Fought by Algerians seeking independence from French colonial rule, the Algerian War (1954-1962) showed exceptional brutality on both sides. Open fighting began in 1954, but traces back to political groups in the 1920s. French President Charles DeGaulle granted independence in 1962, although after counterrevolutionary attempts both in Algeria and metropolitan France. By the end of the war in 1962, about 300,000 people had died.
Algeria's independence movement usually is considered to have stated in 1926, with a group called the Star of North Africa (Étoile Nord-Africain, or simply Star). Formed in Paris, it was a broad front of North African workers in France, certainly including Muslims but also the French Communist Party. Under secretary-general Ahmed Messali Hadj, the Star's secretary general, it called for independence, land reform, and Arabicization in 1927. France banned it in 1929, but it continued as an underground until 1934.
Messali Hadj, influenced by the Arab nationalist, Shakib Arslan, a Lebanese Druze, rejected Communism and took a more nationalist approach, and was attacked by the Communists. Returning to Algeria in 1937, he formed the Party of the Algerian People (Parti du Peuple Algérien (PPA), based on working class elements in France and Algeria.
Islamist groups had been growing in influence in Algeria, and France banned political speeches, in mosques, in 1933. This led to protests and more repression.
The PPA built an underground structure, and joined with the Friends of the Manifesto and Liberty (Amis du Manifeste et de la Liberté (AML)). Tension grew strong in 1944-45, with large demonstrations on May Day of 1945. In Algiers and Oran, these turned violent. By the end of the fighting in Europe, there was intense polarization between Muslim and colonial interests, leading to more marches and violence, spreading into rural areas. This led to large-scale and military response, "According to official French figures, 1,500 Muslims died as a result of these countermeasures. Other estimates vary from 6,000 to as high as 45,000 killed."
In the 1947 elections, Messali Hadj's Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties (Mouvement pour le Triomphe des Libertes Democratiques--MTLD) in the 1947 municipal elections frightened the colons (colonials), leading to rigged elections the next year. A clandestine Special Organization (Organisation Spéciale--OS) formed inside the MTLD, under Hocine Ait Ahmed. French assurances lost credibility.
The OS had been disrupted by French police in 1954, but was replaced by a new group under Ahmed Ben Bella, the Revolutionary Committee of Unity and Action (Comité Révolutionnaire d'Unité et d'Action (CRUA)), first based in Cairo, where Ben Bella had fled in 1952. In 1954, it stepped up underground activity, renaming itself, in October, the National Liberation Front (Front de Libération Nationale--FLN), which assumed responsibility for the political direction of the revolution. Its military arm was the National Liberation Army (Armée de Libération Nationale (ALN))
Major guerrilla attacks started on November 1, 1954. The Cairo-FLN called for a Islamic nationalist state. Politically, France was torn internally by the loss of French Indochina, and was not open to further nationalism, as demonstrated by the November 12 speech of Premier Pierre Mendès-France,
"One does not compromise when it comes to defending the internal peace of the nation, the unity and integrity of the Republic. The Algerian departments are part of the French Republic. They have been French for a long time, and they are irrevocably French . . . . Between them and metropolitan France there can be no conceivable secession."
In April 1956, the various anti-French groups united. In 1956 France executed two Algerian rebels, which caused the FLN to kill 49 French civilians in three days, bombing beachside cafes and eventually raising the price of colonialism to levels too high for many colonial empires.
French antiterrorist responses were ruthless: more than 8,000 villages were destroyed, and torture, summary execution and political assassination became widespread, systematic, and largely approved by the French government. A good deal of French doctrine came from their experience in the Indochinese revolution, in which Roger Trinquier, a French guerrilla leader, developed counterinsurgency doctrine based, in part, on torture. French methods may have contributed to the FLN victory, even though the FLN itself practiced terrorism and torture. French methods prevented neutral Algerians, opposed to the FLN from seeking French protection.
The French repression included concentration camps like the "Ferme Ameziane," through which over 100,000 Algerians passed, and during the Battle of Algiers alone, over 3,000 suspects in Algiers police custody "disappeared." . However, this repression merely led to increasing support for the independence movement and for insurrection and to a bitter anger against the French, and after the end of the war, the FLN slaughtered thousands of the "harkas", the Algerian soldiers who had fought with the French.
Counterrevolution and France
A French "secret army", the Organisation de l'armée secrète (OAS), opposed Charle DeGaulle's granting independence to Algeria, and carried out coup and assassination attempts against the French government both in Algeria and metropolitan France.
- Algerian National Liberation (1954-1962), Globalsecurity
- Daniel Moran (December 2008), "Two Sides of the Same COIN: Torture and Terror in the Algerian War, 1954-62", Strategic Insights (Center for Contemporary Conflict, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School
- The torture of Algiers Algerie-Watch website