The Revolution and Social Change
After generations of gradual change under the French, the War
of Independence struck Algerian society with cataclysmic force,
and victory introduced other major social changes. The influence
of the war permeated the society in both country and city and
at the personal, familial, and local levels.
In response to the conflict, individuals developed new perceptions
of themselves, their abilities, and their roles through wartime
activities. Women, accustomed to a sheltered and segregated life,
found themselves suddenly thrust into revolutionary militancy.
For many, the war offered the first opportunity for independent
activity in the world beyond the home. Many young people struck
out independently of their families and their elders, and new
leaders emerged, chosen more for personal traits than for social
The often brutal fighting, stretching across much of the country
for nearly eight years, disrupted or emptied many rural villages.
The deliberate French policy of resettlement of rural populations
gathered more than 2 million villagers in Frenchbuilt fortified
settlements under a regroupement program. The total number
of Algerians displaced by the war cannot be accurately known,
but Algerian authorities place the figure at more than 3 million
permanently or temporarily moved. In 1965 about 2 million people
remained in the centers. By 1972 their numbers had decreased markedly
and some of the centers closed; several centers, however, became
As a result of these displacements, a sizable portion of the
population lost its ties with the land on which ancestors had
lived for generations and consequently with the social groups
the land had supported. Families found themselves separated from
fellow clan members and extended family members. The housing supplied
by the French was suitable for the nuclear family rather than
the traditional extended household, and persons who had formerly
lived by subsistence farming became accustomed to functioning
in a cash economy.
The disappearance of small communities of kin eliminated the
social control by reputation and gossip that had formerly existed.
Instead, residents of the French relocation centers began to develop
feelings of solidarity with strangers who had shared a common
fate. The destruction of the old communities particularly affected
the lives of women, sometimes in contradictory ways. Despite being
released from the restraints imposed by family scrutiny, women
from rural villages, where wearing the veil was rare, adopted
the veil voluntarily as a means of public concealment.
Traditional relations between generations also were overturned,
and class differences were submerged. The young could adapt to
the new ways, but the old were ill-equipped for change and so
relinquished much of their former prestige and authority. In addition,
rural people became more interested in comfort and consumption,
which began to replace the frugality that had characterized traditional
Data as of December 1993