Painting of Khair ad Din, founder of modern Algeria
At about the time Spain was establishing its presidios in the
Maghrib, the Muslim privateer brothers Aruj and Khair ad Din--the
latter known to Europeans as Barbarossa, or Red Beard--were operating
successfully off Tunisia under the Hafsids. In 1516 Aruj moved
his base of operations to Algiers, but was killed in 1518 during
his invasion of Tlemcen. Khair ad Din succeeded him as military
commander of Algiers. The Ottoman sultan gave him the title of
beylerbey (provincial governor) and a contingent of some
2,000 janissaries, well-armed Ottoman soldiers. With the aid of
this force, Khair ad Din subdued the coastal region between Constantine
and Oran (although the city of Oran remained in Spanish hands
until 1791). Under Khair ad Din's regency, Algiers became the
center of Ottoman authority in the Maghrib, from which Tunis,
Tripoli, and Tlemcen would be overcome and Morocco's independence
would be threatened.
So successful was Khair ad Din at Algiers that he was recalled
to Constantinople in 1533 by the sultan, Süleyman I (r. 1520-66),
known in Europe as Süleyman the Magnificent, and appointed admiral
of the Ottoman fleet. The next year he mounted a successful seaborne
assault on Tunis.
The next beylerbey was Khair ad Din's son Hassan, who
assumed the position in 1544. Until 1587 the area was governed
by officers who served terms with no fixed limits. Subsequently,
with the institution of a regular Ottoman administration, governors
with the title of pasha ruled for three-year terms. Turkish
was the official language, and Arabs and Berbers were excluded
from government posts.
The pasha was assisted by janissaries, known in Algeria as the
ojaq and led by an agha. Recruited from Anatolian
peasants, they were committed to a lifetime of service. Although
isolated from the rest of society and subject to their own laws
and courts, they depended on the ruler and the taifa
for income. In the seventeenth century, the force numbered about
15,000, but it was to shrink to only 3,700 by 1830. Discontent
among the ojaq rose in the mid-1600s because they were
not paid regularly, and they repeatedly revolted against the pasha.
As a result, the agha charged the pasha with corruption
and incompetence and seized power in 1659.
The taifa had the last word, however, when in 1671 it
rebelled, killed the agha, and placed one of its own
in power. The new leader received the title of dey, which
originated in Tunisia. After 1689 the right to select the dey
passed to the divan, a council of some sixty notables. The divan
at first was dominated by the ojaq, but by the eighteenth
century it became the dey's instrument. In 1710 the dey persuaded
the sultan to recognize him and his successors as regent, replacing
the pasha in that role. Although Algiers remained a part of the
Ottoman Empire, the Sublime Porte, or Ottoman government, ceased
to have effective influence there.
The dey was in effect a constitutional autocrat, but his authority
was restricted by the divan and the taifa, as well as
by local political conditions. The dey was elected for a life
term, but in the 159 years (1671-1830) that the system survived,
fourteen of the twenty-nine deys were removed from office by assassination.
Despite usurpation, military coups, and occasional mob rule, the
day-to-day operation of government was remarkably orderly. In
accordance with the millet system applied throughout the Ottoman
Empire, each ethnic group--Turks, Arabs, Kabyles, Berbers, Jews,
Europeans--was represented by a guild that exercised legal jurisdiction
over its constituents.
The dey had direct administrative control only in the regent's
enclave, the Dar as Sultan (Domain of the Sultan), which included
the city of Algiers and its environs and the fertile Mitidja Plain.
The rest of the territory under the regency was divided into three
provinces (beyliks): Constantine in the east; Titteri
in the central region, with its capital at Médéa; and a western
province that after 1791 had its seat at Oran, abandoned that
year by Spain when the city was destroyed in an earthquake. Each
province was governed by a bey appointed by the dey, usually from
the same circle of families.
A contingent of the ojaq was assigned to each bey, who
also had at his disposal the provincial auxiliaries provided by
the privileged makhzen tribes, traditionally exempted
from paying taxes on condition that they collect them from other
tribes. Tax revenues were conveyed from the provinces to Algiers
twice yearly, but the beys were otherwise left to their own devices.
Although the regency patronized the tribal chieftains, it never
had the unanimous allegiance of the countryside, where heavy taxation
frequently provoked unrest. Autonomous tribal states were tolerated,
and the regency's authority was seldom applied in the Kabylie.
Data as of December 1993