Colonization and Military Control
Figure 3. French Algeria, 1845-1962
A royal ordinance in 1845 called for three types of administration
in Algeria. In areas where Europeans were a substantial part of
the population, colons elected mayors and councils for self-governing
"full exercise" communes (communes de plein exercice).
In the "mixed" communes, where Muslims were a large majority,
government was in the hands of appointed and some elected officials,
including representatives of the grands chefs (great
chieftains) and a French administrator. The indigenous communes
(communes indigènes), remote areas not adequately pacified,
remained under the régime du sabre.
By 1848 nearly all of northern Algeria was under French control.
Important tools of the colonial administration, from this time
until their elimination in the 1870s, were the bureaux arabes
(Arab offices), staffed by Arabists whose function was to collect
information on the indigenous people and to carry out administrative
functions, nominally in cooperation with the army. The bureaux
arabes on occasion acted with sympathy to the local population
and formed a buffer between Muslims and rapacious colons.
Under the régime du sabre, the colons had been permitted
limited self-government in areas where European settlement was
most intense, but there was constant friction between them and
the army. The colons charged that the bureaux arabes
hindered the progress of colonization. They agitated against military
rule, complaining that their legal rights were denied under the
arbitrary controls imposed on the colony and insisting on a civil
administration for Algeria fully integrated with metropolitan
France. The army warned that the introduction of civilian government
would invite Muslim retaliation and threaten the security of Algeria.
The French government vacillated in its policy, yielding small
concessions to the colon demands on the one hand while maintaining
the régime du sabre to protect the interests of the Muslim
majority on the other.
Shortly after Louis Philippe's constitutional monarchy was overthrown
in the revolution of 1848, the new government of the Second Republic
ended Algeria's status as a colony and declared the occupied lands
an integral part of France. Three "civil territories"--Algiers,
Oran, and Constantine--were organized as French départements
(local administrative units) under a civilian government (see
fig. 3). For the first time, French citizens in the civil
territories elected their own councils and mayors; Muslims had
to be appointed, could not hold more than one-third of council
seats, and could not serve as mayors or assistant mayors. The
administration of territories outside the zones settled by colons
remained under a régime du sabre. Local Muslim administration
was allowed to continue under the supervision of French military
commanders, charged with maintaining order in newly pacified regions,
and the bureaux arabes. Theoretically, these areas were
closed to European colonization.
European migration, encouraged during the Second Republic, stimulated
the civilian administration to open new land for settlement against
the advice of the army. With the advent of the Second Empire in
1852, Napoleon III returned Algeria to military control. In 1858
a separate Ministry of Algerian Affairs was created to supervise
administration of the country through a military governor general
assisted by a civil minister.
Napoleon III visited Algeria twice in the early 1860s. He was
profoundly impressed with the nobility and virtue of the tribal
chieftains, who appealed to the emperor's romantic nature, and
was shocked by the self-serving attitude of the colon leaders.
He determined to halt the expansion of European settlement beyond
the coastal zone and to restrict contact between Muslims and the
colons, whom he considered to have a corrupting influence on the
indigenous population. He envisioned a grand design for preserving
most of Algeria for the Muslims by founding a royaume arabe
(Arab kingdom) with himself as the roi des Arabes (king
of the Arabs). He instituted the so-called politics of the grands
chefs to deal with the Muslims directly through
their traditional leaders.
To further his plans for the royaume arabe, Napoleon
III issued two decrees affecting tribal structure, land tenure,
and the legal status of Muslims in French Algeria. The first,
promulgated in 1863, was intended to renounce the state's claims
to tribal lands and eventually provide private plots to individuals
in the tribes, thus dismantling "feudal" structures and protecting
the lands from the colons. Tribal areas were to be identified,
delimited into douars (administrative units), and given
over to councils. Arable land was to be divided among members
of the douar over a period of one to three generations,
after which it could be bought and sold by the individual owners.
Unfortunately for the tribes, however, the plans of Napoleon III
quickly unraveled. French officials sympathetic to the colons
took much of the tribal land they surveyed into the public domain.
In addition, some tribal leaders immediately sold communal lands
for quick gains. The process of converting arable land to individual
ownership was accelerated to only a few years when laws were enacted
in the 1870s stipulating that no sale of land by an individual
Muslim could be invalidated by the claim that it was collectively
owned. The cudah and other tribal officials, appointed
by the French on the basis of their loyalty to France rather than
the allegiance owed them by the tribe, lost their credibility
as they were drawn into the European orbit, becoming known derisively
as beni-oui-ouis (yes-men).
Napoleon III visualized three distinct Algerias: a French colony,
an Arab country, and a military camp, each with a distinct form
of local government. The second decree, issued in 1865, was designed
to recognize the differences in cultural background of the French
and the Muslims. As French nationals, Muslims could serve on equal
terms in the French armed forces and civil service and could migrate
to metropolitan France. They were also granted the protection
of French law while retaining the right to adhere to Islamic law
in litigation concerning their personal status. But if Muslims
wished to become full citizens, they had to accept the full jurisdiction
of the French legal code, including laws affecting marriage and
inheritance, and reject the competence of the religious courts.
In effect, this meant that a Muslim had to renounce his religion
in order to become a French citizen. This condition was bitterly
resented by Muslims, for whom the only road to political equality
became apostasy. Over the next century, fewer than 3,000 Muslims
chose to cross the barrier and become French citizens.
When the Prussians captured Napoleon III at the Battle of Sedan
(1870), ending the Second Empire, the colons in Algiers toppled
the military government and installed a civilian administration.
Meanwhile, in France the government directed one of its ministers,
Adolphe Crémieux, "to destroy the military regime . . . [and]
to completely assimilate Algeria into France." In October 1870,
Crémieux, whose concern with Algerian affairs dated from the time
of the Second Republic, issued a series of decrees providing for
representation of the Algerian départements in the National
Assembly of France and confirming colon control over local administration.
A civilian governor general was made responsible to the Ministry
of Interior. The Crémieux Decrees also granted blanket French
citizenship to Algerian Jews, who then numbered about 40,000.
This act set them apart from Muslims, in whose eyes they were
identified thereafter with the colons. The measure had to be enforced,
however, over the objections of the colons, who made little distinction
between Muslims and Jews. (Automatic citizenship was subsequently
extended in 1889 to children of non- French Europeans born in
Algeria unless they specifically rejected it.)
The loss of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany in 1871 led to pressure
on the French government to make new land available in Algeria
for about 5,000 Alsatian and Lorrainer refugees who were resettled
there. During the 1870s, both the amount of European- owned land
and the number of settlers were doubled, and tens of thousands
of unskilled Muslims, who had been uprooted from their land, wandered
into the cities or to colon farming areas in search of work.
The most serious native insurrection since the time of Abd al
Qadir broke out in 1871 in the Kabylie and spread through much
of Algeria. The revolt was triggered by Crémieux's extension of
civil (that is, colon) authority to previously self-governing
tribal reserves and the abrogation of commitments made by the
military government, but it clearly had its basis in more long-
standing grievances. Since the Crimean War (1854-56), the demand
for grain had pushed up the price of Algerian wheat to European
levels. Silos were emptied when the world market's impact was
felt in Algeria, and Muslim farmers sold their grain reserves--
including seed grain--to speculators. But the community-owned
silos were the fundamental adaptation of a subsistence economy
to an unpredictable climate, and a good year's surplus was stored
away against a bad year's dearth. When serious drought struck
Algeria and grain crops failed in 1866 and for several years following,
Muslim areas faced starvation, and with famine came pestilence.
It was estimated that 20 percent of the Muslim population of Constantine
died over a three-year period. In 1871 the civil authorities repudiated
guarantees made to tribal chieftains by the previous military
government for loans to replenish their seed supply. This act
alienated even pro-French Muslim leaders, while it undercut their
ability to control their people. It was against this background
of misery and hopelessness that the stricken Kabyles rose in revolt.
In the aftermath of the 1871 uprising, French authorities imposed
stern measures to punish and control the whole Muslim population.
France confiscated more than 500,000 hectares of tribal land and
placed the Kabylie under a régime d'exception (extraordinary
rule), which denied the due process guaranteed French nationals.
A special indigénat (native code) listed as offenses
acts such as insolence and unauthorized assembly not punishable
by French law, and the normal jurisdiction of the cudah
was sharply restricted. The governor general was empowered to
jail suspects for up to five years without trial. The argument
was made in defense of these exceptional measures that the French
penal code as applied to Frenchmen was too permissive to control
Data as of December 1993