The mounting social, political, and economic crises in Algeria
for the first time induced older and newly emerged classes of
indigenous society to engage from 1933 to 1936 in numerous acts
of political protest. The government responded with more restrictive
laws governing public order and security. In 1936 French socialist
Léon Blum became premier in a Popular Front government and appointed
Maurice Viollette his minister of state. The ulama, sensing a
new attitude in Paris that would favor their agenda, cautiously
joined forces with the FEI.
Representatives of these groups and members of the Algerian Communist
Party (Parti Communiste Algérien--PCA) met in Algiers in 1936
at the first Algerian Muslim Congress. (Messali Hadj and the Star
were left out owing to misgivings about their more radical program.)
The congress drew up an extensive Charter of Demands, which called
for the abolition of laws permitting imposition of the régime
d'exception, political integration of Algeria and France,
maintenance of personal legal status by Muslims acquiring French
citizenship, fusion of European and Muslim education systems in
Algeria, freedom to use Arabic in education and the press, equal
wages for equal work, land reform, establishment of a single electoral
college, and universal suffrage.
Blum and Viollette gave a warm reception to a congress delegation
in Paris and indicated that many of their demands could be met.
Meanwhile, Violettee drew up for the Blum government a proposal
to extend French citizenship with full political equality to certain
classes of the Muslim "elite," including university graduates,
elected officials, army officers, and professionals. Messali Hadj
saw in the Viollette Plan a new "instrument of colonialism . .
. to split the Algerian people by separating the elite from the
masses." The components of the congress--the ulama, the FEI, and
communists--were heartened by the proposal and gave it varying
measures of support. Mohamed Bendjelloul and Abbas, as spokesmen
for the évolués, who would have the most to gain from
the measure, considered this plan a major step toward achieving
their aims and redoubled their efforts through the liberal FEI
to gain broad support for the policy of Algerian integration with
France. Not unexpectedly, however, the colons had taken uncompromising
exception to the Viollette Plan. Although the project would have
granted immediate French citizenship and voting rights to only
about 21,000 Muslims, with provision for adding a few thousand
more each year, spokesmen for the colons raised the specter of
the European electorate's being submerged by a Muslim majority.
Colon administrators and their supporters threw procedural obstacles
in the path of the legislation, and the government gave it only
lukewarm support, resulting in its ultimate failure.
While the Viollette Plan was still a live issue, however, Messali
Hadj made a dramatic comeback to Algeria and had significant local
success in attracting people to the Star. A mark of his success
was the fact that in 1937 the government dissolved the Star. The
same year Messali Hadj formed the PPA, which had a more moderate
program, but he and other PPA leaders were arrested following
a large demonstration in Algiers. Although Messali Hadj spent
many years in jail, his party had the most widespread support
of all opposition groups until it was banned in 1939.
Disillusioned by the failure of the Viollette Plan to win acceptance
in Paris, Abbas shifted from a position of favoring assimilation
of the évolués and full integration with France to calling
for the development of a Muslim Algeria in close association with
France but retaining "her own physiognomy, her language, her customs,
her traditions." His more immediate goal was greater political,
social, and economic equality for Muslims with the colons. By
1938 the cooperation among the parties that made up the congress
began to break up.
Data as of December 1993