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History, French Colonization

France annexed Algiers and the surrounding territory in 1834 and began occupying other coastal and inland areas. The new regime, led by a French governor-general, aroused fierce resistance from tribes accustomed to indirect Ottoman rule. Military leader Abd al-Qadir, the head of the Sufi Islamic brotherhood known as the Qadiriyya, used hit-and-run tactics that were highly effective against the French forces. A hero to Algerian nationalists to this day, al-Qadir was not completely subdued until 1847. Berber forces continued to resist the French in the 1850s, and in 1871 Kabyle Berbers staged a fierce rebellion in Kabylia, in eastern Algeria. French colonial forces finally put the revolt down in 1872, and subsequently confiscated large amounts of land from the Berbers.

With these insurrections out of the way, France began to colonize Algeria in earnest, and European settlers poured into the country. To encourage settlement, the French confiscated or purchased lands at low prices from Muslim owners. Algeria was divided into three overseas departments of France, controlled for all practical purposes by the European settlers. The settlers formed a privileged elite. With the help of large infusions of capital, they developed a modern economy, with industries, banks, schools, shops, and services similar to those at home. The settlers developed Algerian agriculture, gearing it to support the French economy. Large estates produced wines and citrus fruit for export to France, just as North Africa once produced grain for Rome. Some Europeans made vast fortunes, but the majority were small farmers, tradespeople, shopkeepers, and factory workers. All, however, shared a passionate belief in Algerie Francaise—a French Algeria.

The displaced and deprived Muslim population remained a disadvantaged majority, subject to many restrictions. By French law they could not hold public meetings, carry firearms, or leave their homes or villages without permission. Legally, they were French subjects, but to become French citizens, with full rights, they had to renounce Islam. Few did so. Beginning in the late 19th century, thousands emigrated to France to find work.

The Muslim population grew steadily; by 1930, it numbered 5 million. A small minority, educated in French schools, adopted French culture, although they were not accepted as equals by the settlers. From this group came the initial impetus for Algerian nationalism.

 

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