by killing a far greater number of Arabs, which decidedly polarized the community: one was either with the FLN or the French ⁷ . Nearby, an FLN leader Youssef ordered Algerian miners to massacre resident French families; members of whom were brutally dismembered, convincing many French of the savage nature of their opponents ⁸
French tanks patrol a North African road near Blida, Algeria, on Nov. 4, 1954 seeking Guerrilla bands hidden in the hills after starting a nationalist uprising. Rebel raids on towns, bridges and communication systems have being aimed at French control of Algeria and European settlers have been evacuated from the troubled Tunisia-Algeria border area where the most violent raids have been concentrated. (AP Photo)

Countryside Warfare
Early on, much of the action took place in the countryside, or bled . The FLN began by conducting guerilla warfare from the Aures Mountains, from there spreading south and east. The rural fighting was chaotic, with the use of grenades, machine guns, and blade. As one French sergeant put it, “[the FLN] don’t wear uniforms, they choose the hour, the day, the place, and they ambush you and shoot you in the back"¹⁰ . In the Algerian wilderness, French troops began employing helicopters for combat purposes, carrying the airborne black berets to the mountain peaks that were unreachable to other troops¹¹.
A French non-commissioned officer leads an Algerian unit of the French colonial forces through a swamp in the countryside of Indochina, during war operations against the Communist Viet Minh, on August 30, 1950. (AP Photo)

Urban Warfare
In 1956, the focus of the fighting shifted to urban warfare in what became known as the Battle of Algiers¹² . Yacef Saadi was a key figure in orchestrating the FLN side of the action, coordinating coercive action and various bombings¹³. He often employed young girls to indiscriminately deposit concealed bombs (such as a sports bag) into public places (a café, a stadium)¹⁴. It was not the suicide bombing now common in the Middle East, but was a precursor. As the French continued to be foiled by guerilla tactics, the army boosted its numbers in an effort to retaliate, and the intensity, brutality and underhandedness of the opposed sides only continued to escalate. The French cut corners in the legal system, arresting potential opponents by the thousands, extending detainment, and glazing over warrants¹⁵. Propaganda circled on fronts; one French technique was to make Arabs feel dependent on them, as though something about them needed to be colonized¹⁶. Torture abounded on both ends, the French repertoire including creative electrocution and water-boarding. Exploding bombs became the norm for daily life while the guillotine flashed frequently. The war came to a point when “killing was the answer – for both sides”¹⁷.

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Outlooks from the Homefronts
Attitudes on the home front were varied on both sides, from mutual hatred and singularization to openness or appreciation. Some French were devoutly for the suppression of a people deemed inferior and perpetuation of French dominance; to some of them, “every Arab was a terrorist”¹⁸. Others, though, including many conscripts, had little enthusiasm for forcibly retaining a largely rural territory by crushing a rebellion¹⁹. In general, as the war persisted, public and international opinion began to turn against the French, an anti-war movement flourished throughout the nation. Opportunities to end it early may have existed, but were passed.
“The Algerian rebels can be credited with launching modern terrorism”²⁰. The Algerian War for Independence was a gory affair, a total war consisting mostly of guerilla tactics. The FLN attacked to raise the body count and to retrieve weapons, then mutilated the corpses to spread terror among the French troops. They did not hesitate to disfigure their own, killing traitors as well as “Uncle Toms”²¹. Both sides were devious and ruthless, taking advantage of the indiscriminate nature and dress of Arab women, using disguises and torture. All targets were valid, and all became victims. The death toll is uncertain, the numbers range from 300,000²² to 1,000,000²³, with the majority of casualties being native Arabs.

Beginning of the end:
The beginning of the end of the Algerian War for Independence began in 1958, when French President Charles de Gaulle attempted to make peace by offering the Algerians “the opportunity of total integration as equals into the French republic”²⁴. Not only were the French people strongly opposed to this²⁵, but Algeria rejected it as well. The National Council of the Algerian Revolution (CNRA) and the Committee of Coordination and Implementation (CCE) joined together to form the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic (GPRA) in opposition to de Gaulle’s proposal. The GPRA strove for world approval of Algerian independence, and focused primarily on the United Nations, developing and eastern bloc countries²⁶. This could have been the quick start to independence, but much was standing in their way. However, over time these obstacles dissolved for Algeria’s independence.

On March 18, 1962, the Evian Agreement was signed by France’s government and by the FLN. This caused a ceasefire and a mass exodus of the French from Algeria, and essentially left the fate of Algeria “in the hands of a referendum²⁷. On July 3, 1962, Algerians voted for independence, and de Gaulle proclaimed them as an independent nation.

Immediate Repercussions:
The Algerian War for Independence was quite bloody. An estimated 1 million Algerians died in the war, and about 18,000 French²⁸. Furthermore, 3 million Algerians were displaced during the war, and the social and economic infrastructures were destroyed--- rebuilding Algeria at this time seemed rather daunting, and rightly so²⁹.

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Revolutionary leader of Algeria Ahmed Ben Bella ( ahmed-ben-bella.html)

Lengthier Results of War:
Algeria has gone through three constitutions since the war, and has struggled to form a government that reflects Algeria as a whole. It has been primarily run by a small elite, and has been burdened with “continued domestic political turbulence” ever since³⁰. Ahmed Ben Bella, the leader of the revolution, became president after the war, but was toppled and replaced by Boumedienne, who remained in power for the remainder of his life. Throughout both of these rulings, Algeria continued to struggle with oppression of women, strong violence, and the argument of anti-communism versus not anti-communism³¹. Though the Algerian War of Independence gained sovereignty of Algeria from France, it did not solve the governmental problems of Algeria, and thus fell short of its purposes.

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