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

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

    Perfidious French Compelled to Sign the Tafna Treaty 

    In 1835, the French generals, having treacherously violated their agreements with Abd el-Kader, invaded his territory. The peaceful respite had ended. After two years of fierce, yet fruitless fighting, France consented to a new agreement with Abd el-Kader. It was signed on May 30, 1837, in Tafna. This time the French were compelled to acknowledge Abd el-Kader’s power not only in western, but also in central Algeria. They agreed to this so as to be able to concentrate all their efforts on the campaign against Constantine, where the second breeding ground of anti-French opposition was located. 

    Fall of Constantine 

    In the winter of 1836, the French had attempted to seize Constantine, but had been rebuffed by the Arabs and had retreated with the loss of 1,000 men. Now, a year later, having concluded peace with Abd el-Kader and having received an assurance of his neutrality, the French attacked Constantine with powerful forces. In October 1837, they finally succeeded in capturing the city, which was situated on high cliffs and had seemed inaccessible. The population offered fierce resistance. A battle was waged in the narrow streets for each corner and each roof. In the end Ahmed Bey was forced to retreat deep into the country, to the remote mountains, where resistance continued for some time. 

    The seizure of Constantine and the eastern part of Algeria was followed by savage colonial plundering. The French took over the land and property of the vanquished, and this resulted in a fresh outbreak of disturbances. The tribes of eastern Algeria began a guerrilla war against the enemy. They acknowledged Abd el-Kader’s leadership and requested him to send his deputies to Constantine. On this basis, the French accused Abd el-Kader of violating the Peace Treaty of 1839 and unleashed a new war against him. In his turn, Abd el-Kader declared a holy war on France, which lasted several years. 

    By 1839, France had concentrated 70,000 men in Algeria and was still sending in reinforcements. The French soldiers died by the thousands of disease, of the unbearable heat, marsh gas and hunger, and fell in battle. But the French army continued to grow. In 1837, it had 42,000 men whereas by 1844, the number had reached 90,000. It was twice the size of Abd el-Kader’s army and was equipped with weapons that the Arabs could not even dream of. Abd el-Kader could oppose this force only with the moral superiority of his men and their skilful guerrilla tactics. “When your army attacks, we shall retreat,” he wrote to a French marshal. “Then it will be forced to retreat and we shall return. We shall fight when we feel it is necessary. You know we are not cowards. But we are not so foolish as to expose ourselves to defeat by your army. We shall exhaust your army, torment and destroy it piece by piece and the climate will finish it off.” By employing these tactics, Abd el-Kader was able to keep up a steady resistance for a number of years. 

    One of France’s top generals, Marshal Bugeaud, was made commander-in-chief of the occupation army. He bribed the Algerian tribal leaders, some of whom became the vassals of France and were appointed deputies in the most backward regions of Algeria. 

    In the battles against Abd el-Kader, Bugeaud adopted new mobile column tactics. He singled out nine to twelve columns, which moved simultaneously along the western routes, each combing its own sector, and seizing fortresses and towns where Abd el-Kader’s bases and magazines were located. This ‘was more like bilateral guerrilla warfare than regular military actions. The battles and raiding dragged on for several years. 

    The French resorted to the most barbarian methods to terrorise the Algerian population and exterminated entire tribes which had sided with Abd el-Kader. According to the testimony of participants in the campaign, the French cut off the prisoners’ ears and took away the Arabs’ wives, children and flocks. They exchanged women prisoners for horses and auctioned them off like pack animals. “It cost them nothing to behead a prisoner in public, so as to command the Arabs’ respect for their authority,” wrote a contemporary. 

    The barbarous war, inter-tribal strife and the acts of treason by many tribal chieftains culminated in Abd el-Kader’s expulsion from Algeria and the subjugation of his territory by the French after a four-year struggle. 

    Abd el-Kader did not give up. In 1844, together with a group of faithful followers he took refuge in Morocco, which had been tolerating his presence on its soil all these years, and began preparing for new battles. 

    The Battle of Isly, 1844. 

    Bugeaud made a demand in the form of an ultimatum that the Moroccan Sultan, Mulai Abd er-Rahman, should give up Abd el-Kader. When he was refused, he invaded Morocco. While the French squadron under Prince de Joinville was bombarding Tangier (August 6) and Mogador (August 15), Bugeaud crushed the Moroccan Sultan’s semi-feudal army in a large-scale battle at the River Isly (August 14, 1844). Only the threat of British intervention restrained the French and saved Mulai Abd er-Rahman. The French had to withdraw from Morocco. 

    Abdelkader, Declared an Outlaw in Morocco! 

    But according to the Tangier Peace Treaty of September 10, 1844, Mulai Abd er-Rahman declared Abd el-Kader an outlaw, undertook to refuse all aid to the Algerian uprising, to withdraw his troops from the borders and to punish the officers “guilty” of having helped the insurgents. The treaty fixed the exact borders between Algeria and Morocco, but only on a comparatively narrow coastal strip. No demarcation line was drawn further south, so there was always the danger of new conflicts. 

    The Uprising of 1845-46

    Immediately after the conclusion of the Tangier Peace Treaty, Abd el-Kader returned to Algeria and waged guerrilla warfare as he moved about in the desert. In the meanwhile, a new popular uprising headed by Bu Maaza flared up in the northern part of Algeria in the region between Oran and Algiers. The uprising was called forth by the French plundering of the land. 

    The wholesale plundering of the land exhausted the local people’s patience and in 1845 the whole of western Algeria rose in rebellion against the French. The leader of the uprising, Bu Maza, appealed to Abd el-Kader and offered him the leadership of the popular struggle. The French hastened to raise the strength of the occupation army to 108,000 men. Eighteen punitive detachments again slaughtered the population and destroyed villages. The French generals, Pelissier and Saint Arnaud broke the record of barbarism in this campaign. Pelissier drove thousands of Arabs into the mountain caves, where he suffocated them with smoke. Saint Arnaud bricked up in caves 1,500 Arabs, including women and children. Nor did Cavaignac, who was serving in the occupation army at the time, lag behind them. 

    Treachery of the Moroccan Sultan and the End of Road for Abd el-Kader 

    The brutal repressions and the decree of July 31, 1845, on the confiscation of land as a punishment for “associating with the enemy” achieved their aim. The uprising began to wane. French detachments pursued Abd el-Kader, trying to surround him, but he withdrew to the oases of the Sahara Desert and from there continued to wage guerrilla warfare. It was only at the end of 1847, following the treachery of the Moroccan Sultan, that the French captured Abd el-Kader and sent him away to France. In 1848, Ahmed Bey was also taken prisoner. After spending five years in France, Abd el-Kader was permitted to return to the East. Having lived for a few years in Bursa, in 1855 he settled in Damascus, where he spent the rest of his life. Abd el-Kader died in 1883, a the age of 75.

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