One of the earliest movements for political reform was an integrationist
group, the Young Algerians (Jeunesse Algérienne). Its members
were drawn from the small, liberal elite of welleducated , middle-class
évolués who demanded an opportunity to prove that they
were French as well as Muslim. In 1908 they delivered to France's
Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau a petition that expressed opposition
under the status quo to a proposed policy to conscript Muslim
Algerians into the French army. If, however, the state granted
the Muslims full citizenship, the petition went on, opposition
to conscription would be dropped. In 1911, in addition to demanding
preferential treatment for "the intellectual elements of the country,"
the group called for an end to unequal taxation, broadening of
the franchise, more schools, and protection of indigenous property.
The Young Algerians added a significant voice to the reformist
movement against French colonial policy that began in 1892 and
continued until the outbreak of World War I. In part to reward
Muslims who fought and died for France, Clemenceau appointed reform-minded
Charles Jonnart as governor general. Reforms promulgated in 1919
and known as the Jonnart Law expanded the number of Muslims permitted
to vote to about 425,000. The legislation also removed all voters
from the jurisdiction of the humiliating indigénat.
The most popular Muslim leader in Algeria after the war was Khalid
ibn Hashim, grandson of Abd al Qadir and a member of the Young
Algerians, although he differed with some members of the group
over acceptance of the Jonnart Law. Some Young Algerians were
willing to work within the framework set out by the reforms, but
Emir Khalid, as he was known, continued to press for the complete
Young Algerian program. He was able to win electoral victories
in Algiers and to enliven political discourse with his calls for
reform and full assimilation, but by 1923 he tired of the struggle
and left Algeria, eventually retiring to Damascus.
Some of the Young Algerians in 1926 formed the Federation of
Elected Natives (Fédération des Elus Indigènes--FEI), as many
of the former group's members had joined the circle of Muslims
eligible to hold public office. The federation's objectives were
the assimilation of the évolués into the French community,
with full citizenship but without surrendering their personal
status as Muslims, and the eventual integration of Algeria as
a full province of France. Other objectives included equal pay
for equal work for government employees, abolition of travel restrictions
to and from France, abolition of the indigénat (which
had been reinstituted earlier), and electoral reform.
The first group to call for Algerian independence was the Star
of North Africa (Étoile Nord-Africain, known as Star). The group
was originally a solidarity group formed in 1926 in Paris to coordinate
political activity among North African workers in France and to
defend "the material, moral, and social interests of North African
Muslims." The leaders included members of the French Communist
Party and its labor confederation, and in the early years of the
struggle for independence the party provided material and moral
support. Ahmed Messali Hadj, the Star's secretary general, enunciated
the groups demands in 1927. In addition to independence from France,
the Star called for freedom of press and association, a parliament
chosen through universal suffrage, confiscation of large estates,
and the institution of Arabic schools. The Star was banned in
1929 and operated underground until 1934, when its newspaper reached
a circulation of 43,500. Influenced by the Arab nationalist ideas
of Lebanese Druze Shakib Arslan, Messali Hadj turned away from
communist ideology to a more nationalist outlook, for which the
French Communist Party attacked the Star. He returned to Algeria
to organize urban workers and peasant farmers and in 1937 founded
the Party of the Algerian People (Parti du Peuple Algérien--PPA)
to mobilize the Algerian working class at home and in France to
improve its situation through political action. For Messali Hadj,
who ruled the PPA with an iron hand, these aims were inseparable
from the struggle for an independent Algeria in which socialist
and Islamic values would be fused.
Algeria's Islamic reform movement took inspiration from Egyptian
reformers Muhammad Abduh and Muhammad Rashid Rida and stressed
the Arab and Islamic roots of the country. Starting in the 1920s,
the reform ulama, religious scholars, promoted a purification
of Islam in Algeria and a return to the Quran and the sunna, or
tradition of the Prophet (see Islam
and the Algerian State , ch. 2). The reformers favored the
adoption of modern methods of inquiry and rejected the superstitions
and folk practices of the countryside, actions that brought them
into confrontation with the marabouts. The reformers published
their own periodicals and books, and established free modern Islamic
schools that stressed Arabic language and culture as an alternative
to the schools for Muslims operated for many years by the French.
Under the dynamic leadership of Shaykh Abd al Hamid Ben Badis,
the reformist ulama organized the Association of Algerian Muslim
Ulama (Association des Uléma Musulmans Algériens- -AUMA) in 1931.
Although their support was concentrated in the Constantine area,
the AUMA struck a responsive chord among the Muslim masses, with
whom it had closer ties than did the other nationalist organizations.
As the Islamic reformers gained popularity and influence, the
colonial authorities responded in 1933 by refusing them permission
to preach in official mosques. This move and similar ones sparked
several years of sporadic religious unrest.
European influences had some impact on indigenous Muslim political
movements because Ferhat Abbas and Messali Hadj essentially looked
to France for their ideological models. Ben Badis, however, believed
that "Islam is our religion, Arabic our language, Algeria our
fatherland." Abbas summed up the philosophy of the liberal integrationists
in opposition to the claims of the nationalists when he denied
in 1936 that Algeria had a separate identity. Ben Badis responded
that he, too, had looked to the past and found "that this Algerian
nation is not France, cannot be France, and does not want to be
France . . . [but] has its culture, its traditions and its characteristics,
good or bad, like every other nation of the earth."
The colons, for their part, rejected any movement toward reform,
whether instigated by integrationist or nationalist organizations.
Reaction in Paris to the nationalists was divided. In the 1930s,
French liberals saw only the évolués as a possible channel
for diffusing political power in Algeria, denigrating Messali
Hadj for demagoguery and the AUMA for religious obscurantism.
At all times, however, the French government was confronted by
the monolithic intransigence of the leaders of the European community
in Algeria in opposing any devolution of power to Muslims, even
to basically pro-French évolués. The colons also had
powerful allies in the National Assembly, the bureaucracy, the
armed forces, and the business community, and were strengthened
in their resistance by their almost total control of the Algerian
administration and police.
Data as of December 1993