France’s involvement in Algeria began in 1830 with military force, and ended in 1962 after a comprehensive war of liberation. Algeria was formally not a French colony but the territory subject to France as part of the French Republic. Under French rule, there was just as much colonization, meaning systematized settlement of Europeans (colonists; colonies).
As a result of this process, the Algerian locals were deprived of property and were granted limited civil rights. The colonists considered themselves to represent French democracy, but even came into political opposition to the authorities in France.
The French attitude to Algeria throughout the country was under French control characterized by political conditions in France – and influenced by the French (really: European) settlers in Algeria. Like the British possessions of Kenya and Rhodesia, and the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, Algeria became a settler colony. Not in any other possession in Africa did so many Europeans settle as in Algeria. By 1850, about 130,000 Europeans were living there; in 1886 it had increased to 578 000. Then Europeans born in Algeria stood for the greatest growth. The majority of colons (later also known as pied noirs)– ‘black feet’) settled in the cities. At the turn of the century, peasants accounted for about one-third of the European population in Algeria, but the proportion declined through the 20th century.
Already from the 1830s extensive immigration began, with immigrants from several parts of southern Europe, including Italy, Malta and Spain – in addition to France. Most were poor, and without agricultural experience, and did not help to strengthen agriculture. This was weakened by Europeans taking land from the Algerians.
After the defeat of France in the Franco-German War (1871), it was arranged for emigrants from Alsace-Lorraine who had fled to France to settle in Algeria with the offer of free land. The colonization was then concentrated on small farmers from southeastern France. Towards the end of the 19th century, private capital was behind extensive land purchases as a basis for continued settlement, with immigration not least by farmers from Malta and Spain. Both private acquisitions and public colonization gained new momentum in the early 1900s; then in the interwar years.
Thus, in 1934, the European-owned land amounted to 2,462,537 acres. The main crops were wheat and grapes, with the export of grain and wine and olive oil. This commercial agriculture formed the economic basis for the colonization of Algeria.
In 1848, the settlers had an impact on Algeria being declared French territory, an integral part of France – subject to French law. The three old Turkish provinces were converted into French counties (département). In doing so, the settlers were given the opportunity to choose envoys to the National Assembly in Paris. Emperor Napoleon 3 personally engaged in the Algerian issue and visited the colony in 1860. He argued that Algeria should not be surrendered to the colonists, but that France’s main concern must be the welfare of the Arab majority – an attitude met with opposition by the colonists.
A separate constitution for Algeria from 1869 sought to unite the interests of the two peoples groups, something the Europeans opposed, as it would mean that Arab – Muslim representatives could be elected, not only to local elected officials, but also to the French National Assembly.
For the first 40 years, the French government in Algeria was dominated by military administration. France was partly governed by the organization established by Abd al-Qadir in the provinces of Alger and Oran (Oranais), and the Turkish administration in Constantine (Constantinois).
After the fall of Napoleon 3 and the introduction of France’s Third Republic in 1870, civilian rule became the norm in Algeria, and civil laws applied throughout the country, although military officers were common at the local level – including as leaders of the so-called Arab offices (bureaux arabes). Civilian governance did not mean that all citizens received equal civil rights. Own laws for the “natives” weakened the legal protection of the country’s Muslim majority. This board, parallel to a large-scale European immigration, led to a breakdown in the old Algerian society.
In 1871, people in Kabylia, led by Muhammad al-Muqrani, rose against the French government, but were defeated by a militarily superior opponent. This was the last major uprising before the liberation war, and at the same time meant a political victory for the colonists, where politics was then concentrated on the interests of this group. The military victory was followed by French terror as well as confiscation of land – as a deterrent to continued resistance. A special penal code for so-called natives was introduced in 1881, for a series of crimes considered special to them.
It is not known how many Algerians lost their lives, directly or indirectly, as a result of the French invasion. It is estimated that the population was reduced by about one-third from the invasion in 1830 until resistance was suppressed in the mid-1870s.
After the fall of Napoleon 3 in 1870, a separatist movement among the colonists sought to secure Algerian autonomy from France, without winning. In 1900 Algeria gained special civil status with its own budget, and thus a greater degree of autonomy.
The Muslim Algerian community was severely affected by the colonization, and traditional social as well as economic structures were weakened, also through an assimilation to this end. The community was enriched through administration and legislation, language and schooling; place name was changed. The old aristocracy – with local leaders (grand chefs – chieftains) disappeared; traditional crafts were partially eradicated; poverty spread. Much of the Algerian peasantry lost its base of life, and had to find work on European-owned farms, in the cities, or in France, as opportunities for emigration from 1910 opened.