These episodes will focus on Algeria and their founding fathers. The first things up are a few interviews with Algerians on this topic. Main episode should be out in about 3-4 weeks.
Links to other resources as well as the transcript are below the pictures.
Where is Algeria?
Other Resources(Clickable links on the titles)
-One of the interviewee's mom runs a business in Algeria selling traditional clothing you can find on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/watch/saidabouguellid/
and on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/saida.bouguellid/
***Intro Hello, and welcome back to Founders of Nations, this week we will work on a new country, Algeria, and the pattern of totally different types of episodes for different countries will continue. Each country has such different founding narratives that it's nigh impossible to stick to one style of episode. I had to turn Algeria's episode into two parts because of the complexity of their founders' stories. But I think the format I went with, short on actual war details and long on the actual information about the founders should give us an idea of what a founder means for an Algerian. Just as a reminder if you enjoy the show reach out, I'm on reddit, facebook, twitter, instagram, and tiktok and I'm always excited to talk about these things!
****Background to revolution
Algeria is a North African nation and is the largest nation in Africa size wise. It's about the size of western Europe or if you're in America about 1/4 the size of America, so a very large place. It takes up most of the southwestern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. West of Algeria is Morocco, South is the Sahara Desert, East is Tunisia and to the North of Algeria, across the Mediterranean lies Spain and France. France is very important in the story we will talk about today. There are two main ethnic groups, the original locals known as Berbers, and the Arabs who started coming around the 700's AD.
Algeria's land area is about 80% desert so while the area is quite large the habitable part is much smaller. The habitable area is about the size and population of California for comparison. As you would imagine most of that habitable area is along the coast and so there are many beautiful sea side views, google algerian seaside and you'll see some beautiful pictures. Algeria as a nation existed throughout history as dynasties that ruled for a while and then were conquered by outside powers who were usually moving west or east along the north African coast to get to Spain or Egypt. The Numidians (later called Algerians), under Masinissa, were Carthaginian allies and then flipped to the Roman side in time to serve as the crucial cavalry wing at the battle of Zama where Hannibal was finally defeated by Scipio. While there aren't any Roman people's still in Algeria there are some very well preserved ancient ruins from scattered around Algeria. Another notable thing is that Saint Augustine of Hippo was based in Algeria with Hippo being there.
Anyways after the Romans came a series of different arab invaders from the east, eventually the Ottoman empire took over, and finally in the 19th century the French arrived and that's where we will start our story today.
In 1830, the French took over after the Turks(Ottomans) and called it not just a colony but an actual part of France. So they immediately began bringing in colonists.
Making this land actually France you would think they would encourage the local muslims to be French citizens but this was not the case. They started off as French subjects and were given almost no ability to become French citizens. By the time France started to think about opening up citizenship more, the French colonists resisted with all their might so that they might not lose the many privileges they had.
By 1935 the Governor General at the time gave a speech to the French version of congress after they refused his proposal to increase citizenship options for Algerians.
"When the Muslims protest, you are indignant; when they approve you are suspicious; when they keep quiet you are fearful. Gentleman, these men have no political nation. They do not even demand their religious nation. All they ask is to be admitted into yours. If you refuse this, beware lest they do not soon create one for themselves "The Algerians I interviewed had a sort of split idea on the founder. A good number said Emir AbdelKader while others said it was better to say the freedom fighters of the revolutionary war were its founders. Since Kader's revolution was eventually suppressed and it seems like he played more of a grandfather of the revolution type role we will look at the freedom fighters today and I'll earmark AbdelKader for an episode of his own in the future when I get back around to the As.
There had been protests and rebellions all throughout the type of the French colonial occupation of Algeria. These had all failed, some quickly and some sticking around a little longer but by the time we get to the 1940s and 50s there were 3 main cords that made up the resistance. An Islamic fundamentalist group, a more nationalist group, and a liberal group. The fundamentalist group desired a return to strict religious rule in the country. Things like alcohol, dancing, and sports were things that should be outlawed according to this ideology. The nationalist group was a bit more towards socialism with a little s. But don't seem to be anywhere near communism. The third group, the liberals were made up of a constantly growing group of Algerians who pushed for reform and some sort of compromise with the French, but one by one eventually be disenchanted with the process and join the resistance.
French colonists had groups of people who were on the side of reforming to help muslims gain citizenship but more of them, including those with the money and power in Algeria, were opposed so the changes that needed to be made were not made. The French had, by this time, done a lot to build up the country, agriculture, infrastructure, medicine, etc but it was almost all for the colonists uses and was not much help to the muslim locals.
With that colonial situation in mind lets go to Setif, Algeria... 1945, it's V.E. Day and a parade has been planned by the Algerians in Setif to march and place a wreath at a monument in memory of Algerian soldiers who died in the war(VE day is victory in europe day for WWII). The French announced a ban on political signs in the march. The Algerians did not comply and after someone fired first the small number of french authorities were overwhelmed by the large crowd. Algerians fanned out in the countryside and a general blood-letting was underway with colonists being killed. It seems like around 100 French colonists were killed during this. The french responded by brutally breaking up another march in a neighboring city. If things had ended there might have smoldered and gone out. But it was not meant to be as the French decided on decimating the surrounding areas. The Foreign Legion as well as colonial militia massacred Algerian civilians. French officials at the time put the number at 1,000 killed while others claimed over 40,000 had been killed. The general consensus today is somewhere between 6 and 20 thousand killed. However many it was, this became a hot spot of anger for Algerians everywhere.
Not only did many people die but many others around the area were arrested and detained for little purpose. As we've seen in America, prison is usually a great place for normal people to get into bad stuff or be radicalized and for those are already bent on those things to network with each other. Well now the French had imprisoned a whole bunch of regular Algerians with the small number of militants. This would be another step in the mistakes the French made in pushing the population away from their cause.
Later, In 1947 a group of reforms was sent into Algeria from France that gave the ability to have an almost real general assembly in Algeria. It was called the "Second Electoral College" and gave some hope to local Algerians. However that would all come tumbling down when the elections for this second college happened as there was massive election fraud by the colonial authorities and their allies. Voter intimidation, whole districts' results lost, runoffs changing from a close margin to a blowout. This was not exactly what the locals were hoping for. During this same time period, the Algerians who had gone to war with the Allies in WWII had started coming home. They had seen the outside world and were ready for it and they had extensive training and experience fighting a war. Imagine coming back from fighting for "Freedom from oppression" only to come home to immediately be greeted by that election.
From this point on underground groups started forming all over the country among the different groups, and more consistent civil disobedience began. But as no progress was made with disobedience, armed rebellion steadily became the plan for the future. One example of this as quoted in A History of Algeria is that boys in the local muslim scout groups began singing this song memorializing the dead.
Mother, why do you weep for me?
Your son has sacrificed himself for freedom...
My blood I offer My life
I sacrifice I give them for my country.
People were primed for something to happen but it would take a while longer before things really went off the rails into a revolt.
Fast forward to 1954 and there are now political groups scattered all over Algeria working to try to fix their situation in this colonial system that had promised a taste of France but had delivered only hardship. Some of these groups were ready to fight to the death to get rid of France while others wanted to work politically and fix the problems with France. The trouble with the latter hope was that, as mentioned before France continued to squander their opportunities either by bad policies coming directly from Paris or liberating policies coming into Algeria but then being sabotaged by the European colonists actually living in Algeria who had no desire to give up their power. They were after all a minority and if the Algerians were able to vote the Europeans would almost definitely be losing the powerful rights that gave them the advantage in Algeria.
These different political groups all fought amongst each other politically, and sometimes violently, about as much as they pushed for change from the French. In 1954 a group of men from different political groups all met and made the decision that it was time to fight and put the politics down. So they basically made a plan to through off all the political groups and unite under the National Liberation Front or FLN(Front de liberation nationale). The only goal of this, what was basically just an army, was the liberation of Algeria.
The first meeting of this new group just happened to be on the day that the Dien Bien Phu defeat was announced. Before we get into the meeting let's do some background work about what Dien Bien Phu was and why it would be important. France was one of the colonial Empires of Europe at this time. Here in America they aren't nearly as famous for colonizing as the Spanish or English but they definitely did a lot of it. In the Americas the two big places they had colonies in were the Louisiana Territory which the US bought from Napoleon in the early 1800's and Saint Doming, which was a big portion of what is today Haiti. Mike Duncan has a whole series of episodes on the Haitian Revolution on his Revolutions podcast if you want to know more about that. By this time though it was no longer French either. They, like other colonial powers had colonies spread out all over the known world. Africa, Pacific Islands, along the Indian Ocean, and finally Asia.
During the mid-late 1800s the French took most of modern-day Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and a section of southern China in Guangzhou province. There had been some backlash from the locals, of course, and by this time in the mid-1900's, France was engaged in their Vietnam War. By the 1950s the French had been pushed back pretty hard in SE Asia and in 1954 they suffered their final and devastating defeat in Vietnam at Dien Bien Phu. This siege is a fascinating story that I'll have some podcast links for in the mini-sode. But to try to get back to our story we'll make it short. The French left in Vietnam had set up a huge fortification on not so great terrain, they mistakenly thought the viet minh wouldn't be able to transport heavy artillery into the area to make that terrain a problem. And they had planned to just supply themselves by air in perpetuum I guess. This of course did not work out and a large force of 14,000 French and colonial troops were killed or captured. This defeat was a huge blow for French prestige around the world.
So back to our story. The first meeting of this FLN took place on the day this defeat was announced in Algeria. Around this time period there were wide ranging rumors that the entire French army had been destroyed in Vietnam and so a second meeting took place in July 1954 and it was decided that the revolution should start as soon as possible. Midnight November 1, 1954 was chosen to give enough time to plan, recruit and train the army.
During the intervening months the French seemed to gather clues and find information important to sniffing out and even stopping major parts of the preparation but it seems the information was never put together into a big picture look at things and so everything just seemed one small problem in this city or one thing off in that town. Meanwhile the Algerians organized their country into 6 different operational zones that would operate with the same strategic goals but tactical independence. They built bombs, found and fixed up old weapons, and trained in remote areas. The goals of the first part of the revolution were to destroy French military and police capabilities, the aristocracies land and businesses, and muslim collaborators. The plan was to leave all french civilians out of it and many of them were asked/warned as the days drew near to go on a vacation.
When the attacks happened most of the operational areas ended up failing in their objectives and one of the attacks even ended up killing a few well-liked French teachers who were coming back from their honeymoon. This caused quite a bit of negative press in France and was the first instance of the rebellion failing to keep civilians out of things. The positive part of the days attacks, for the Algerians, was that they were so inept that the French ended up with a totally incorrect understanding of what happened. Even though the attacks were spread out around most of Algeria, because they were so terribly executed they thought that this was just a small group of problem makers.
In France proper there was actually a movement to put in voting reforms and to open up the country but that block of colonial representatives was a deciding vote and continued to block and then delay the implementation of such reforms. Because the ruling coalition was so fragile at the time, with politics split almost evenly, the colonial block of votes was often that deciding block and so they were given their way in most things. So we see this situation we often see in western-style representative governments where things start to be done with a focus on getting re-elected rather than doing the right thing. This is something that we must find a way to fix if we are to progress through the 21st Century. Can you think of any ways to fix this problem? Of course the opposite, a one-party system is more efficient in thsi way but there are other, I think much bigger, problems with giving one group all the power, we can see those over and over throughout history and even today. I've opened up a reddit this week called "foundersofnations" if you want to get on and discuss this question with me and others. Or anything else related to the show head on over or go to the episode and hit the link in the description.
And that's unfortunately where I will need to drop off for today else my wife may hurt me haha. I will be back in a few days with the final half of the story of Algeria's founders. I don't think it will be too long before the rest of the story is finished. If you enjoy the show you are always welcome to join it on Patreon where you can influence which countries will go next or which countries get a second founder talked about first. Please go over to reddit and answer that question if you have time at least 🙂
Thanks for coming, talk to you again soon!
The Ottoman History Podcast is a really interesting podcast on the Ottoman Empire, it's not chronological or anything but it does study a lot of topics about the Ottoman Empire and it's done by PhD holders in History. They have a 45-min podcast on how the French took Algeria from the Ottomans and how it lead to the revolution we talked about. -
The University of Oxford has a podcast called TORCH that has an audio and video option. This episode is a 45-min round-table review of one of the newest historical books on Algeria -