Algeria – under French colonial rule for 130 years

Located in North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea, Algeria has been closely associated with Europe and the Middle East since old times.

People called Berbers had lived there from ancient times, but they came to be controlled by the Roman Empire. After that, Algeria was invaded by Arabs and then incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.

However, France began to advance on Algeria in the 19th century, and Algeria became a French colony as a result of the conquest war beginning in 1830. Until Algeria achieved its independence in 1962, after World War II, it was under French rule for more than 130 years.

Meanwhile, the number of French immigrants reached one million. They built French towns and urged residents to receive French education.

It is said that the method of settlement and colonization was a model used by prewar Japan in the management of Taiwan, Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula.

Despite suppression by France, a nationalist movement flourished in the 1920s and developed into an armed conflict in 1954. Today it is known as the Algerian War.

Algeria, which thus gained independence in 1962 through armed conflict, promoted Arabic education in establishing its identity.

However, few of those in Algeria who could speak Arabic in daily conversation could teach Arabic reading and writing. Teachers were therefore dispatched from Egypt and other countries.

In fact, the literary Arabic language is very difficult because it is based on reading the Koran and is classical.

In addition, the spoken Arabic language is divided into many dialects which are completely different from one region to another. The Arabic language spoken in Algeria is therefore called Algerian Arabic.

Because of these reasons, the French language has not been purged from Algeria.

For example, higher education in universities in Algeria is mostly conducted in French. There is a reality that people cannot get a good job there if they cannot speak French.

In addition, France was suffering from a labor shortage due to its high economic growth and accepted a considerable number of immigrants from Algeria in the 1960s and 1970s. They naturally spoke French and became integrated into French society.

Arabic became an official language of Algeria after independence, and Berber was also officially designated in 2016. It was Berbers who originally lived in this region, but they have become a minority living in mountainous areas. Nevertheless, they have a large population in the capital Algiers and France, too.

Algeria is a bilingual country where both Arabic and French are used.

Apart from the economy, Algeria may still appear to be under the influence of France, its former suzerain, in terms of culture and ideology to the Japanese who know well that Taiwan, Manchuria, and Korea abolished the Japanese language after Japan’s withdrawal. However, it is not that simple.

Algeria standing apart from France

It is reported in Japan that nationwide demonstrations called the Hirak movement have been staged in Algeria since 2019.

It is said to be a protest movement against political corruption, and I think the demand for democratization and opposition to privileged classes are driving citizens, especially the younger generation.

In fact, this movement led to the resignation of President Bouteflika, who had been in power for a long time under a revised constitution.

Also, it is significant that the younger generation raised their voices against the situation in which people who fought in the Algerian War were regarded as heroes and monopolized the country’s wealth and privileges. The Arab Spring that broke out ten years ago came late to Algeria, which had been traumatized by civil war.

The problem is that the nationwide demonstrations are not organized, and there is no organization to take over the movement. I am interested to see where Algeria will go after the Bouteflika regime.

On the other hand, at the same time as the Hirak movement, nationwide demonstrations called the movement of gilets jaunes (yellow vests) were taking place in France. The demonstrations started as a protest against the increase in fuel taxes, but some demonstrators turned into thugs and attacked shops.

In contrast, the Hirak movement is peaceful, and it is said to show the pride of Algerian people.

We can see the Algerians’ attitude of their intent to stand apart from France though they gained and learned a lot from, and are greatly influenced by, France.

Algeria has a hint of multicultural coexistence

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Albert Camus’ novel The Plague is drawing renewed attention. Camus is a French writer born in Algeria, and his representative work The Stranger is also set in Algeria.

In 2014, The Stranger was retold from the perspective of an Algerian and published as The Meursault Investigation in France. The novel became a major topic. It was written by Kamel Daoud, a well-known Algerian journalist, and translated by me into Japanese.

As anyone who has read Camus’s The Stranger knows, the main character, a Frenchman Meursault, kills an Arab man in Algeria under French colonial rule. However, The Stranger does not mention even the name of the murdered Arab man.

Does this indicate Camus’s own point of view or imply the common point of view of the French living in colonial Algeria at that time? That is a difficult question to answer.

Daoud created a character who is a younger brother of the murdered Arab man and retold The Stranger from his point of view.

You may assume that Daoud wrote the novel with criticism toward France and French intellectuals in the colonial era, but he had no intention of doing so.

Rather, The Meursault Investigation includes strong criticism of the current Algerian society saturated with deception and Islamism.

The author described colonial and current Algerians without getting caught up in what France did in the past, in order to consider what is the ideal state of Algerians and Algeria.

This shows Daoud’s attitude as a journalist or as one of the Algerian intellectuals who have always seen and tried to address the reality of their situation without attaching their mind to France.

Of course, there are also anti-French people in Algeria. However, I think such hatred is a social and political fiction in some ways. Algeria has a strong economic relationship with France and is greatly influenced by and vastly benefits from French culture; Algerians must be aware of these facts.

However, on the other hand, Algeria is not a member of the International Organization of La Francophonie (an international organization consisting mainly of Francophone countries) and has the phrase “French is a trophy.”

This shows the shrewdness of Algerians who deem the influence of France their own interests rather than what was imposed upon them.

I think Japan, which relies on English in the international community while saying it aims for diversity and multicultural coexistence, has a lot to learn from Algeria.

* The information contained herein is current as of August 2021.
* The contents of articles on are based on the personal ideas and opinions of the author and do not indicate the official opinion of Meiji University.
* I work to achieve SDGs related to the educational and research themes that I am currently engaged in.

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