ALGERIA The conquest of Algeria

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					The conquest of Algeria

Modern Algeria can be understood only by examining the period—nearly a century and a half—that the
country was under French colonial rule. The customary beginning date is in April 1827, when Ḥusayn,
the last Ottoman provincial ruler, or dey, of Algiers, angrily struck the French consul with a fly whisk.
This incident was a manifest sign of the dey's anger toward the French consul, a culmination of what had
soured Franco-Algerian relations in the preceding years: France's large and unpaid debt. That same year
the French minister of war had written that the conquest of Algeria would be an effective and useful
means of providing employment for veterans of the Napoleonic wars.

The conquest of Algeria began three years later. The government of the dey proved no match for the
French army that landed on July 5, 1830, near Algiers. Ḥusayn accepted the French offer of exile after a
brief military encounter. After his departure, and in violation of agreements that had been made, the
French seized private and religious buildings, looted possessions mainly in and around Algiers, and
seized a vast portion of the country's arable land. The three-century-long period of Algerian history as an
autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire had ended.

The French government thought that a quick victory abroad might create enough popularity at home to
enable it to win the upcoming elections. Instead, only days after the French victory in Algeria, the July
Revolution forced King Charles X from the throne in favour of Louis-Philippe. Although those who led the
July Revolution in France had cynically dismissed the campaign in Algeria as foreign adventurism to
cover up oppression at home, they were reluctant to simply withdraw. Various alternatives were
considered, including an early ill-fated plan to establish Tunisian princes in parts of Algeria as rulers
under French patronage. The French general, Bertrand Clauzel, signed two treaties with the bey of
Tunis, one of which offered him the right to keep territories conceded to him in exchange for annual
payments. Because the treaty was not communicated officially to the government in Paris, however, the
bey considered this proof of French duplicity and refused the offer.

The first few years of colonial rule were characterized by numerous changes in the French command,
and the military campaign began to prove extremely arduous and costly. The towns of the Mitidja
Plain—just outside Algiers—and neighbouring cities fell first to the French. General Camille Trézel
captured Bejaïa in the east in 1833 after a naval bombardment. The French took Mers el-Kebir in 1830
and entered Oran in 1831, but they faced stiffer opposition from the Sufi brotherhood leader, Emir
Abdelkader (ʿ al-Qādir ibn Muḥyī al-Dīn), in the west. Because towns and cities were plundered and
massacres of civilian populations were widespread, the French government sent a royal commission to
the colony to examine the situation.
During their campaign against Abdelkader, the French agreed to a truce and signed two agreements
with him. The treaty signed between General Louis-Alexis Desmichels and Abdelkader in 1834 included
two versions, one of which made major concessions to Abdelkader again without the consent or
knowledge of the French government. This miscommunication led to a breach of the agreement when
the French moved through territory belonging to the emir. Abdelkader responded with a counterattack
in 1839 and drove the French back to Algiers and the coast.

France decided at that point to wage an all-out war. Led by General (later Marshal) Thomas-Robert
Bugeaud, the campaign of conquest eventually brought one-third of the total French army strength
(more than 100,000 troops) to Algeria. The new military campaign and the initial onslaught caused
widespread devastation to the Algerians and to their crops and livestock. Abdelkader's hit-and-run
tactics failed, and he was forced to surrender in 1847. He was exiled to France but later was permitted
to settle with his family in Damascus, Syria, where he and his followers saved the lives of many
Christians during the 1860 massacres. Respected even by his opponents as the founder of the modern
Algerian state, Abdelkader became, and has remained, the personification of Algerian national
resistance to foreign domination.

Abdelkader's defeat marked the end of what might be called resistance on a national scale, but smaller
French operations continued, such as the occupation of the Saharan oases (Zaatcha in 1849, Nara in
1850, and Ouargla in 1852). The eastern Kabylia region was subdued only in 1857, while the final major
Kabylia uprising of Muḥammad al-Muqrānī was suppressed in 1871. The Saharan regions of Touat and
Gourara, which were at that time Moroccan spheres of influence, were occupied in 1900; the Tindouf
area, previously regarded as Moroccan rather than Algerian, became part of Algeria only after the
French occupation of the Anti-Atlas in 1934.

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