San José State University
Department of Economics
Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley

The Economy and Economic History of Algeria

Before the conquest by France in 1830 there did not exist a political entity corresponding to present day Algeria. Thus Algeria per se was created by France. What existed before were tribal domains and larger kingdoms.

The Climate and Population of the Region
at the Time of the Last Ice Age

The climate of the region bordering on the Mediterranean has always been conducive to human habitation and bones from the Neolithic cultures have been found there.

At the time of the last ice age the climate of the Sahara was quite different from what is now. There are traces of rivers and lakes, but the most striking evidence of the wetter climate of the time is in the cave and rock art of sites in the middle of the Sahara. This art shows animals such as hippopotamuses as well as gazelles.

The humans depicted in this art are of the Negroid type that exists in sub-Saharan Africa.

With the waning of the ice age the climate of the region became progressively drier until it was a desert.

The Berbers

According to a theory associated with Colin Renfrew agriculture was developed around 8000 BCE in the Anatolia or its vicinity. The peoples who assimilated this technology migrated away. Those who migrate to the north became the ancestors of the Indo-Europeans, those who migrated east became the Dravidians and those who migrated west into North Africa became the Berbers. The language of the Berbers is related to some languages of the Middle East. The name Berber was given to the people by Arabs who thought the language sounded incomprehensible, like the speakers were saying ber... ber... ber. The Berbers' name for themselves was Amazigh, (the free people). Their language was Tamazight.

Incidentally the name for coastal North Africa, al Maghrib is Arabic for the island between the two seas, the sand sea of the Sahara and the Mediterranean. But that came much later.

The Greeks, Phoenicians, Carthaginians
and the Romans

The Greeks and later the Phoenicians established trading towns on the coast and controlled a bit of the hinterland surrounding the town. By the sixth century BCE some Greek authors made reference to the aborigine people of North Africa and their way of life. Later the Romans conquered the area. The Roman administrator and historian, Gaius Crispus Sallust, says of natives of North Africa.

North Africa was first occupied by Libyans and Getulians, who were a barbarous people, a heterogeneous mass, or agglomeration of people of different races, without any form of religion or government, nourishing themselves on herbs, or devouring the raw flesh of animals killed in the chase; for first amongst these were found Blacks, probably some from the interior of Africa, and belonging to the great negro family; then whites, issue of the Semitic stock, who apparently constituted, even at that early period, the dominant race or caste. Later, but at an epoch absolutely unknown, a new horde of Asiatics of Medes, Persians, and Armenians, invaded the countries of the Atlas, and, led on by Hercules, pushed their conquests as far as Spain.

The Greeks established trading stations in the Mediterranean but most of them were on the European side. Likewise the Phoenicians established trading stations. One of those trading stations, in what is now Tunisia, grew into a major power in its own right, Carthage.

The Carthaginians built an empire that included the Iberian Peninsula as well as the western coast of North Africa. The Carthaginian Empire impinged upon the Roman Empire and Rome finally conquered and destroyed Carthage after several wars. The Romans built cities and facilities in North Africa but they and their European successors had almost no lasting impact on the culture of area. The influences of the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans were limited to the cities. They made their peace with the Berber tribes near the trading stations, even hiring them as mercenaries.


Jugurtha was the illegitimate son of the king of Numidia (roughly what is now coastal Algeria). When the king died his brother became king. This king took Jugurtha, his nephew, under his protection and eventually formally adopted him. Jugurtha was brave and smart. He cooperated with the Romans and even fought as their ally as the commander of Numidian troops in Spain. He developed relationships with important Roman politicians.

When Jugurtha's uncle, the king of Numidia, died Jugurtha as his adopted son received a share of power. He proceeded to try to eliminate his two cousins. One he had assassinated, the other he militarily challenged. Jugurtha's forces were victorious and the cousin king fled with some of his supporters to a fortress in what is now the city of Constantine. Jugurtha's forces soon captured the fortress and proceeded to slay all of the occupants. This included some prominent Roman businessmen.

This provocation was too much to ignore and the Roman Senate declared war on Jugurtha. The Roman invasion force was not successful. Jugurtha found it very easy to wage a classic guerilla war against the Romans of the cities. Finally the Roman commander chose to negotiate a peace treaty with Jugurtha. The terms of the treaty were so unusually favorable to Jugurtha that the Roman demanded that the he come to Rome and explain how he got such favorable terms. Jugurtha was given safe conduct to Rome. He went there but official in charge of the Senate ordered him not to speak. This might sound like an enemy of Jugurtha was preventing him from giving his testimony, but it was actually a supporter of Jugurtha keeping him from being grilled by his enemies. Jugurtha had strong support in the Senate and he was allowed to return to Numidia. However in Rome at that time there was another claimant to the throne of Numidia. Jugurtha saw the opportunity to rid himself of a rival so he had that rival assassinated.

This action was too much for the Senate and they declared the treaty abrogated. Rome was again at war with Jugurtha.

Under a new command the Roman force were more successful. Jugurtha finally had to seek a haven in the neighbor kingdom of Mauretania (what is now northern Morocco and western Algeria). The king of Mauretania was Blocchus, a monarch who had previously tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a treaty with Rome. Earlier Blocchus had supported Jugurtha's rebellion against Roman domination but the Mauretanians were not very successful against the Roman military and Blocchus withdrew his support for Jugurtha. Blocchus was the father of one of the wives of Jugurtha so Jugurtha felt confident of Blocchus' loyalty to him.

Jugurtha however reasoned without knowing the resourcefulness of a man Rome had sent to aid the Roman forces in Numidia. This man's name was Sulla. He was reputed to have the courage of a lion and the cunning of a fox. Sulla fearlessly journeyed to Mauretania to deal with Blocchus. Blocchus could have turned Sulla over to Jugurtha, but he did not. Sulla was able to convince Blocchus that his self interest lay in an alliance with Rome. All Blocchus had to do was lure Jugurtha into an ambush. Jugurtha was captured and turned over to the Romans.

Sulla's commander sent Jugurtha to Rome where he was imprisoned. The commander however was jealous of Sulla's brilliant coup which ended the rebellion in Numidia. Jugurtha was kept alive long enough to be used in the victory celebration, called a triumph, that Sulla's commander presented in Rome. Later Jugurtha was executed in prison. Jugurtha represented Berber resistance to foreign domination.

The Coming of Islam and the Arabs to North Africa

It took only about fifty years after the death of Mohammad for Islam to reach al Maghrib in the form of raids into the coastal plains. By 710 massive conversions to Islam were being carried out.

There were two Bedouin tribes from the western side of the Arabian Peninsula, the Bani Hilal and the Bani Salim, who migrated into Upper Egypt, the southern part. The text of Morocco: A Country Study refers to these Bedouin tribes as infesting Upper Egypt. They were marauders. When the Fatimids, a Shi'ite group, conquered Egypt and established a Caliphate in Cairo they decided to deal with the problem of the Bedouin tribes in Egypt by encouraging them to migrate westward to reassert Egyptian suzerainty over that region. The Bedouins, later known as Halilians, swept slowly across the Maghrib region of North Africa. They conquered and destroyed cities and they turned farm land into pastureland. The historian Ibn Khaldun described the advance of the Halilians across the Maghrib as being like a swarm of locusts. However the migration of the Hilalians had a significant demographic impact on the Maghrib. It brought a large number of Arabs into its population. Prior to that time the Arabs constituted a small elite among a predominantly Berber population.

The Hilalians

There were two Bedouin tribes from the western side of the Arabian peninsula, the Bani Hilal and the Bani Salim, who migrated into Upper Egypt, the southern part. The text of Morocco: A Country Study refers to these Bedouin tribes as infesting Upper Egypt. They were marauders. When the Fatimids, a Shi'ite group, conquered Egypt and established a Caliphate in Cairo they decided to deal with the problem of the Bedouin tribes in Egypt by encouraging them to migrate westward to reassert Egyptian suzerainty over that region. The Bedouins, later known as Halilians, swept slowly across the Maghrib region of North Africa. They conquered and destroyed cities and they turned farm land into pastureland. The historian Ibn Khaldun described the advance of the Halilians across the Maghrib as being like a swarm of locusts. However, Morocco suffered less from the Hilalians than the territory of the Maghrib to the east of it. However the migration of the Hilalians had a significant demographic impact on Morocco. It brought a large number of Arabs into its population. Prior to that time the Arabs constituted a small elite among a predominantly Berber population.

(To be continued.)

The European and Islamic Contest for
Control of the Western Mediterranean

After the surrender of the Muslim authorities in Granada in 1492 the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, moved on to overseas expansion. The most important of these ventures, as it subsequently turned out, was the financing of the voyages of Columbus. But other ventures were pursued as well. Spain prohibited the North African ships from trading on the Mediterranean coast. This resulted in the development of organized piracy in the Maghrib. In part, the piracy was aided by the Muslims who were driven out of Spain and Portugal who were familiar with the geography of the Iberian peninsula and its coastal waters. The city of Algiers became the headquarters of the organized piracy. The leaders of the pirates were two brothers, Aruj ad Din and Khair ad Din. Aruj was killed but Khair ad Din lived to become infamous among Europeans under the name Barbarossa (Red Beard).

Spain captured enclaves in the Maghrib and established fortifications, presidios to counter the piracy and extend Spanish control.

The Spanish intrusion prompted not only resistance in the Maghrib but efforts by the Ottoman empire to prevent Spanish invasion of the Ottoman sphere of influence. The Sultan of the Ottoman empire at the time, Süleyman the Magnificent, made Khair ad Din the governor of the Maghrib region and an admiral of the Ottoman navy. He also sent Khair ad Din two thousand Janissary soldiers to help in his battles. Khair ad Din and his descendants established control in the Maghrib and its coastal waters and were able to extract tribute from the European states for allowing their ships to traverse the Mediterranean safely.

Britain paid tribute and this protected the ships of the British North American colonies until the American Revolution. When the pirate states of North Africa heard of the American Revolution they started capturing the ships of the United States. The cargoes were stolen and people captured were sold into slavery if no ransom were paid.

The fledgling United States wanted no war but something needed to done. In 1794 the U.S. Congress appropriated funds to build war ships. But before any martial action was taken the U.S. government agreed to a treaty with the ruler of Algiers in which the U.S. agreed to pay $10 million over a twelve year period in return for the pirates of Algiers not harming U.S. ships. This did not cover the pirates operating out of other ports of North Africa.

By 1800 the payment of tribute and the payment of ransoms was a major expense for the U.S. government. It constituted 20 percent of the Federal government expenditures.

When the Napoleonic wars were concluded in 1815 the European countries decided to end the piracy problem of North Africa. Individually they attacked the pirate states. In March of 1815 the U.S. decided to end the piracy and the tribute. Congress sent war ships under the command of Commodore Stephen Decatur to the Mediterranean. There he captured a few pirate ships and then sailed into the harbor of Algiers and threatened to bombard the city unless

The ruler of Algiers agreed to the American terms but as soon as Decatur's ships left Algiers the treaty was renounced. Decatur went on to attack Tripoly and surrounding territory in what is now Libya.

In 1816 a joint British and Dutch fleet sailed into the harbor of Algiers and bombarded the city for nine hours. After the ruler of Algiers again agreed to the same sort of terms Decatur had demanded.

France also engaged in attacks on the pirate enclaves of North Africa. In 1827 France imposed a blockade of Algiers. Even after three years this blockade did not bring capitulation of the rulers of Algiers. In 1830 France decided to invade, capture and occupy Algiers and the surrounding territory.

The Conquest of Algiers and
Surrounding Territory by France

Writers decry the conquest of Algeria by France but it is difficult to see what alternative the European countries had once the local government sanctioned piracy. There just was no alternative. The innocent common people of the region suffered the consequences of the actions of the pirates, but they were not experiencing good government under the existing regimes. The area was officially part of the Ottoman Empire but the local authorities ruled with very little constraint being imposed by Istanbul. Nevertheless the invasion was ostensibly the wresting of control of the region from one imperial power by another.

France blockaded the port of Algiers for three years trying to get the Dey, the ruler, to end the piracy. After three years without success France, in 1830, staged the invasion. Thirty four thousand French soldiers were landed about 17 miles west of Algiers. The Dey called 43 thousand troops to Algiers to counter the invasion. The local troops were no match for the superior military technology and organization of The French. Algiers fell into French hands after a three-week campaign. The Dey fled into exile. The French, who were supposedly involved in a civilizing mission, treated Algiers and its population despicably. Mosques and cemeteries were desecrated and women raped. The government treasure of 50 million francs was confiscated.

Shortly after the conquest of Algiers there was a change of regime in Paris. The new constitution monarchy of Louis Philippe had not favored the invasion of Algiers but could not bring itself to relinquish the control that had already been established. The invasion proceeded to capture the other cities, such as Oran (1832) and Constantine (1837), and the areas around them. All of this territory was united under the command of a governor-general, a military appointee with political responsibilities as military ones. In 1834 the French government annexed the conquered territory and declared it a colony.

The entrepreneurial population of France was not ambivalent about the acquisition of the territories in North Africa. They poured into the conquered territories in droves and began acquiring land.

Some were wealthy and acquired great estates. They were known as the grande colons. Most were from a peasant background and poor. They acquired small holdings and were known the petit blancs (little whites), more generally as the pieds noir, the black feet or black footed. Most opted for the security of a life in a city. By 1848 less than 14 percent chose to live in a rural area.

The Opposition

When it was clear that the Ottoman Empire was useless in resisting the French takeover, the local leaders purged their administrations of the Turkish officials. The leaders of the opposition to the French takeover where often those that had opposed the rule of the Ottomans and these usually were religious organizations.

The tribal elders chose an austere and devout young man (25) who was a gifted military commander and charismatic political leader. His name was Abd al Qadir; he could have been called al Mahdi, the divinely guided one.

Abd al Qadir

No political entity corresponding to Algeria existed before the French invasion. The French created Algeria by putting the conquered territory under the control of one administrator. They also created Algeria by uniting the disparate tribes into opposition to them. Abd al Qadir came from the Constantine region but soon his noble character gained the allegiance of tribal leaders in the rest of the territory that became Algeria.

Abd al Qadir set up a government in the territories not yet captured by the French. It was a well-functioning government that not only provided military resistance to the French but maintained a bureaucracy, promoted education and collected taxes. His forces fought the French but their superior resources were too much for al Qadir's forces and 1836 al Qadir's forces suffered a major defeat. Despite the defeat Qadir enter into negotiations which gained acceptance by the French of Moslem state under the control of al Qadir. Some of the French in control of the army did not want such a state to exist. In 1839 they launched an attack on the city of Constantine which was supposed to remain in the Moslem state. Al Qadir then launched a counter-attack. So more tribal pledged their allegiance to al Qadir. By 1839 he controlled two thirds of what later became Algeria.

Al Qadir was fighting a guerilla war. The French reacted by calling more troops. By 1840 the French had 108,000 troops in Algeria, one third of the total French army. The also invoked the only effective strategy against such a guerilla war, genocide. The French army began destroying the food supply of the population. By 1843 the French had defeated Abd al Qadir's forces and al Qadir fled to Morocco. He tried continuing the war from Morocco but he failed and surrendered to a French general in 1847. He was promised safe passage to Egypt if he would call upon his followers to end their war against the French. Al Qadir complied but a French general violated the agreement and sent al Qadir to a prison in France.

Al Qadir languished in prison for about four years. The king of France, Louis Napoleon freed al Qadir in 1852 and gave him a pension of 150,000 francs. Al Qadir settled in what is now Tunisia but in 1855 moved to Damascus, then part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1860 al Qadir persuaded local Ottoman official not to carry out their threat to massacre twelve thousand Christian hostages. In gratitude the French government awarded al Qadir the Grand Cordon of the Legion of Honor. Al Qadir remained in Damascus until his death in 1883 at an age of about 76.

Al Qadir can be considered to be the founder of the modern state of Algeria.

The Course of Colonization in Algeria
Under the French

Initially the conquered areas were under military administration, called régime du sabre (government of the sword). By 1845 some areas in the north had sufficient European population that they were allowed to elect mayors and councils of self-government. Other areas which were of predominantly indigenous population but militarily stable there was civilian rule by French government appointed administrators. In some cases tribal leaders were appointed as these administrators. In other cases the French government had a bureaux arabes made up of scholars educated in the lore of Arab culture to help administer and collect information. In areas not yet sufficiently subdued the military still controlled things.

In 1848 there was a political upheaval that resulted in the overthrow of the constitutional monarchy of Louis Philippe and the creation of the Second Republic. During the short period of the Second Republic the French government annexed the Algerian territory as a part of the French nation. French migration into Algeria was further encouraged. But in 1852 the Second Republic was replaced by the Second Empire. Louis Philippe was back with his name changed to Napoleon III. Napoleon III tried to ameliorate the condition of the Moslem Algerians. In 1863 Napoleon III declared that the tribal lands would eventually be distributed as private property to the members of the tribes.

A serious, multiyear drought occurred in Algeria in 1866 and the following few years. The loss of the grain crop brought widespread starvation and epidemics. One fifth of the Moslem population of the city of Constantine was the estimated death toll from the consequences of the drought.

Napoleon III met his downfall in 1870 in the war between Prussia and France. His capture in the Battle of Sedan brought an end to the Second Empire. In Algiers the colons took control of the government of Algeria away from the military administrators. The loss of territory, Alsace and Lorraine, in the 1870 meant that there were thousands of French citizens from those territories who were seeking new homes. Algeria seemed to be the ideal place to settle them.

In 1871 a serious rebellion broke out among the Berbers of the Kabyle region. The French army put down the insurrection and there were moves to impose special laws applying only to the Moslems.

(To be continued.)

The Rebellion

When World War II broke out in Europe the French army recruited Algerians. Some of the leaders of the Algerian Revolution, such as Ahmed Ben Bella, fought for the French and later for the Free French under General De Gaulle. The nationalist movement however started long before the World War II era.

Ahmed Messali Hadj

Ahmed Messali Hadj rose to prominence as the secretary general of a political organization that was formed in Paris in 1926 to organize the Algerian workers in France. It was called The Star of North Africa. The French Communist Party was instrumental in its formation and support, but the program of the Star of North Africa was primarily Algerian nationalism rather than economic ideology. That program consisted of

Ahmed Messali Hadj

This program resulted in the French government banning the Star of North Africa in 1929. Under Messali Hadj's leadership it operated illegally and evolved into a more nationalistic organization. Its ties with the French Communist Party were severed and that party criticized its nationalism.

Messali Hadj returned to Algeria and founded the Parti du Peuple Algerién (PPA) in 1937 to organize the Algerian workers in the city and the Algerian farmers in the countryside. He was still a socialist but an Islamic socialist rather than a Marxist socialist supporting an international movement. As a result Messali Hadj and his organizations were left out of the conferences organized by the political left at that time.

Messali Hadj's PPA was successful enough to organize a significant political demonstration in Algiers in 1937. That demonstration prompted the French authorities to arrest and imprison Messali Hadj and the other leaders of the PPA. The French government then banned the PPA and the Star of North Africa as political organizations.

The PPA then organized secret cells throughout Algeria and paramilitary units in the Kabyle and Constantine regions. On May 1st, 1945 the PPA along with other nationalist organizations organized marches in 21 cities throughout Algeria.

In 1946 Messali Hadj was freed and returned to Algeria where he organized a new political party called the Mouvement pour le Triomphe des Libertés Démocratique (MTLD), the Movement for Democratic Liberties, a name that gave no hint of its Algerian nationalism. The PPA continued to operate illegally. When the political activities of the MTLD were suppressed by the authorities a splinter group within the MTLD was formed to carry out guerilla operations. This splinter group was called Organization Spéciale (OS). Later Ahmed Ben Bella became the commander of the OS.

The Urban Terrorism in Algiers
in 1956-57 Known as the
Battle of Algiers

Between November 1, 1954 when the open armed rebellion in Algeria with the robbery of a post office and 1956 not much occurred except a series of skirmishes in which the FLN inflicted some pain on the French population and the French authorities inflicted even greater pain on the Algerian Muslim population. There was little in the way of military victor for the FLN; there major gains came from the support that the French retaliatory measures induced in the Muslim population. The activities in the countryside by the FLN got very little attention internationally.

In 1956 the FLN decided to focus their efforts in Algiers where it would get some international attention and draw international attention to the general situation in Algeria.

The French City circa 1960

The Muslim Casbah circa 1960

In August of 1955 there was rioting against French control in Morocco and Algeria. Hundreds were killed in the suppression of those riots. In March of 1956 the French government began sending army troops into Algeria. By the end of May about 250 thousand had been deployed there and raids into the Casbah commenced. In June the socialist prime minister of France, Guy Mollet, after finding no willingness to compromise on the part of the rebels, send in 400 thousand French army troops.

The FLN order random killings of policemen, soldiers and government officials. Apparently some in the police department sought to revenge these assassinations by planting bombs in houses in the Casbah. The population of the Casbah was outraged and they formed a mob intending to take revenge in the French quarter.

The military leader of the FLN in Algiers was Yacef Saadi. He recognized that the French authorities would fire on the mob and a multitude would be killed. He sent his lieutenants, Ali la Pointe and others, to meet the mob and tell them to go back and that the FLN would avenge them. It was a brilliant tactic.

Yacef Saadi at his arrest

It was brilliant because it put the Muslims in the position of having sanctioned the monstrous atrocities that the urban bombing became. The bombs were planted not only at police stations and military installations but in restaurants and bars where the young people of the French community congregated. On September 30th, 1956 a bomb was planted in the Milk Bar cafe which killed three people and maimed and wounded 60 others, including children. The bomb was planted by a young Algerian woman named Zohra Drif.

Zohra Drif

The rebels used young women like Drif who could easily pass for French. Drif was sentenced to death but the sentence was commuted and she only spent five years in a French prison. She was freed in the amnesty at the end of the war of independence. (She is now (2010) a member of the Algerian Senate and was elected its vice-president in 2004.)

The United Nations organization was intended to debate the situation in Algeria. The FLN wanted to establish that they had the support of the Muslim population of Algiers. The leadership chose to declare a general strike in which the workers did not work and the shop owners did not open their shops. The strike was to commence January 28th of 1957 and last eight days. The strike was initially effective, but the French authorities decided to break the strike at all costs. They had the army tear down the protective coverings of the closed shops forcing the shop owners to come to their shops to protect their goods. In some cases the army personnel took the shop owners from their homes and forced them to open their shops. Similar tactics were applied to the striking workers.

Outraged at the tactics used to break the strike the FLN leadership ordered more random killings of policemen, army personnel and government officials. Scores of people were assassinated in this operation and about more scores injured. The authorities declared a curfew for the Casbah.

After such abominations of bombs targeted toward civilians, including children, the French authorities were determined to break the FLN. Domestic security were turned over to the Army authorities. The army leaders were conscious of having lost a war in Vietnam and determined not to lose Algeria. The head of the troops was Brigadier General Jacques Massu, the commander of a division of the parachutist troops. He was a tough, experienced commander.

Jacques Massu

When dealing with an organization that targeted children as well as civilian adults he had little respect for them as human beings. He sanctioned aggressive interrogation methods, which in practice meant torture. There is a great deal of hypocrisy concerning torture in a war situation. It is considered morally appropriate to kill enemy soldiers in a battle situation, but somehow inappropriate to torture them to gain information that would save lives. As often as not torture is ineffective and the two parties to the war may agree to forego its use. But in this case the other side killed police and soldiers not in battle situations but precisely when they had their backs turned. The FLN expected to be tortured and only asked their members to hold out for 24 hours for the rest of the organization to vacate the locations that could be identified. So Massu's troops extracted information about the FLN's structure and, slowly but surely, they were able to identify the top leadership and track them down.

The top member of the FLN in Algiers was Larbi ben M'Hidi

Larbi ben M'Hidi

Ben M'Hidi was captured and displayed for the press. He later died in prison and the army announced that he had committed suicide by hanging himself with a rope he had fashioned from strips of cloth he had torn his shirt into. Many of course believed that he had died from too severe torturing.

One of the last leaders of the FLN in Algiers was Ali la Pointe. La Pointe was a petty criminal who joined the FLN after being exposed to their influence in prison. He was willing to carry out difficult assignments, one of which was to assassinate the major of Algiers. The other leaders of the FLN, such as Yacef Saadi, did not think of him as being on their level. Saadi remarked that Ali la Pointe was useful because he had skills as a mason and built some of their hiding places in houses. Saadi himself surrendered when there was no escape. When the French paratroops trapped Ali la Pointe in a house in the Casbah they offered him the opportunity to surrender but he refused and they blew up the house killed scores of people in addition to Ali la Pointe.

The French paratroops under Massu won the Battle of Algiers, but the lost the war. The Algerian rebels had since 1954 lost about 150 thousand direct combatants as opposed to 30 thousand of the French combatants killed. But the civilian casualties approached a million. It was clear to Charles de Gaulle that the Algerian rebels could go on indefinitely losing many times the numbers the French were losing. The French on the other hand could not politically accept the losses they were sustaining. So the Algerian rebels without any substantial military victories won the war for Algerian independence and effectively destroyed the Fourth Republic of France.

During the time of the Battle of Algiers there were incidents that were overlooked by the international media that were indicative of the ruthlessness of the FLN leadership. One was the assassination of Ramdane Abane, who had been a major organizer of the FLN. He was Berber who supported Messali Hadj. He was arrested in 1950 and spent five years in prison. After his release he was a dominant figure in the creation of the FLN and persuaded other organizations to merge with it. He organized the first conference of the FLN in August of 1956. He, however, insisted that the civilian political elements should control the FLN and its armed divisions. Those who felt the armed units should be in control arranged his assassination.

Ramdane Arbane

During the time of the Battle of Algiers, Ahmed ben Bella, from Cairo, issued an order that anyone whom the French could make into a compromise authority should be killed. Perhaps as a result of this order, over three hundred residents of the small Algerian town of Melouza were massacred on May 28, 1957 by a unit of the FLN. The FLN believed Melouza to be center of support for Messali Hadj and for this 374 residents were executed by having their throats slit.

The Ruthless Scramble for Power in the Summer of 1962

France under Charles de Gaulle granted Algeria independence on July 2, 1962. The Algerian leaders chose to make July 5th Algerian Independence Day. The French authorities turned governmental power over to the organization known as Gouvernement Provisoire de la Révolution Algérienne (GPRA). There ensued a desperate struggle between the GPRA and the alliance between Ben Bella and Boumedienne for power. From the insults heaped upon the GPRA one would think that it was some spurious leadership created by the French. The reality was quite different.

The GPRA was set up in Tunis by the FLN in 1958 as an Algerian Government in exile. It was initially headed by Abbas, who secured recognition of it as the Government of Algeria by Morocco, Tunisia, several Arab States, the Soviet Union and its Eastern European subordinate states. The composition of the GPRA changed over time.

The Make-up of the GPRA
Gouvernement Provisoire de la Révolution Algérienne
OfficeSept. 19, 1958Jan. 18, 1960Aug. 27, 1961
PresidentFerhat AbbasFerhat AbbasBenyoussef Ben Khedda
Vice-President(s)Belkacem KrimBelkacem Krim
Ahmed Ben Bella
Belkacem Krim
Armed ForcesBelkacem Krim
of State
Hocine Ait Ahmed
Rabah Bitat
Mohammed Boudiaf
Mohammed Khider
Hocine Ait Ahmed
Rabah Bitat
Mohammed Sa'id
Mohammed Khider
Hocine Ait Ahmed
Rabah Bitat
Mohammed Sa'id
Mohammed Khider
Lakhdari Bentobbal
and Supplies
Cherif MahmoudAbdelhafid BoussoufAbdelhafid Boussouf
InteriorLakhdari BentobbalLakhdari Bentobbal
Liaison and
Abdelhafid BoussoufAbdelhafid BoussoufAbdelhafid Boussouf
North African
Abdelhamid Mahri
Economic Affairs
and Finance
Ahmed FrancisAhmed Francis
InformationM'Hammed YazidM'Hammed YazidM'Hammed Yazid
Benyoussef Be Khedda
Tawfik El-Madani
Abdelhamid Mahri
SecretariesLamine Khan
Omar Oussedik
Mustafa Stomboli

Although Ben Bella was appointed one of the vice-presidents and Hocine, Boudiaf, Bitat and Khedda were appointed ministers of state it was merely a symbolic gesture. They all were in prison in France. They were released in May of 1962 and joined the ALN in Morocco.

The real issue in the summer of 1962 was the relationship between the political leadership and the military leadership. The GPRA requested of the French that they not permit the Algerian National Army (ALN) to pass from Tunisia and Morocco into Algeria. This was so the GPRA leadership could get to Algiers and establish control before Ben Bella and the ALN could do so. De Gaulle refused to comply with this request. The first troops of the ALN from Morocco entered Algiers on July 3. ALN troops from Tunisia entered Algiers on July 4.

Boumedienne went into hiding to thwart a gang of assassins sent by the GPRA to eliminate him. The ALN tried to arrest Ben Khidda and the other ministers of the GPRA in Tripoli but they escaped to Tunisia. In July the GPRA ineffectually fired the general staff of the ALN but the general staff ignored their formal dismissal. Ben Bella barely escaped arrest by the Tunisians at the request of the GPRA; the Egyptian government provided a plane for his departure.

The race by the GPRA and the ALN group (Ben Bella and Boumedienne) to occupy Algiers and take control of the government was complicated by differences among the military commanders of the various districts (Wilayat) as to whom they wanted to pass freely through their territories.

The Wilayat

The GPRA had the support of Wilaya 1 and the Berbers of the Kabilya in Wilaya 3. Ben Bella and Boumedienne had the support of Wilaya 5, Wilaya 6 and the Berbers in Wilaya 1. Wilaya 4 which included the capital, Algiers, was of divided allegiance.

Ben Bella and Boumedienne won the race to take control in Algiers. Some said that Charles de Gaulle, as a military man, preferred for Ben Bella and the Algerian Army (ALN) to take control. Ben Bella had, as is explained below, served with distinction as a soldier in the French army in World War II. There was an instance during the scramble for power that Boumedienne's vehicles ran out of gasoline. There were French units with gasoline who immediately showed up to refuel those vehicles. Also Ben Bella and Boumedienne were not active participants in the bloody bombings of French civilian targets so to the French public their hands were clearer than the urban guerillas.

Ahmed Ben Bella

Ahmed Ben Bella was born in a small town in western Algeria to a farm family. French was his mother tongue. Ben Bella says that the discrimination by the French colonialists against the Algerians like himself was not severe. He and other Algerians played in sports against the students from the French colonialist families.

Ben Bella was a conscientious student but his father pushed him to finish school earlier and he failed a major examination.

Ahmed Ben Bella

Ben Bella joined the French Army. He was initially assigned to the Algerian branch. However after engaging in political agitation the authorities transferred him to a unit of Moroccan soldiers. The Moroccans were much less politically conscious than the Algerian soldiers. Ben Bella served with distinction in Italy and was given awards for his valor.

At the end of the war the French authorities asked Ben Bella to continue his military service. He might have been inclined to do so but political events dissuaded him. The Algerians were expecting political improvements and reductions of discriminations against Algerians. When these improvements were not forthcoming at the end of the war Algerians rebelled at various places. The French authorities put down these rebellions with great brutality. Ben Bella was appalled at the inhumanity of the French authorities and decided to end his association with them. He then joined Algerian political organizations which were working for improved status for Algerians through official channels.

After being disillusioned with the possibility of improving the Algerian political situation through legal means Ben Bella joined with some other leaders to work toward Algerian independence through armed insurrection. The first action was to rob a post office to raise funds to support the revolution. Ben Bella was involved in the planning but not the execution of the robbery. There was an attempt to make the robbery look like the work of a notorious bank robber of the time and the French authorities accepted it as such. It is only by accident that the authorities discovered that the robbery was an action of revolutionaries.

The car that was used in robbery was abandoned by the robbers. In a search of the car authorities found a piece of a metal bracket on the car floor. Later the police arrested some Algerian political dissidents on a different matter. These Algerians had with them an empty suitcase. A policeman noticed that there was a bracket broken off the suitcase and remembered the bracket found in the car used for the post office robbery. He checked and found that they matched. Soon the police arrested those involved in the post office robbery including Ben Bella.

Ben Bella did not deny his role in the robbery and, in fact, gloried in it and garnered as much publicity for the revolutionaries as he could. Ben Bella was convicted and sent to prison. A friend brought Ben Bella a metal saw in prison hidden in a loaf of bread. The authorities tested for contraband in bread by simply cutting the loaf in half. Ben Bella's friends simply position the saw so it would not show up this loaf cutting. The prisoners began a program of cutting the bars on a window. The noise of the sawing was disguised by the prisoners singing songs.

Only Ben Bella and another prisoner were to make their escape. The escape route involved leaping from one wall to another. Ben Bella was in good physical condition; he was something of an extraordinary athlete. The other prisoner was not and so only Ben Bella was able to escape. Friends were waiting for him in a car and he was escorted out of Algeria and sought refuse in Egypt. Nasser put Ben Bella under his protection. A major reason for Ben Bella rise to leadership was the support that Nasser gave to him in terms of supplies for his organizations.

Ben Bella worked as an Algerian revolutionary from Egypt. At one point Ben Bella journeyed to Morocco for a conference of revolutionaries. After the conference Ben Bella was scheduled to fly back to Egypt. The French Air Force interdicted Ben Bella's flight over international waters in the Mediterranean and forced the pilot to land where Ben Bella could be arrested. There was an international outcry for this action but Ben Bella was nevertheless sent to prison where he stayed for close to ten years. He used the time productively. For one thing he learned Arabic. He had been embarrassed at times in his early career when he could not speak Arabic and had to communicate in the language of the occupiers of Algeria, French. In the scheme of things Ben Bella's revolutionist career probably benefited from his sojourn in prison. It kept him safe and above the disputes among the various revolutionary groups.

After Ben Bella's release by the French to act as a negotiator for the Algerians in the settlement of the war for independence he was the acknowledged favorite to be the chief of state for an independent Algeria.

In power Ben Bella opted for centralized state-control of the economy, which effectively meant Ben Bella control. Those enterprise which he did personally take control of, he encouraged their workers to take control and operate. The system of worker-controlled enterprises was called autogestation. As was predictable the autogestation enterprises were soon failing and had to be subsidized by the state.

The timeline of the creation of autogestation is enlightening.

The decrees established a hierarchy of control structures for each autogestation enterprise. This hierarchy was

Ben Bella was fervently a socialist but his notion of socialism did not go much beyond state-control. On March 30, 1963 he announced at a public meeting of the Algerian national labor union organization:

All Algerians have been waiting for the delivery of a child: Socialism! … We have now seized 160 cinemas throughout Algeria. … We shall continue.

Ben Bella generally tried to rule by public fiat and proclamation and seemed to think that if he declared something to be done it would be done. He was said to have tried to rule by the tribune and microphone. This was extended to slogans plastered on walls and broadcast over the radio. This made Algeria seem to be as socialist as the Soviet Union and China, when, in fact, Algerian socialism was not much more than poster-deep.

Ben Bella's approach to governing is comically illustrated by a public speech he gave concerning the Boy-Scout movement, which had always been popular in Algeria. It vividly illustrates Ben Bella's mindset.

Ben Bella: Brothers! Scouting is a noble activity which prepares citizens for the service of the state.
Audience: Yahya Ben Bella! Yahya Ben Bella!
Ben Bella: I am convinced that if scouting were made compulsory, it would render the greatest service to Algeria.
Audience: Yahya Ben Bella! Yahya Ben Bella!
Ben Bella: Brothers! With your approval, I proclaim that henceforth scouting is compulsory for Algerians.

Ben Bella subsequently named the Boy Scouts, Les Scouts Mussulmans Algériens.

Ben Bella and other socialists in Algeria considered Islam an advanced form of socialism. They also mistook the readiness of the Algerian peasants to take control of agricultural land and the working class to take possession of abandoned French property as some evidence of socialist conscientiousness. It was not anything of the sort.

Since Ben Bella knew very little about how socialism was to function he made use of advisors. Since few Algerians were available he made also use of non-Algerian leftists as advisors. They were known as pied rouges, the red feet, in analogy with the pied noir. All three had by communists but of the Trotskyite variety. Of these three major advisors of Ben Bella, the president of Algeria, only one, Mohammad Harbi, was Algerian. Soliman Lutfullah was an Egyptian Copt with an Egyptian Jewess wife. Michaelis Raptis was a leftist refugee from Greece. They were resented by the Algerians and eventually Ben Bella was forced to get rid of them. They had, however, already set the course of Algerian socialism. For example, the decrees of March 1963 were their work. Possibly those decrees came as a retaliation of an atomic bomb test carried out by the French government on March 18, 1963 in the Algerian Sahara Desert. The French government had be left in control of the French government to allow the petroleum and other natural resources to continue to be harvested so royalties could be generated for the Algerian government. An atomic bomb test had not been envisioned when the agreement had been reached at the time of Algerian independence.

During 1963 Ben Bella and his advisors decreed that bonuses be paid to the workers in the autogestation enterprises. If the enterprise was deemed successful the permanent workers were to receive a bonus of 23o francs; those in unsuccessful enterprises were to receive only 110 francs. Only 70 thousand workers received these bonuses. They were intended to make the workers feel that the autogestation system was working even though it was not. Most of these enterprises were operating at a loss. Thievery was rampant.

Production levels in agriculture were declining, particularly in the vital export industries of wine and cereals. There were also declines in the quality of production. There was a socialist agriculture sector that controlled almost seven million acres of land. About three thousand autogestation estates operated in this socialist sector. About one million workers and their families benefited from this socialist sector; there six million Algerians who did not. There were other privileged population groups. Ben Bella criticized the trade union members for having an average monthly salary of 400 francs while the average annual income of the peasants was 120 francs. He did not mention the salaries of government employees. A policeman might receive a monthly wage of 700 francs. Government ministers received salaries of 2000 francs per month. Government employment was already large and increasing. In January of 1964 there were ninety three thousand government employees and authorizations for about forty two thousand more. To put this in perspective the number of workers on autogestation farms was only 150 thousand.

While Ben Bella and his government was getting all of the publicity there was another organization that was dealing with economic matters in its own way. That was the Algerian Army. An unknown amount of land, agricultural and otherwise, came under the control of the army. Some French farmers were given assurances by the Army that they could continue production unmolested. The Army did protect them from squatters and others seeking to take control. However when the crops on those French farms were harvested the Army expelled the French and took control.

Industrial autogestation began in Algeria in January 1964. Already industrial production was falling dramatically in most sectors.

Industrial Production in Algeria
Before and After Independence
Steel ingots (tons)31,0349,480
Steel sheets (tons)40,4467,465
Steel castings (tons)883406
Cast iron (tons)7,4383,462
Hydraulic pumps1,311583
Railroad cars355189
Equipment (tons)

Note that 1960 was a year of war. Interestingly enough the production of private automobiles increased from 2,056 in 1962 to 3,198 in 1963, an increase of slightly over 50 percent in one year. It doesn't take much thought to see why this sector was doing so well. There were a lot of newly rich and powerful government employees who needed to suitable transportation.

Ben Bella himself was not accused of acquiring personal wealth but he was accused of granting the use of confiscated French property as a bribe for political support. But in the hard times that followed independence his simple life appeared to be luxury to the peasants of the countryside. A peasant was quoted in Révolution Africaine as saying

Socialism is four-fifths for Number One, and one-fifth for the other chap!

It was not just the peasants who were suffering. By 1964 84 percent of the economically active population was unemployed or severely underemployed. Of the total man-years of labor that were available 68 percent was not being utilized. Employment in construction dropped from 200 thousand in 1962 to 30 thousand in 1963. Cement production dropped from 1.3 million tons in 1962 to 0.6 million tons in 1963.

Unwilling to admit to the failure of his version of socialism, Ben Bella was finding ways to disguise the record. On the last day of his regime he announced that autogestation was working better in Algeria than it was in Yugoslavia.

Ferhat Abbas

Ferhat Abbas represented those Algerians who desired a modification of the status of Algerians but was willing to accept political affiliation with France. In the early 1930's Abbas espoused a program of assimilation of the French-speaking Algerians and political union of Algeria with France. He noted in opposition to the Algerian nationalism that was emerging that historically no political entity corresponding to Algeria ever existed.

In 1936 when France had a leftist Popular Front government under the leadership of Leon Blum, a socialist, the leaders of a number of different Algerian political movement met in Algiers and drew up a list of demands. These demands included provision for Algerian Muslims of proper qualifications to become French citizens. These qualification involved being French-speaking, French educated and holding a position of authority in the army, government or in the professions. Leon Blum received a delegation of Algerians desiring reform of political conditions in Algeria and commissioned his minister of state, Maurice Viollette, to draw up a serious proposal for extending French citizenship to qualified Algerian Muslims. Leftist groups supported Viollette's proposal as the more moderate Algerian reform groups, but the Algerian Europeans were adamantly against it for fear that they would be swamped by an Algerian Muslim electorate. Under the plan only about twenty thousand Algerian Muslims would be granted French citizenship. Nevertheless the Viollette plan was not accepted among the Algerian Europeans and therefore not accepted in Paris.

Ferhat Abbas

Ferhat Abbas was disappointed in the failure of the plan. He subsequently took a harder line concerning political reform in Algeria.

When Allied troops defeated the Vichy forces in Algeria the authorities called for Algerian Muslims to join the army for the invasion of Europe. Ferhat Abbas said Algerians would fight for the Allies but only if after the war political reforms would be carried out in Algeria. In 1943 Abbas put together a Manifesto of the Algerian People which 56 leaders of Algerian political organizations signed. This manifesto called for legal and political equality of Algerian Muslims with the Algerian Europeans. The French authorities in Algeria had an appointed commission look into the manifesto. The outgrowth of the examination of the manifesto was an attempt to reintroduce the Viollette Plan. By this time the Viollette Plan was too little.

Algerian political activists planned demonstrations for the day that military victory would be achieved in Europe, VE-day. That victory came on May 8th, 1945. Marchers in the city of Sétif were told they could march only if there were no nationalist flags or placards displayed. The marchers defied this order. Shootings occurred and a number of police and marchers were killed. The marchers then rioted and killed 103 Europeans. The police and army responded by attacks on areas of political activism. The French authorities acknowledged that 1500 Muslims were killed; Algerians estimate that the death toll was several times this figure.

Over five thousand Algerians were arrested by the authorities, including Ferhat Abbas. About a year later Abbas was free and formed a political organization called the Democratic Union for the Algerian Manifesto (UDMA). Abbas still wanted some sort of loose federation of Algeria with France. Other leaders were calling for full independence.

The French government in Paris was now ready to make some concessions to Algerian reform. It passed legislation in 1947 which created a two-house Algerian Assembly. The upper house was Europeans and meritorious Muslims. The lower house was for the rest of the Muslims.

The Algerian Europeans were fearful of a militant, nationalist lower house of the Assembly and outrageously rigged the election in 1948. Ferhat Abbas' political organization UDMA was allowed only eight seats out of a total of 72. A more militant political organization MTLD received 9 seats; the rest went to independents. However when the MTLD came to take their seats in the Assembly they were arrested. Other Muslim delegates then walked out in protest.

The elections in 1952 were likewise rigged. Most political activists gave up on achieving reforms through electoral politics. In Cairo Ahmed Ben Bella formed a Revolutionary Committee for Unity and Action in about 1953. In 1954 this organization was renamed the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN), the National Liberation Front. In 1956 Fehat Abbas flew to Cairo and formally joined the FLN, which gave it a degree of respectability among the more moderate Algerian Muslims.


Up to 1955 the FLN attacked only the military and government installations. In August of 1955 the commander of the FLN forces in the Constantine region decided on his own to massacre civilians for the intended purpose of prompting the French military and the European Algerians to respond in kind against the Algerian Muslims. Near the port of Philippeville (now Skikda) the FLN killed 123 people including old women and babies. About 60 percent of the victims were French; the rest were Algerian Muslims who were considered collaborators.

The government unleashed retaliation against any suspected guerillas and their supporters. It announced that 1,273 FLN guerillas were killed, but this did not include the victims of gangs of European Algerians. It was all-out war. The FLN announced that twelve thousand Muslims had been killed, but this is an unlikely figure released only for propaganda purposes.

Houari Boumedienne

Houari Boumedienne

Houari Boumedienne was probably the most significant figure in determining the course of evolution of the Algerian state. He is thought of as a military man but his roots were not there. He was born in 1925 near the town of Héliopolis in the province Guelma in the department of Bône. Boudienne was not his original name. He adopted the name Boumedienne from the patron saint of a city in western Algeria where he served during the war. The name Houari means red-haired and was his nickname, apparently from having reddish hair as a youngster.

Boumedinne was able to study at a theological universities in Tunis and Cairo. His course of study was literary Arabic and he taught Arabic for short while before he became a revolutionary. He was thus originally more of a religious person than a soldier. He was a devout person by nature. He remained a devout Muslim and devout socialist throughout he subsequent career in the army and in government.

Boumedienne joined the Algerian revolution by landing from a boat near Oran with a small group of like-minded men. They joined the district division of the underground army which was under the command of Abdelhafid Boussouf. Boumedienne subsequently impressed Boussouf enough that he replaced Boussouf in 1957.

During the course of the revolutionary war Boumedienne was the commander of the rebel troop located outside of Algeria in Tunisia and Morocco. He had at his command tens of thousands of troops but they played little part in the campaigns. The French built a defense line that prevented Boumedienne's forces from entering Algeria. The one expedition that attempted to enter Algeria was defeated by the French. So Boumedienne's forces only served to tie up a large number of French troops on the borders guarding against potential military invasion.

Boumedienne and military were always political. At victory parades banners were displayed announcing the political position of the army and criticizing politicians. For example, when Ahmed Ben Bella and other political prisoners were released from a prison in Morocco by the French in March of 1962 Boumedienne had his troops there for a parade. But displayed prominently at the parade were banners reading, in French

One cannot mislead the people all of the time!
The promises only to please, the falsehoods, are the enemy of the people!

History cuts down the impatient claims
and supports the long hopes.

Boumedienne gave a speech at that time announcing that he and the army were supporting Ben Bella because he was the best choice but "that support would be withdrawn the day Ben Bella deviated from the correct revolutionary path."

Ben Bella and Boumedienne formed an alliance to take power away from the regime the French turned power over to. Once they wrested power away from the regime they became competitors. It was said that the arrangement between Ben Bella and Boumedienne was not one of Ben Bella as president being number one and Boumedienne as vice president being number two. Instead Ben Bella was 1 and Boumedienne was 1a.

Once in power Ben Bella became an authoritarian and tried to aggrandize more power. Ben Bella knew Boumedienne was too powerful to confront directly. Instead Ben Bella began firing allies of Boumedienne. Ben Bella's strategy in this matter was very clever. He did whatever he needed to do to provoke a targeted government official to submit a letter of resignation. Ben Bella would then publically refuse to accept the resignation. This would give the impression to the general public that he was not trying to fire officials. After the proposed resignation was publically turned down more pressure would be applied and a second letter of resignation would be submitted. Ben Bella would then appear to reluctantly accept the second request to leave the government. This may have misled the general public but the elite insiders like Boumedienne knew perfectly well what was going on started making plans for Ben Bella overthrow.

Ben Bella also knew perfectly well that such plotting was being carried out. Once when meeting an Egyptian journalist in the presence of Boumedienne Ben Bella turned to Boumedienne and said, "And this is the man who plots against me." And then to Boumedienne he said, "And how are the intrigues going, Colonel?" Boumedienne blushed and said, "Very well, thank you."

Ben Bella scheduled a meeting of international leaders of Africa and Asia in Algiers. Ben Bella apparently thought that he could carryout some major steps against Boumedienne and his allies during the conference precisely they would be unexpected at that time. Because Boumedienne suspected Ben Bella would be trying something during the conference he organized a virtually bloodless coup d'etat just before the conference. On June 19, 1965 Boumedienne's tanks rolled into the streets and parked at strategic locations. Subsequently Ben Bella was arrested at gun point. He was arrested by someone whom Ben Bella thought was going to be his ally. Boumedienne thought it was appropriate to reveal to Ben Bella how ineffectual his machinations were. Ben Bella's location was kept secret and for quite some time people generally believed that he had been killed. Only after a long time did Boumedienne's regime reveal that Ben Bella was under house arrest at a site somewhere in the desert.

Boumedienne may not have been a talented military strategists or wise at economic policy, but he was quite astute politically. He recognized the aversion the general population would have to uniformed military figures after the years under French military control so he had his administrators who were, in fact, military officers dress as civilians at official functions. In many cases the administrators were military officials put in power by Boummedienne right after the capitulation of the French. Boumedienne and his troops moved from the border to Algiers slowly because he was taking time at each settlement to establish local government administration staffed by military personnel.

At the national level Boumedienne established a Council of Revolution which was composed primarily of current and former military officers. The civilian members of the Council of Revolution were former close allies of Boumedienne. For the other elements of the government, such as the cabinet, Boumedienne selected prominent civilians, even ones who had criticized him in the past. With his control of the military firmly in his hands Boumedienne could afford to grant some power to other politicians so long as they were not the extreme left-wing advisers of Ben Bella.

There was practically no public outcry against the coup. European observers marveled at how well planned and executed it had been. The only vocal critics were international and extreme leftists such as the governments of East Germany and Cuba. Nasser Egypt was appalled at the downfall of Ben Bella who was a close ally of Egypt, but Nasser wanted to continue to work with Algeria so he moderated his displeasure. The Ba'ath Party of Syria who saw Nasser as an enemy praised the rise of Boumedienne.

The FLN (Front de Libération Nationale), had been the political organization of the revolution and subsequently became the only official political party after independence. Ben Bella ruled it through its Politic Bureau (Politburo). Boumedienne replaced the Politburo with an executive secretariat. The Algerian Communist Party opposed Boumedienne's takeover and tried to organize resistance to it, and Boumedienne in return organized a persecution of the Communists. Communist parties in most other countries publically denounced Boumedienne. The Soviet Union was an exception because the Soviet authorities were more familiar with Boumedienne than the other Algerian revolutionaries because in supplying military equipment they needed to deal with the head of the army. When the Soviets offered to give military training to members of the Armée de Libération Nationale (ALN) it was Boumedienne who selected the 25 people sent to Moscow for that training. While the Soviets hoped to bring Boumedienne under their sway he was too much of a nationalist to formally ally Algeria with Moscow.

China also declined to protest the coup and recognized Boumedienne's regime quickly, but this was probably because they wanted to participate in the Conference of Afro-Asian Countries that Ben Bella had arranged to be held in Algiers. In the African nations the reactions were mixed and chaotic. Boumedienne sent representatives to Morocco and Tunisia to assure them of his intention to maintain friendly relations with them. He also assured France that the security of French nationals and properties would be maintained.

In power Boumedienne pursued his goal of socialism in Algeria. The Algerian economy despite its revenues from its hydrocarbon resources inexorably declined. The joke that was told in Russia was that six months after North Africa went socialism they would have to import sand. As things worked out it was not quite that bad but it was bad enough that the program of Islamic fundamentalists looked rational in comparison.

In December of 1978 Boumedienne died of a rare blood disease after being in a coma for 39 days. He had received medical treatment in Moscow.

Economic Policies Under Boumedienne

Boumedienne's background in managing the army led naturally to an attempt to centrally manage the economy. Boumedienne made a public commitment to socialism but leftists inside and outside of Algeria perceived as not being a true socialist like Ben Bella. He was less radical than Ben Bella, but Ben Bella's socialism was not very deep and stemmed primarily from his drive for personal aggrandizement of power. The confiscation and nationalization of property under Ben Bella was justified on the basis of socialism but amounted to the acquisition of the control of that property by Ben Bella. Likewise Ben Bella was strong on autogestation (worker management of enterprises) but that movement had the effect of securing political loyalty to Ben Bella. There seemed to be little concern by Ben Bella about the efficiency or even survivability of the autogestation enterprises. Under Ben Bella central control and management was more a matter of gaining control than management.

Boumedienne had seen the devastating impact of autogestation on production and saw no reason to promote. Boumedienne instead promoted gestation socialiste (socialist management) rather than worker management. Boumedienne had no reason to try to secure the loyalty of the workers per se; he had the loyalty of the military and did not need anything more.

By 1971 ninety percent of Algerian industry was in the public sector. On the other hand Boumedienne did not promote investment and collective control in agriculture. Instead the focus of Boumedienne was state planning of capital-intensive export-oriented industry. He did very little to alleviate the hardship of the high underemployment in Algeria.

Boumedienne's planning started with a three-year plan running from 1967-1969. This plan was administered by the Ministry of Finance. At the end of this first plan his administration decided to get serious about development planning. A division of the government called the Secretariat of State for Planning was created. There then followed two four-year plans.

Apparently Boumedienne believed that the poverty of Algeria would be taken care of when his four-year development plans of 1971-1974 and 1975-1978 had achieved their goals.

On paper the plans had some plausibility. A great deal of steel piping was needed for the further expansion of the Algerian hydrocarbons industries. According to Boumedienne's plan Algeria would build steel mills to manufacture the pipes and other products it needed. Additionally Boumedienne's plan involved the dream of processing petroleum into petrochemicals and plastics for exports. This has been the dream of most petroleum exporting countries. For example, in the election campaign of 1957 in Canada, John Diefenbaker promoted the idea of creating a petroleum-industrial complex in the province of Alberta. His program was called The Dream. Unfortunately for petroleum-exporting countries that is exactly what the program amounts to. The realities of industrial location is that since it is cheaper to ship the petroleum to processing plants near the markets than it is to ship the finished products to the market it is economically more efficient to locate the processing plants near the markets. Consequently the petroleum exporting countries that have tried to develop petroleum processing industries find that they, in effect, have to subsidize those industries. Fundamentally the petroleum exporting countries find they have to pay the difference in transportation costs between shipping the petroleum products rather than shipping the crude petroleum.

So Algeria found that the industries it had invested in did not earn a profit which could be used to alleviate the poverty of the Algerian people; instead those industries used up the funds generated by the hydrocarbons industries. It was similar to what happened in Romania under Çeausescu where funds were borrowed from Western lenders to build factories. Çeausescu thought the profit from those factories could be used to payoff the loans. The factories not only did not produce profits they produced losses that had to be covered. To pay the loans Çeausescu sold Romania's agricultural production abroad and put Romanians on a near-starvation diet.

In Algeria the hydrocarbons industries were put under the control of the National Company for Research, Production, Transportation, and Processing of Hydrocarbons Société Nationale pour la Recherche, la Production, le Transport, la Transportation, et la Commercialisation des Hydrocarbons. This is known by its abbreviation SONATRACH. It became a major power center within the Algerian government with great opportunities for corruption.

The Transfer of Power to Chadli Benjedid

Boumedienne was adroit at managing the power and politics of Algeria. One aspect of his management is that he did not allow any other person to develop political support. When Boumedienne died there was a major political crisis. There developed a power struggle between the ideological leftist and the more pragmatic elements, including the military. Neither faction found the candidates for leader of the other acceptable. The FLN called a convention and imposed Hadj Benjedid as a compromise. He was given control over the FLN as a party and the party nomination in the election. His election was assured.

Once formally elected Benjedid began to shift the emphasis in economic planning. In keeping with this shift the Secretariat of State for Planning was replaced by a Ministry of Planning. Benjedid's administration carried out three five-year plans. In the second five-year plan (1985-89) the investment emphasis shifted to agriculture. In 1987 the Ministry of Planning was abolished. In the third five-year plan (1990-94) some of the 450 state enterprises were given autonomy, a procedure in the nature of privatization.

There was great discontent in Algeria when Benjedid came to power. Chadli Benjedid, a man of reason and moderation, tried to deal this discontent by reforms. He tried to lift the dead grip of socialism on the economy by permitting small private businesses to develop. He encouraged the development of private agricultural enterprises.

A new constitution was formulated and ratified in 1989 which deleted the role of the FLN in government and the designation of Algeria as socialist.

Benjedid allowed the formation of political parties and organizations where previously the FLN had been the single permitted party of Algeria. Immediately religious and ethnic parties formed. The major such party was the Front de Islamique du Salut (FIS), also known as the Islamic Salvation Front. There was also a Berber party. The unreformed leftists formed a Front des Forces Socialistes (Front of Socialist Forces). Ben Bella, whom had been released from imprisonment formed a party called Mouvement pour la Democratie en Algeria (Movement for Democracy in Algeria), an ironic title given Ben Bella's totalitarian tendencies.

There was a test of the new political openness with the elections of June 1990. The FIS candidates won over the FLN candidates in the major cities. This was a shock to the FLN leadership. They received an even greater shock in the December 1990 elections. The FIS received a plurality of the votes.

Since no party received a majority there would have to be a runoff election. The Algerian Army was not willing to allow governmental power be turned over to the FIS, which would the almost certain outcome of the runoff election. The army therefore carried out a coup de'etat to prevent the runoff election. Chadli Benjedid resigned his office.

(To be continued.)

The Attempt to Create a Social
Welfare State in Independent Algeria

Medical Care

At independence the Algerian population had some very serious health problems. Tuberculosis was the most serious danger. Malaria too was a serious threat in the spring and autumn when standing water was available for mosquitoes to propagate in. Flies spread the eye infection trichoma which could lead to blindness. In addition pneumonia was always an ever present risk. Likewise the infectious diseases scarlet fever, diphtheria and venereal diseases were a danger.

The Nature of the Economic Problems of Algeria

Miriam R. Lowi, in an article in Rebuiding Devastated Economies in the Middle East sums up the nature of Algeria's economic problems as follows:

The endemic economic problems of Algeria are not derivative primarily of misguided economic policies, or inadequate technical capacities, or even resource deficiencies-- although the domestic political economy has by no means escaped such afflictions. Nor are they the result of 10 years of civil war, even though the violence provided a cover for the perpetuation and exacerbation of unhealthy political and economic arrangements. Rather they are institutional: they are derivative of a patrimonial system of clan politics elaborated by a military-bureaucratic oligarchy, which, along with its clients, are the principal beneficiaries. It is a vertically fashioned system, composed of intricate and overlapping networks of interests, in which some of the most lucrative economic transactions take place in the shadows, and where the principal objectives of all players is to increase their access to the rent and to power. This is the system that resists reform.


Arslan Humbaraci, Algeria: A Revolution That Failed, Frederick Praeger, New York, 1966.

Robert Merle, Ben Bella, Joseph, London, 1967.

Ted Morgan, My Battle of Algiers,

Harold D. Nelson (ed.), Algeria: a country study, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1978.

Harold D. Nelson (ed.), Algeria: a country study, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1986.

Helen Chapin Metz (ed),Algeria: a country study, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1994.

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