Algeria & It's People
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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/
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 History Buffett Podcast - This goes over all kinds of historical events, the last half of the episode(about 30 minutes) is about the taking of Algeria by the French from the Ottomans. They approach this from a normal American's point of view so if you want something a little funny and that you might relate to if you've never studied about Algeria this is for you. -
The Cold War Podcast which is a great podcast that goes through the Cold War. This specific episode is an hour and a quarter long and is on the Dien Bien Phu battle. There are a total of 2 episodes on the French Indochina war and the one I'm linking to is for the Dien Bien Phu, which is the second one.
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 -
***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!
Anyways back on track, in the war's early days we see a classic example of symmetric military power coming up against an asymmetric foe. The French had, tanks, armored vehicles, and airplanes while the FLN had men and old rifles. The FLN had learned the lessons of the Vietnamese who had just successfully pushed out the French, they would ambush and then quickly disappear into the mountains. If you've talked to any soldiers from any of the dozens of occupations that have taken place in the 20th and 21st century you will learn about the terrible state this leaves soldiers. To wander around a country unsure of when you would be fighting and whether that nice man that sold you a drink is going to be rigging up explosives that night. The more and more this happened the more frustrated the French soldiers and commanders got and that led to in-discriminant responses that only led to more of the moderate civilians being turned into FLN fighters.
The French brought in competent men and women to try to solve the problem but it was now too late for reform. The cycle of ambush and indiscriminate government response had pushed the moderates to the FLN and civilians continued to follow suit as they sought protection from the conflict. While the french could move around and dominate where they were there was just no way to dominate the whole region at once and so anyone who cooperated with the French was likely to be very unsafe as soon as the soldiers left. Remember the British trying to subdue the Revolution in America? Remember America trying to subdue Afghanistan and Iraq? People led revolutions just cannot be subdued in the traditional sense. There must be that winning over of the people. And as mentioned...the French had seemingly wasted their chance to do that.
As spring blossomed in 1955 the FLN had survived and the recruiting that had happened over the winter blossomed into a more wide-ranging rebellion with attacks happening in every area of Algeria. The French increased the military presence to 100,000 soldiers but never enough to be everywhere at once.
Up to this point civilian colonists had been mostly off limits to FLN attack whereas the French soldiers had been doing those indiscriminate attacks on muslim town and cities. By June of 1955 FLN leadership decided that this would no longer be the case and an attack was planned and carried out in Philippeville on the European civilians there. It seems the idea was a sort of retaliation for French brutality but it was also meant to be an event that would cause the French to do something so terrible that it would force what was left of the moderate muslims to give up the middle ground and choose a side. It was a pretty brutal attack with some horrifying things happening and in the end about 70 civilians were killed.
In response to this the French military rounded up 130 muslims in the city and shot them. Within the next few days thousands of muslims were killed in reprisal attacks done mostly by colonists while the French army looked on and in some cases participated. The French reported 1200 civilians were killed while the FLN reported 12,000; the truth iss probably somewhere in between. The brutality of both sides during and after the initial massacre took the significant issues of soldier paranoia and made them ubiquitous among the French where "every muslim was now a terrorist" and now muslims were terrified of european civilians as well as the soldiers. The war would now become a truly horrifying one as both sides starting to see the other as cruel monsters instead of people.
At the turning of the new year the movement was starting to get very organized and many powerful members believed that these terrorist type attacks like in Philippeville were the best way to move their cause forward and a good many of these, in the early years, would be focused on other Algerians who were either too moderate or directly working with the French.
1956 had many important events. The French Assembly in Paris had voted to give the army in Algeria a free hand to do whatever it deemed necessary to pacify the land and by the end of it there were 400,000 French troops in Algeria. Algeria's 1956 had some very important international victories.
Tunisia and Morocco, two of the countries that share a border with Algeria were able to formally become independent of France. They allowed sanctuary to FLN soldiers and were basically an open border for equipment and arms entering Algeria. This doesn't seem like too big a deal but think about Afghanistan and the American experience there. During the early years of the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan there was basically a free-flowing border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This allowed Taliban forces who were in danger of being cornered and overrun to escape into land the Americans could not venture into. These two countries, while providing some sanctuary had not bought in fully to helping the Algerians. At least until the French shot themselves in the foot again(a common trait of these kinds of situations). One of Algeria's oldest resistance movement leaders was working with his team as ambassadors to the outside world. In doing these duties they were flying from Tunisia to Morocco for a north African conference with those two countries, who up to this point were trying to push for a negotiated solution (although many of the FLN were not onboard with this). In the course of their flight over Algeria they were forced to land and the negotiator and his team were arrested. This drew a swift condemnation from the two neighboring countries and they went from pushing for negotiations to clandestinely helping the rebellion.
The second big international event that happened in 1956 was a meeting of 29 3rd world countries where it was proclaimed that Algeria should be made free thus leading to even more international exposure to the conflict. At this meeting the Algerian revolutionaries were able to meet with and be encouraged by the man who's rebellion had spurred on their own, ho chi minh himself.
These events as well as the usual international journalist reporting of French atrocities was continuing the movement of international politics away from France and towards Algeria.
From 1956 onwards things inside the country were taking a real turn downward for the FLN. The French began to impose their will by bringing in more veterans officers from the Vietnam war who knew anti-insurgency tactics that were reasonable and legitimate soldier on soldier fighting. But they were unwilling and likely unable to put a stop to the dirty tactics that brought death, rape, and displacement into camps for the civilian population. From a purely short-term view the FLNs forces were often scattered and on the run but never giving up. The problem for the French was, as has been mentioned, the repression that had to be done to achieve these military victories ensured that there was never a lack of new recruits streaming into FLN camps eager to avenge the wrongs the French had done to their communities.
1957 saw a sad example of this as the French one a pretty big victory against the insurgency in Algiers, the capital. They effectively pushed out all resistance from the capital but did it by arresting around 25,000 Algerian civilians, many of whom were tortured and it's estimated that around 3,000 of those arrested went "missing" quote unquote. While this seemed like a victory it was a terrible strategic defeat as once again the French proved themselves an enemy of the people of Algeria.
As far as the FLN went, being pushed to the breaking point in many districts brought about the worst period of their own atrocities against the population and themselves. Paranoia about French spies and collaborators brought FLN districts into a replay of the French Revolution they had all studied in the colonial schools they had gone to. Summary judgements, indiscriminate killings and the like were happening on an almost daily basis. I forget to mention that they knew all about the French Revolution. Part of 19th and 20th century education for French citizens and subjects was the French Revolution. Somehow the French had decided that even though they weren't going to really grant the Algerians much in the way of prosperity or representation in the government they were at least going to teach them about France's own Revolution.
By 1958 the colonists as well as the army in Algeria had become so angry with the lack of progress that they, along with elements from inside France proper, organized and then threatened to perform a coup d'etat unless Charles De Gaulle was put back in power. If you don't know who Charles De Gaulle is I highly recommend you take a look or listen to some info on him(I'll have some resources in the mini-sode if you want to start there). He's one of France's main national heroes.
Anyways back to our story. Long story short, faced with the reality of a huge army in Algeria that was ready to take Paris by force(remember the army in Algeria at this time was huge). The 4th republic parliament accepted the situation was lost and appointed De Gaulle. He asked for two things, a new constitution with a powerful presidency(of which he would be the first) and that he be named what was effectively dictator of France for 6 months. Now when I say dictator I mean that in Roman terms not modern terms. Basically he was given powers to run the country and the war as he pleased for 6 months and then would have to relinquish this power and go back to being a normal president. This probably wouldn't have been an acceptable proposition except that he had already handed over power once in his life after his stint re-establishing France and was beloved by most in the country. Anyways so by 1958, this war has now brought down the French government and De Gaulle has taken over.
De Gaulle immediately called for a warrior's peace where militants would be allowed to lay down their weapons and go home without any repercussions. But that was not going to go over. The mini-French reign of terrors were still going on and so even if any of the rebels had wanted to take him up on it there was just no way to do it. The civilians, who had been stuck between a rock and a hard place, were determined not to start back over again with the French and their eternally disappointing promises. Instead, these people, who had born the brunt of most of the war, started to plan and execute mass demonstrations in Algeria. And so while De Gaulle started pushing for reforms, that had not been allowed up to this point for the Algerians, there was too much bad blood and not even De Gaulle, who even many Algerians highly respected could put humpty back together again.
De Gaulle eventually saw what was happening and called for a referendum in Algeria on self-determination. This was in early 1961 and negotiations began in earnest from then on and the european colonists began to immigrate to France knowing what was coming. In July, the referendum took place and passed overwhelmingly for autonomy and by July 3, 1962 France finally recognized Algerian Independence.
What did I learn?
Well I don't think I would condone many of the methods of the FLN during this war, I have never been in their shoes with a century of being under the colonial rule of another people so I won't be too hard in judgement there. But what we can definitely glean from that was a desire for independence that was so strong that they were willing to suffer like they did without giving in. This kind of persistence is something that makes me think of Michael Jordan and his quote on missing thousands of shots, losing dozens of games for his team at the buzzer and attributing those failures to his success because he just would not give up. I can't think of how many times those people must have thought ok that's enough, I can't take any more of this terrible war, but they continued on and eventually won their freedom.
From the French side what can we learn? These were countries that considered themselves the "beacon of light" for the world pushing civilization, civility, human rights and the whole bag. Meanwhile here they were in Algeria, just a few decades removed from fighting Nazis, now doing things that would have made the Nazi SS proud. All the world looked on and what do you think they thought about the French ideas of "liberty and equality"? So look out for hypocrisy, it plagues all of us but it's something that must be dealt with whenever we find it. It requires humility that I don't naturally have to be able to fess up to doing something wrong and stop before it gets out of hand and seek forgiveness and reconciliation. For me, I'm forced to lean on a God who was so humble that He was willing to come down and suffer and then die to forgive people even though we were not even really seeking that forgiveness.