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    Algeria Under French Rule, a Brief Account

    The French Conquest of Algeria

    Algeria Under French Rule, a Brief Account 

    The French Conquest of Algeria 

    Pretexts for the Invasion but the truth is.. 

    France’s conquest of Algeria began in 1830 with the swift overpowering of the Ottoman regency of Algiers. After defeating the Dey’s troops in the battle of Staoueli on 19th June, the French entered Algiers on 5th July. A capitulation treaty was subsequently signed by the Dey and the French commander “de Bourmont”. 

    Even though the conquest is attributed to various motives: - a dispute over debt repayments to Algerian merchants, the Dey Hussein’s (the Ottoman governor) alleged lashing of the French consul with his fly swatter, or the unpopular King Charles X’s need for an impressive foreign adventure -, the truth is France had designs on Algeria dating back to the Napoleonic period during which a plan for the invasion of Algiers had already been carefully prepared as early as 1808. 

    Initially lacking any long-term purpose, France’s colonial project had gradually taken on a totalising scope, but it took France a hundred years to subjugate the entire land mass of modern Algeria. 

    Notable Resistance to the French Occupation 

    French armies met significant resistance, the most famous of which is that of the charismatic young religious leader, Emir Abd-El-Kader, who spearheaded a successful guerrilla-style campaign until 1847. The remnants of Ottoman power also held out in the northeast, for another ten years, with the ravine-straddling town of Constantine posing a particularly difficult challenge to the invaders. Likewise, the perennially unyielding communities of the Atlas and the Tell Highlands generated several sizable rebellions until the late 1870s. Algeria witnessed several other regional or localised uprisings up to the turn of the twentieth century. 

    Scorched Earth Campaigns 

    Embodied by the ruthless Governor General Bugeaud, whose tactics inspired the expression “scorched earth campaign,” the imposition of French rule was marked by genocidal military campaigns. While the French command had nominally agreed to preserve the liberties, properties, and religious freedoms of the inhabitants as per the capitulation treaty, French troops immediately began plundering the country, arbitrarily arresting and killing people, exterminating entire tribes, seizing property and desecrating religious sites. 

    Oddly enough, the “scorched earth” campaigns were called “pacification” by the French! Colonel Montagnac stated that the purpose of the pacification was to "destroy everything that crawl at our feet like dogs". 

    In the absence of official figures, it is estimated that more than 1 million Algerians died between 1830 and 1870 as a result of war, sickness, and famine; one-third of the total pre-colonial population. 

    Historians Ben Kiernan, estimates that 850,000 Algerians were lost to war by 1875, while according to Augustin Bernard, up to 500,000 lost their lives to the famine of 1868 alone. 

    The Notion of ‘French Algeria’ 

    In terms of its basic political and economic characteristics, l’Algérie française (French Algeria) proper began in 1870, when Algeria was brought under the auspices of the ministère de l'Intérieur from the ministère des Colonies. Immigration accelerated as the colons set about buying up most of Algeria’s prime farmland and building a society whose raison d’être was the exploitation of the original Muslim population and their descendants. In 1881, the government in Paris declared Algeria an integral part of sovereign French territory, in accordance with the constitution of the Third Republic. From that point on, the colons in Algeria were considered “normal” French citizens who just happened to live in three departments that were located across the Mediterranean but legally identical to, say, Normandy or Provence. 

    Like their compatriots on the mainland, the Algerian French elected their local deputies to the National Assembly in Paris, where they formed an uncompromising, united bloc on settler-colonial issues. 

    Apartheid-Style Segregation 

    At the same time, however, the 1881 Code de l’indigénat (Native Code) relegated Algeria’s Muslims to an entirely separate and repressive legal framework that sharply curtailed personal freedoms, neglected due process for criminal matters, and placed domestic matters under the auspices of Islamic courts. 

    Subjects not citizens, most Algerian Muslims lived in the communes mixtes (mixed communities), districts whose administrators and judges (cadis) were appointed by the colonial authorities. Therefore, the defining division of the Algerian society under French colonial rule was that between Muslim and non-Muslim— a truth made explicit in the 1870 Crémieux Decree that extended French citizenship to Algeria’s 25,000 Jews (a community that boasted many centuries of history in that land) and stipulated that those very few Muslim évolués (literally, “evolved”) who were deemed worthy of French citizenship had to renounce Islam first. As a result, the vast majority of Algeria’s Muslims under French rule, belonged to either the near-destitute peasantry or the pool of cheap labour that served colon farms and homes.

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