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    Resisting the French Invasion, Emir Abd El-Kader, Part I

    Resisting the French Invasion, Emir Abd El-Kader, Part I


    Having seized Algiers, de Bourmont arrogantly announced in his report: “The whole kingdom will surrender to us within fifteen days without firing a single shot.” But he was mistaken. The French subdued Algeria only after forty years of bloody fighting against her people. 

    No sooner had the news of the capital’s fall spread throughout the country than the tribes rose in arms against the enemy. The Algerians used scorched earth tactics and the French troops, who were dependent on their own supply lines, often found themselves in difficulties. The extortion and plundering by the French army further roused the population who united to repel the aggressor. In the western part of Algeria, the movement was headed by the national hero, Abd el-Kader, and in the eastern, by Ahmed, the district Bey of Constantine. 

    Abd el-Kader was born in 1808 in the marabout family of Muhyi ed-Din. His father headed the religious brotherhood of Kaderiya in West Algeria and for many years he fought against the Turkish conquerors and then against the French occupation forces. Abd el-Kader had received his religious education before the French invasion and had made a pilgrimage to Mecca, visited Baghdad and then travelled to Egypt. 

    Abd el-Kader was no ordinary marabout. He was above all a courageous soldier, a skilled horseman, a good marksman and a talented general. He was an eloquent orator, an outstanding writer and poet and a brilliant organiser. 

    In 1832, the tribes who were fighting against the occupation forces elected Abd el-Kader as their leader. He was confronted with the difficult task of combating feudal and tribal disunity, subduing the endless strife and uniting the whole population in the one common desire to defend the independence of their country. Because of his closeness to the people and because he symbolised their hopes, Abd el-Kader went a long way towards achieving this end. 

    Desmichels Treaty, Recognising Abdelkader’s State 

    Once he took over the command of the West Algerian tribes, Abd el-Kader inflicted merciless blows on the French troops, using the classical tactics of guerrilla warfare. Having suffered a number of defeats and some bad luck, the French finally agreed to negotiations and in February 1834, he concluded with them the Desmichel Treaty. Abd el-Kader willingly agreed to the French proposal since he felt an urgent need for a peaceful respite to reorganise his troops and gain strength for a renewal of the war against the invaders. Moreover, the treaty acknowledged all western Algeria, with the exception of three coastal towns, as the territory of the new sovereign Arab state under Abd el-Kader, who adopted the title of “sovereign of the believers” (emir el-mu’meneen). 

    Having become the ruler of a large state, Abd el-Kader continued to lead a humble way of life. He ate simple food, drank only water, wore no ornaments and, true to the nomadic customs, preferred to live in a tent. His only property consisted of a small flock of sheep and a plot of land, which was ploughed by a pair of oxen. His only wealth was a wonderful library. He did not use a single penny for his personal needs from the revenues, which were paid into his treasury by the Algerian tribes. 

    Apart from the irregular tribal levies, numbering approximately 70,000 men, Abd el-Kader formed a regular army consisting of 10,000 men. The Agha el-askari was entrusted with the command of the regular army, which was divided into thousands (battalions), hundreds (companies) and platoons with an Agha, sail or Reis es-Saf respectively at their head. The artillery of Abd el-Kader numbered 36 pieces (true, only twelve of them were fit for use). Abd el-Kader built barracks and fortresses, a foundry, two powder-mills and a weaving manufactory. 

    Abd el-Kader used the old, traditional methods as well as new, extreme methods to gain money for the upkeep of his army and for military construction. He collected ushr, zakat for each head of cattle and extraordinary taxes from his dependencies. Apart from this, he used incomes from the state lands and monopolies. He also replenished his treasury with the spoils seized during raids on hostile tribes who had refused to join his movement or had defected to the French. 

    Disunity, the French Generals’ Best Ally 

    Abd el-Kader found support among the Moslem clergy and Bedouins, who comprised the main bulk of his troops. Abd el-Kader, carried out administrative reforms, dividing Algeria into nine regions with caliphs-vicegerents, subordinate to the central power at their head. He abolished the selling of posts, struggled against the embezzlement of public property and tried to defend the nomads and peasants from the tyranny of tribal chiefs. 

    The leaders of eastern Algeria refused to obey him. Under their Bey, Ahmed, they fought the French independently. Nor would the Kabylia tribal lords and sheikhs of the Sahara oases obey him. He usually assigned marabouts as his deputies and only in rare cases did he give the post to the tribal leaders. But even those who collaborated with Abd el-Kader were ready to give him up to the French. Their ambitions and self-interest came before the interests of their country. The acts of treason and the mutinies of the tribal lords weakened the state founded by Abd el-Kader more than the doubtful successes of the French generals.

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