From the early 1900s saw the emergence of an Algerian nationalism among the country’s Muslim population, as well as among the colonists (Colons). The latter sought autonomy from France, while the Muslim population over the century increasingly promoted the demand for independence. The first books on the country’s history, written by Arab Algerians, contributed to national consciousness.
From the early 1900s, schemes were introduced that also gave the Muslim people voting rights and representation in local governing bodies. From 1919 it was extended to all elected bodies. At the same time, cultural and political participation, substantially from an educated elite, increased, among other things through associations and publications. After the war, there was a change in the European settlement pattern, with the migration to the cities from agriculture. Native Algerians gradually took over the same areas, including small towns, although there was also a relocation to the cities of this population – especially by people with education, the so-called évolués.
Two of Algeria’s leading men, President and Prime Minister Ben Bella on the left and then-Defense Minister Houari Boumedienne on the right, just before the coup in 1965.
Algeria’s indirect participation in the First World War had an impact on nationalism by sending soldiers to the French war effort. Most of these were native Algerians who were either enrolled or volunteered; a total of 173,000 soldiers – in addition to 22,000 Europeans. During the war, 119,000 Algerians emigrated to France, and contributed their labor. In 1918, over one-third of the male Algerian working-age population was employed in France. As was the case for other colonized people who participated in the war, from both British and French colonies, participation led to increased awareness of self-esteem and an emerging nationalism.
Algerian nationalism had several roots, and assumed different directions. Algerians with French education and public employment belonged to a small elite who promoted reforms early, but who sought a union with France rather than independence for Algeria as a state. This group was often called the Ungalgerians, as were similar reform movements in Turkey (the Young Turks) and Tunisia.
Another group of reformers had their roots in the Islamic Salafist movement, organized in the Association des oulémas musulmans algériens (AUMA), led by Sheikh Abd al-Hamid ben Badis, in 1931. It contributed to a Muslim-based Algerian national identity, eventually through the ulama Societies.
A third and more radical direction originated in the North African exile environment in France. An original communist organization formed in 1926, Étoile North Africaine (ENA) was developed by Ahmed Messali Hadj into a political movement that fought for Algerian independence. Having been established in Algeria in 1936, it formed the core of the new Party du peuple Algeria (PPA), founded in 1937. This direction, also known as the Messalists, became the dominant direction in the nationalist movement. The alternative that emerged was independence for Algeria, or internal autonomy associated with France. The brassists were the only ones who stood for independence.
The takeover of the leftist left-wing government in France in 1936 strengthened the Algerian nationalist movement, but mostly because of the colonists’ opposition to the reforms the new government wanted to introduce in Algeria. Prime Minister Léon Blum and his government advocated French citizenship and expanded voting rights for the Muslim elite, while retaining the system of Islamic private law. This intensified the opposition between the French authorities and the French Algeria – and the proposal was withdrawn. This, in turn, weakened the belief in a solution within a united United Algeria among Algerian Muslims.
Nationalism also grew among European Algerians. Immigration stopped more or less after World War I, but population growth increased – reaching 984,000 Europeans in 1954. Of these, about 70 percent were born in Algeria, and although they came from several countries, they were assimilated and considered first and mainly as (French) Algerians. This was also true of the Algerian Jews, who in 1954 totaled about 140,000. In particular, Algerians of European origin considered themselves Algerians in conflict with France. By contrast, they viewed themselves as French in relation to Algeria’s Muslim population.
World War II also affected Algerian nationalism. The Muslim population supported the colonial power at the outbreak of the war, but the colonies supported the Nazi-friendly Vichy government. In Algeria, this fell as a result of the US-British military campaign in Algeria and Morocco, Operation Torch, in November 1942 as part of the Allied invasion of North Africa. On the same day as the landing in Oran and Algiers, and as part of the operation, the French resistance movement launched a coup in Algiers, November 8.
The Allied occupation promoted liberal views in line with nationalists’ demands for democratization. In December, a manifesto demanding political equality and Algerian autonomy was handed over to Allied and French authorities. However, French citizenship was only granted to certain groups of Muslims. In 1944, the group Amis du manifest et de la Liberté(AM) formed to promote the idea of an Algerian nation, with an autonomous republic in federation with the French. Disputes between Muslim and European Algerians led to several violent clashes in May 1945, partly as a result of the deportation of Messali Hadj. Massacre in Sétif, Kherrata and Guelma, with several thousand killed, contributed to further radicalization. The experience spurred a militant nationalism on the path to independence, rather than a moderate political solution advocated by the AM.
A new law passed by the French parliament in 1947 established an Algerian National Assembly with one chamber for each peoples group. This meant that the Muslim population was recognized as French citizens, but many of the reforms that lay in the new policy were not implemented. The demand for independence was not heard – nor raised in the elected Algerian Assembly that functioned until 1956.