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French Influence On Algerians In Algiers History Essay

The city of Algiers is the major and capital city of Algeria and is sited on the west borders of Algeria by the Mediterranean Sea. It is dubbed “Algiers the White" for its illustrious connected stacks of shiny white quarters with roof porches that are overlooking the harbor. Algeria was first founded and ruled in the 10th century by the Arab reigns that have started to walk on African soils in the name of Islam in wanting to unite all African and Middle Eastern cities together as one big Islamic nation. This continued till the 17th century when Algiers was became independent from the Ottoman Empire. However, this did not last for long. On July 4, 1830 France attacked and colonized the city of Algiers when the Algerian government criticized the French government. This was the first attack on Maghreb cities and it signaled the rise of European colonization on African lands through a mixture of legislative schemes. As time passed by and becoming an essential international region under French colonization, countless European refugees fled to Algiers. This nevertheless did not have an effect on the major and native population of Muslims as only few moved abroad the city. Colonization meant that frustration and disturbance controlled native’s mind as their economic, social and political statuses were manipulated and weakened by the French army. As a result, nervousness and edginess disrupted the natives whereas the colonizers were customizing themselves and settling in well in their new prospect land. The Algerian War in 1954 was the starting point to the primary aggressive measures that Algerians took to request for better economic, social and political self-sufficiency, and in the long run self-government as of France. After years of protests and dissatisfaction, the Algerians were able to achieve absolute liberty subsequent to the March 1962 Evian agreements. France might have been able to detach quarters into European along with native housings but it failed to do so in Casbah through the entire masses of Algerian residents. The only way the Casbahians could have avoided and snubbed French rule intervention was by using their sacred homes as a sign of rejection from imposing persistent involvements in their actions, attire as well as their whole means of existence. They shaped blockades to stay behind obscured walls to avoid the European spying in order to maintain their individuality. Even the French knew that the Algerian residence was a reflective image of their hidden lives through commitment to folks in addition to women life. Yet during the French successive republics, Algiers experienced notable social and cultural influences from the French. The determinant of this relationship was the city’s anger of France’s large and unpaid debts arising from Algiers long-term supply of wheat and other cereals in the 18th century and credit facilities (Encyclopedia.com par 2-12). The colonization and the lead up to the Battle of Algiers saw a massive use of force by the French Army to magnitudes that implanted lasting social implications to the city.

The period preceding the renewed social relationship between Algiers and the French army saw the process of "pacification" that lead to most Algerians being choked in caves or burned alive in places where they sought refuge. These were augmented by systematic raids in settlements of the Algerians (razzia). The troops razed, destroyed and looted property animals and food, raped women and killed villagers in large numbers; all acts which were documented by the Royal Commission in 1883 (Ageron 27).

The army employed scorched earth policies, racism and wide scale massacres to enable them win over the vast resistance of their advances. Colonization incessantly destroyed local social and economic structures and worsened impoverishment in the city of Algiers and other major settlements because of the confiscation of personal property. These actions stimulated the populace to think of revolting more through political, mass actions and demand for independence to end colonial occupation. The French army accomplished these developments through atrocities and tortures. These brutalities were experienced in resistance to the expansionary nature of the French armies into the traditional territories of the Algerians in the Battle of Algiers (Eichler 10). The emotional scars and traumas caused by these brutalities formed mental cages in the Algerians that were difficult to escape. The actions of the 10éme Division Parachutistes of the army in the city were obscene. These were reproached by disciplinary violence meted on the colonists by the FNL. The reason for these reproaches was to induce fear for political autonomy; a legitimate struggle to liberalize the Algerians from their colonizers.

The service of most Algerians in the French army during World War I was an eye opener. About 200,000 participated along the French army in the war and developed forms of nationalism through three tactical groups. The assimilationists developed reformist tactics through illegal maneuvers under the banner of Young Algerians of 1920s. The Muslim reformers inspired by the 19th century Salafī movement of by Sheikh Muhammad Abduh of Egypt under the banner of Ulamā of the 1930s championed Muslim Algerian nationality. The third group, a radical proletarian force was organized under by the city workers under Ahmed Messali Hadj initially in France and later influenced the city’s landscape for independence through recognition of their deprivation (Encyclopedia Britannica par 4).

The end of the World War II sparked off demonstrations in Algiers and other major cities but which was resisted by the French through military repression, concentration camps and even collective punishment and state-sanctioned torture. This horrific violence did not however limit to physical cruelty and brutality. They also employed economic dispossession, humiliation and social dislocation. A series of policies and actions were used to disrupt livelihoods of generations of the indigenous people. The Warnier law and the sénatus-consulte for example dispossessed families from their ancestral lands within and around the city in total disregard of existing customary and Islamic laws (Maran 54). Most people found themselves being deprived of their main means of livelihood and subsistence. Others only found unsecured employment in European properties. There was a total denial of the due process when land was confiscated such as was exemplified in the laws for the natives (Code de l'Indigénat). The minority European French not only controlled most portions of the city’s wealth but also dominated Algerians most of whose fate were also controlled through divide and rule tactics.

The anti-French revolts of the 1954 sparked an arms struggle for the country’s independence which culminated into de Gaulle return to power (Çelik 30). The war ravaged communication and industrial infrastructure of the city under the French terrorist Organization of the Secret Army (OAS). Algiers was looted of its possessions. The French seized religious and private buildings and amassed large portions of other arable lands within and without the city.

Under French army rule, the city saw stratifications in city dwelling with French-built sectors being conspicuously different from Muslim quarters, the former having modern commercial and administrative buildings and wide avenues while the latter were structured into narrow streets with numerous mosques and retained the 16th century fortresses of the Turkish dey (Elsheshtawy 24). The city was dichotomized into a social urban core inhabited by the Europeans only dotted by few pre-colonial settlers (the Kasbah of Algiers and Sidi M'Hamed). The outer zones were exclusively for the Algerian nationals (Eichler 3).

New streets were cut across old urban fabrics forcefully evicting the Muslim Algerians as quarters and multi-storey buildings were created to replace traditional houses (Chemrouk 15). For instance, the “military restructuring” disordered the initial development of the Basse Casbah which would eventually present an obstacle to the flow of traffic. To correct this, a 35 meter wide Avenue du ler Novembre’ was erected in 1937 effectively creating a screen between the sea and the old city and causing a social exclusion of the Casbah from the development process of the city (Chemrouk 16).

As a consequence, there was a sharp dichotomy in habitation and structure among the major European inhabitants and the Algerians. There was an clear segregation of the Casbach settlements and the European quarters. This was followed by the introduction of the general development plan (Plan d’urbanisane) to cater for cities with inhabitants of populations greater than 10,000 (Dehiz 72; Elsheshtawy 30). The development of administration and commercial centers also displaced many. These developments led to the birth of modern architecture such as the Palais du Gouvernemente and the emergence of the first social housing that incorporated poor Europeans and Algerians in unhealthy housings in semi-industrial and urban suburbs such as inside Quartier de la Marine while the French enjoyed lavish boulevards. This was a long period of settlement transformations characterized by military intervention that saw tortures and deaths of the marginalized.

During this long history under the French army rule par excellence, the city experienced conflicts between the colonized and the colonizers. Political, cultural and social encounters got crystallized in urban forms and architecture and in several other artifacts of cultural identity. These imprints challenged and reshaped social engineering programs (Said 54-5). These changes not only reveal the ambivalence and complexities of the colonial machinations but also the problematic transformations of the city in magnitudes that were clear and more controversial than could be seen in other cities (Çelik 27-30). The social stratifications and the effects of the encounters can still be seen in maps, photographs, housing plans, museums and other infrastructure; an indication of the social effects of colonial urban planning.

The levels of belittlement of the Algerians by the soldiers went to unprecedented scales. The French referred to the Algerians as niggers or dirty Arabs. The Algerians were therefore only left to envy the settlers. They dreamt of possessing their castles and lusted for all manner of their possessions. As Prochaska says, they fathomed with little success to “sit at the settler's table, to sleep in the settler's bed, with his wife if possible” (22). It was an apparent socially stratified system unfavorable to the Algerians. An examination of the colonial close quarters indicated that belonging to or not to a given race was an evident of services one would receive in the city and the level of social importance one would have (Prochaska 155).

During the 132 years of active colonization, the French established total economic, political and social domination of the city. They established new lines of communication, built educational facilities, hospitals and medical services facilities most of which however, were only completely accessible to the Europeans. Western residences with western forms of gardening, workshops and businesses existed in the city at the mercy of the French army and barely any native inhabitants possessed such facilities. Employment was concentrated in the city and no form of employment was in the rural areas. This meant uneven and chronic unemployment and underemployment for the rural folk most of who were Muslims who lived in the rural and semi-rural areas.

The transformation in the social system was much more evident in the last 20 years that led to the country’s independence. The determinant social factors between 1955 and 1970 were changes in the spatial use of the city. The social distribution in the inner urban settlement was based on racial groups with Algerians continually finding acceptance where only the Europeans had been accepted initially thanks to the process of social transformation and decolonization. Land use patterns also changed as a result. This new relationship caused transformations in the inner urban pattern and was influenced by the Algerians’ desire to develop a new social structure and the inspiration to end the colonial governance, break down the European supremacy and the need to change the economy from the capitalistic French to a non-capitalistic one (Eichler 10).

During this last active French army conquest of the city, they blocked the social development of the mainstream Muslim community in the city, effectively contained the city’s religious history after the dey reign and hampered any such active rapprochements by the Algerians. These social hindrances caused tension phases that endured from about 1914 to 1962 at the country’s independence. Like other Maghrib cities, the tensions and relaxations occurred with no particular power shifts between the metropolitan French and the Algerians until the Revolution. The tensions were characterized by residential segregations within the city, vertical occupational stratifications between mainstream European occupants and the Algerians and functional occupational specializations that resulted from prejudices. These social stratifications were best brought to the fore in the period between WW 1 and WW 2 when European immigration decreased slightly while construction of new housing also stagnated. The rural-urban migrations caused by increased production opportunities in the city (1914-1945) and the housing shortages spurred the development of the bidonvilles to accommodate the incoming rural Algerian immigrants (1945-1962) (Elsheshtawy 30).

Succinct but non-genuine collaboration between the French army and Algerians occurred through enticement of some nationals against the nationalists. They came to be referred to as the harkis. The harkis were promised better treatment and adjustment into the colonial administration and were approximated at 58,000 of the 263,000 pro-France Algerians. The harkis were to suffer in the first few weeks of the French exit as they were killed for reasons of treason (Benamou 61-2). At the end of war of independence, more than 1.5 million Algerians had died. The already insufficient social infrastructure and economic systems were weakened more. The French realized the need of exit and started negotiations with the National Liberation Front. These negotiations were sealed in 1962 through the Evian Accords between the Algerian nationalists and France giving independence to the country in the same year.

The French colonization of Algeria was marked by notable social and cultural transformations influenced by a massive use of force by the French Army and which had lasting social implications to the city. The process of "pacification" where Algerians were burned alive in places where they sought refuge as their property was destroyed and looted was used by the army to maim and tame the revolting city and rural dwellers. The army used scorched earth policies, racism and widespread massacres to amass and silence the populations. They also employed economic dispossession, humiliation and social dislocation tactics as well as a series of policies and actions aimed at disrupting the main means of livelihood and subsistence of Algerians. They controlled most portions of the city’s wealth but also subjugated Algerians. This led the populace to think of revolting. They employed mass actions and demanded for independence to end colonial occupation.

The resistance to the expansionary nature of the French armies even caused more casualties as the army came back using obscene tactics. The Second World War became an eye opener to most Algerians who participated in it as assimilationists developed reformist tactics borrowed from Egypt to fight the French Army. The people's force consisting of the city workers also joined forces to fight this aggression. By the end of World War II demonstrations were sparked by renewed agitation to fight colonization. Anti-French revolts of the 1954 sparked an arms struggle for the country’s independence which culminated into de Gaulle return to power. These advances were, however, resisted by the French terrorist Organization of the Secret Army (OAS) which was only to be overpowered at independence in 1962.

During this process, the city saw stratifications in dwelling with the French-built sectors being conspicuously different from Muslim quarters. The city was dichotomized into social settlements, the urban core being inhabited by the Europeans and the suburbs by Algerians. New streets were cut across old urban fabrics to create quarters and multi-storey buildings. There was a clear segregation of the Casbach settlements from the European quarters. The restructuring of the city also saw the birth of a development plan which motivated modern architecture. The first social housing plan that incorporated poor Europeans and Algerians in unhealthy housings in semi-industrial and urban suburbs was implemented.

In the social realm, the conflicts between the colonized and the colonizers made the cultural and social encounters pathetic. These social relationships challenged and reshaped social engineering programs and caused social stratifications. The French belittled the Algerians to unprecedented levels, calling them niggers or dirty Arabs. The latter could do nothing and only envied the settlers. What mattered was belonging which dictated the nature of services one would receive. On a positive front, social amenities such as new lines of communication, educational facilities, hospitals and medical services were built by the French, most of which however, were utilized only by the French and other Europeans. The settlers also introduced western forms of gardening. Employment was concentrated in the city while the rural areas suffered unemployment and underemployment. As this continued rural-urban migrations caused by increased production opportunities in cities were invoked. The French also blocked the social evolution of the mainstream Muslim community in the city by containing the city’s religious history. Vertical occupational stratifications, apartheid-like prejudices and non-genuine collaboration between the harkis and the army enticed some nationals against the nationalists. However, at the end of their period as colonists, their accomplices were killed for treason. At the end of the military rule in 1962, more than 1.5 million Algerians had died. In sum, the withdrawal of the French from Algerian soil was as violent as their entry.


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