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The Algerian Revolution and Its Causes


The Algerian revolution is also known as the Algerian war of independence. The Algerians rebelled against the French administration after they were unable to withstand its brutality. France invaded Algeria in 1830. Before the French incursion, Algeria had been under the control of the Arabs, Turks, Romans, and Moors. Hence, the Algerians knew little about freedom. France was determined to impose its culture on the Algerians.

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The native people who resisted the French culture were killed. Indeed, over a million native Algerians died before the country got its independence. Among the factors that contributed to the revolution included racial discrimination and intolerance by the French regime. Land confiscation and religious differences also contributed to the revolution. Numerous leaders played significant roles in the Algerian revolution. They included Larbi Ben M’hidi, Mostefa Ben Boulaid, Mohamed Boudiaf, Ahmed Ben Bella, and Krim Belkacem. They helped in the formation of the National Liberation Front. Besides, some leaders contributed to financing the revolution and coordinating the activities of the liberation movement.


The beginning of the Algerian revolution in 1954 was significant progress in the global history of the Cold War. The revolution came immediately after the end of the First Indochinese War. Alexander and Kieger (2002) maintain that the Algerian revolution vitalized national liberation forces across the colonial world. Individuals who headed the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) were nationalists who “believed in the merits of revolutionary violence to secure the independence of their country” (Alexander & Kieger, 2002, p. 8).

In spite of the leaders being inclined to the leftist ideologies, they never viewed themselves as communists or devoted socialists. For them, their movement was aimed at bringing to an end the era of French colonial control. They hoped to liberate the Algerians from the brutality that they were going through in the hands of the French administration. Alexander and Kieger (2002) claim that the leaders of the FLN sought to replace the French regime with “an autonomous Algerian rule which was a secular nationalist regime” (p. 11). This article will discuss the French colonization of Algeria, the causes of the Algerian revolution, and the individuals who participated in the mutiny.

French Colonization

In 1830, the first French vessel carrying soldiers occupied the city of Algiers. Before the French invasion, the Ottoman Empire controlled the city. The French troops defeated Turkey forcing it to give up the port city. The indigenous Algerians were against the French invasion. Hence, the Berbers and Arabs staged a strong resistance against the French. As per Arslan (1966), the opposition led to Lieutenant-Colonel Lucien de Montagnac devising new ways of overcoming rebellion.

The Lieutenant-Colonel declared war against the Arabs and Berbers. He ordered the soldiers to “kill all men over the age of 15, take all their women and children, load them onto naval vessels and send them to the Marquesas Islands or elsewhere” (Arslan, 1966, p. 45). In other words, the French regime was ready to annihilate all Algerians who were against the incursion. In 1843, the French soldiers killed at least 1500 Berbers. According to Arslan (1966), the French soldiers under the command of General Aimable Pelissier set the Berbers ablaze. The soldiers burned children, women, and elderly indiscriminately. To cover up the incident, the soldiers made sure that the information did not reach Paris.

Thus, little is written regarding the massacre meted on the Berber community in the name of “French civilization”. The French governing class forced its rule on the Algerians. According to Arslan (1966), about 825,000 Algerians lost their lives. Arslan (1966) holds that a great silhouette of genocidal odium pervaded Algeria. Time and again, the French administration called for expulsion or killing of the native Algerians. The French believed that it was only through extermination that they could reach the interior of Algeria.

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Besides killing tens of thousands if not millions of indigenous Algerians, the French imposed their culture on the Arabs. Aussaresses (2010) claims that the French took control of everything from education, business, and government to intellectual life. They used cultural imperialism to restrain the Algerian civilization. They restructured the Algerian culture along with the French ideologies and cultural beliefs.

Aussaresses (2010) holds that the French colonial policy geared towards the “civilization” of Algeria through the enforcement of the French culture and language. They dismantled the Algerian education system and substituted it with French. Aussaresses (2010) alleges that the school system was inclined towards French. The students sat for French tests. The dialectical Arabic faded gradually, paving the way for the French language. With time, a small group of influential French-speaking native elite was established.

How the Revolution Started

According to Aussaresses (2010), the Algerian revolution is also referred to as the Algerian war of independence. The Algerians started to demand independence during the First World War. However, the revolution became popular after the formation of the National Liberation Front (FLN) in 1954. The FLN sought the recognition of Algeria as a sovereign state by the United Nations. However, the French were not ready to give up Algeria.

As a result, the FLN fighters started to attack French soldiers as a way to pressure them to yield to their demands. In 1955, the National Liberation Front fighters began to attack French civilians. They incited the public leading to the killing of at least 120 French civilians in Philippeville. The French troops hit back killing at least 12,000 Muslims of Algerian origin. Violent attacks were reported in and around Algiers. Aussaresses (2010) alleges, “The FLN fighters opted to target the cities to draw the attention of the international community” (p. 56).

In spite of France sending over 500,000 troops to quell the fight, the Algerians were determined to push on with their course (Aussaresses, 2010). By 1959, the French soldiers were exhausted and could not continue to fight the Algerians. Charles de Gaulle gave in to the Algerians’ demands. He argued that the FLN fighters had the right to demand freedom. In 1961, some French generals conspired to overthrow de Gaulle (Aussaresses, 2010). Nevertheless, their effort did not stop FLN fighters from pursuing their agenda. In 1962, the French regime allowed the Algerians to hold a referendum to determine if they wanted to have a sovereign state. The referendum culminated in France declaring Algeria as an independent country.

Causes of the Revolution

Numerous factors contributed to the rising of the Algerian revolution. One of the reasons was the desire of the Algerians to gain independence. According to Brett (2009), the Algerians had been under colonial rule for a long time. Before the French, Turks, Moors, Romans, and Arabs had ruled Algeria. The Algerians knew little about freedom and were determined to fight for it. Brett (2009) avers that the experience of the Second World War contributed to the rising of the revolution.

During the Second World War, most Algerians fought in conjunction with the French troops. Some prominent fighters like Belkacem Krim and Ben Bella came in touch with liberalism and self-governing ideologies. Besides, the war gave them an opportunity to acquire unique fighting skills. Belkacem Krim and Ben Bella learned how to use sophisticated weapons (Connelly, 2001). The skills gained during World War II led to the two veteran fighters feeling the urge to liberate their country. They hoped to establish a democratic state where people had the right to participate in their governance.

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Many Algerians lost their land during the French invasion. The native people relied on agriculture as their primary economic activity. Losing land to the white settlers left them with no means of supporting themselves economically (Connelly, 2001). Besides, a lot of the native people were subjected to forced labor. Section Administrative Specializes (SAS) utilized brutal means to subject the indigenous Algerians to forced labor (Brett, 2009).

The desire to repossess the land and abolish forced labor led to the rise of the Algerian revolution. Brett (2009) argues that the Algerian revolution emerged as a result of religious disparities amid the Algerians and the French. A majority of the Algerians were Muslims. Conversely, the French were Christians. The Algerians viewed French as infidels. They were not ready to continue being under the control of the infidels. Thus, most FLN fighters participated in the revolution as a kind of Jihad.

According to Brett (2009), the Algerian revolution came as a result of French intolerance and racial discrimination. The French reviled the native Algerians. They favored the European settlers. They denied the native Algerians the right to automatic citizenship at birth.

Besides, the European settlers were allowed to assume government positions at the expense of the indigenous people. Connelly (2001) claims that allowing the European settlers to arm themselves for protection did not auger well with the Berbers, Kabyilia, and Arabs. It resulted in the opposition. The French were determined to impose their culture on the indigenous people. As a result, they started to change the social systems including education. As Algerians were not ready to abandon their culture, they rebelled leading to the rise of the revolution.

Leaders of the Revolution

Numerous leaders participated in the Algerian revolution. They included Larbi Ben M’hidi, Mostefa Ben Boulaid, Mohamed Boudiaf, Ahmed Ben Bella, and Krim Belkacem among others. The leaders played different roles during and after the revolution.

Ahmed Ben Bella

Initially, Ben Bella served in the French army as a volunteer. Participation in the French army gave him a platform to popularize himself. Eventually, he was elected the municipal councilor, a post that was instrumental in his fight against the colonial rule (Connelly, 2001). He established a secret organization dubbed Organisation Speciale which came before the formation of the FLN. Ben was arrested in 1951 but later escaped from the prison and fled to Cairo. Connelly (2001) claims that while in Cairo, Ben Bella joined the Revolutionary Committee of Unity and Action. The committee facilitated the operations of the FLN.

According to Connelly (2001), the French regime hunted Ben Bella constantly. Eventually, he had to go to Pakistan in exile. After Algeria had gained independence, Ben Bella became active in the country’s leadership. In 1962, he was elected as the prime minister of Algeria. Later, he was unanimously elected as the president of Algeria in 1963. He helped the country to repulse the Moroccan invasion. Fraleigh (1967) holds that Ben Bella introduced land reforms that saw the native people get back their lands.

Krim Belkacem

Krim Belkacem joined the French army during the Second World War. In 1945, he left the French army and went back to his home village (Fraleigh, 1967). In 1946, he became a member of the Algerian People’s Party; an underground organization that was against the French government. He facilitated the establishment of secret cells that were used to train insurgents. In 1947, Krim became the head of the Algerian People’s Party-Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties (PPA-MTLD) paramilitary organization (Fraleigh, 1967). Later, the organization joined the FLN where Krim served as the leader of its third district.

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He facilitated the formalization of the FLN revolutionary program. After independence, Krim became the first Algerian Minister of Defense. Later, he served as a foreign minister. In 1962, Belkacem helped to broker accords between Algerians and French (Agreements of Evian) (Fraleigh, 1967). Belkacem was against the formation of the Political Bureau of the National Liberation Front. In 1965, the Political Bureau took power and Krim joined the opposition. He helped to keep the government in check.

Mohamed Boudiaf

Mohamed Boudiaf was born in 1919. Initially, he served in the Algerian People’s Party and later joined the Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Liberties. Maran (1989) holds that Boudiaf facilitated the management of the Organisation Speciale network. He kept the organization’s weapons and helped to raise funds to support its course. Besides, Mohamed assisted in training the guerrilla forces.

He was a member of the Revolutionary Committee for Unity and Action (CRUA) that laid the strategies for the Algerian revolution. During the revolution, CRUA changed its name to FLN (Maran, 1989). In spite of being in exile, Boudiaf helped to champion the FLN’s agenda. In 1956, he was arrested and detained in France together with other FLN leaders. However, that did not stop the Algerians from rewarding him for his contribution to the liberation efforts.

Boudiaf was “symbolically elected minister in the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic (GPRA)” (Maran, 1989, p. 23). Mohamed was released in 1962 before Algeria got its independence. After independence, there were disagreements amid members of the FLN. Boudiaf joined the opposition and formed his political party. In 1992, “Boudiaf returned to Algeria from exile and became head of the High Council of State” (Maran, 1989, p. 25). He introduced changes that helped to end military control of political affairs in Algeria.

Larbi Ben M’hidi

Shepard (2006) claims that Larbi Ben M’hidi was a key figure during the Algerian revolution. He contributed to the formation of the FLN that led the revolution. Shepard (2006) posits, “M’hidi controlled the fifth military district and played a critical role at the National Liberation Front’s Soummam convention held in August 1956” (p. 87). According to Shepard (2006), M’hidi coordinated FLN’s activities during the Battle of Algiers. Ben believed that only internal revolutionaries could help FLN to achieve its objectives. Unfortunately, M’hidi never lived to enjoy the fruits of his struggle for independence. In 1957, the French paratroopers apprehended him. He was tortured and later killed.

Mostefa Ben Boulaid

Mostefa was born in 1917. During the Second World War, he fought alongside the French army. Windrow (1997) maintains that Boulaid benefited the Organisation Speciale through his military and political experience. He used his money to purchase weapons for the FLN fighters. In 1954, he helped to rally the revolutionary forces behind a common course and was a member of the insurgent leaders. During the war, he controlled Area I (Aures) (Windrow, 1997). Unfortunately, he was unable to withstand the French military power. In 1955, he facilitated the procurement of weapons from Libya. Mostefa died before Algeria got its independence. However, he is remembered for his contribution to the war of independence.


Numerous factors contributed to the rise of the Algerian revolution. France had ruled Algeria for a long time. The Algerians went through a lot of hardships in the hands of the French government. The French government killed a lot of the native people who resisted its leadership. Racial discrimination from the French administration led to the revolution. The French favored European settlers at the expense of the native Algerians.

Apart from racial discrimination, the French administration was determined to substitute the Algerian civilization with the French culture. Algerians were not ready to give up their culture. The French confiscated land from the native Algerians and gave it to white settlers. It left the Algerians without an alternative source of livelihood. The move to confiscate property did not auger well with the Algerians leading to revolution. The experience that the Algerians acquired during the Second World War roused their desire for independence. The Algerians who participated in the war had an opportunity to learn about democracy and its benefits.

Numerous individuals played critical roles in the Algerian revolution. They include Larbi Ben M’hidi, Mostefa Ben Boulaid, Mohamed Boudiaf, Ahmed Ben Bella, and Krim Belkacem. They helped to fund and coordinate the operations of the National Liberation Front. Some even had an opportunity to serve in the government after Algeria got its independence.


Alexander, M., & Kieger, J. (2002). France and the Algerian war: Strategy, operations, and diplomacy. Journal of Strategic Studies,25(2), 6-17.

Arslan, H. (1966). Algeria: A revolution that failed. London: Pall Mall Press Ltd.

Aussaresses, P. (2010). The battle of the Casbah. New York: Enigma Books.

Brett, M. (2009). Anglo-Saxon attitudes: The Algerian war of independence in retrospect. The Journal of African History, 35(2), 217-235.

Connelly, M. (2001). Rethinking the cold war and decolonization: The grand strategy of the Algerian war for independence. International Journal of Middle East Studies, 33(2), 221-245.

Fraleigh, A. (1967). The Algerian war of independence. American Society of International Law, 61(1), 6-12.

Maran, R. (1989). A savage war of peace: Algeria 1954-1962. London: Viking.

Shepard, T. (2006). The invention of decolonization: The Algerian war and the remaking of France. London: Cornell University Press.

Windrow, M. (1997). The Algerian war 1954-62. London: Osprey Publishing.

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