The Algerian War and the Fourth French Republic
Unknown to many, Algeria is historically important to France. The African country had been under French rule for many years. Then the Algerian War erupted, a battle fought against France for Algerian independence. It was in the course of this war that Algeria played a crucial part in the decline of the Fourth Republic of France.
France, along with Great Britain, used to be a major force in colonization (McNeill, 1999). France was the next colonial superpower succeeding Great Britain, and it became recognized for its many colonies. Those colonies included Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria (McNeill, 1999). Algeria had been a French colony since the mid-1800s, as Sidi Ferruch was first occupied by French forces in 1830 (Cooper, 2003; McNeill, 1999). The Algerian population consisted of two groups of people: the Algerian Moslems and the colons (Cooper, 2003). Algeria’s native peoples were the Moslems, the majority of which were Arabs and Berbers. Even if they composed most of the population, they had little influence compared to the colons. Colons are Algerian settlers, mostly from Europe, and arrived during the 1870s; they are also referred to as pied noirs (Cooper, 2003; McNeill, 1999). The Moslems were disadvantaged in their own land: they were uneducated, hungry and unhealthy, and unemployed. The colons were in a much better position socially and economically (Cooper, 2003). Politically, the same holds true; the pied noirs consisted of only 10 percent of the entire population, but practiced suffrage unlike the Moslems (McNeill, 1999).
In general, the decline of the Fourth French Republic was caused by decolonization (Adams, Jordan- Bychkov, ; Kaiser, 2007; McNeill, 1999). After World War II, the colonized sought to break free from their colonizers (McNeill, 1999). Morocco and Tunisia were also important for France, but Algeria held much more significance to France due to its location. Algeria was geographically closer to Europe, which was advantageous for France in terms of its colonial endeavors. In addition to that, Algeria was actually considered as a part of France itself, as it was “absorbed by the parent state” in 1848 (McNeill, 1999). Hence, Algeria was more than a protectorate of France; this made Algerian independence difficult to achieve (McNeill, 1999).
However, Algeria had many reasons to seek its independence. During the 1930s, the Algerian Moslems suffered from the lack of proper education and nutrition, as well as unemployment (McNeill, 1999). Moreover, the population was increasing and there was no progress in terms of agriculture. Even if the government of France did exert effort in giving more rights to the Moslems through a constitution, the Moslems never received them because the legislation was challenged by colon representatives. As a result, a group of nationalists resorted to rebellion to gain Algerian freedom from French rule (McNeill, 1999).
One of the aspects of the Algerian War that caused the fall of the Fourth Republic of France was its costliness. According to Harvey (1992), “the war was economically debilitating”(p. 290). The Algerian insurgency began on November 1, 1954 (Cooper, 2003; McNeill, 1999; “Algerian War,” 2003). The rebellion was initiated by the National Liberation Front, popularly known as the FLN; the initials stand for Front de Libération Nationale (Mount Holyoke College, 2008; “Algerian War,” 2003). The first attack was carried out in the dawn of All Saints’ Day, and the targets were public infrastructures: military bases, police stations, communications structures and other facilities (Cooper, 2003; “Algerian War,” 2003; Mount Holyoke College, 2008; “Algerian War,” 2003). Since Algeria was under French authority, all that were attacked were French possessions. The attack caused much damage to government property, which could have cost the government millions.
At the beginning of the rebellion, all attacks were held in the rural areas (“Algerian War,” 2003). This prompted the Europeans to move into the city for protection. By 1956, however, the war had reached the cities (Mount Holyoke College, 2008). If the countryside attacks targeted public utilities, the city insurgency focused on business establishments and educational institutions, such as stores, cafés and schools (Mount Holyoke College, 2008). These occurrences still contributed in threatening the French economy.
The All Saints’ Day guerilla attacks drew an aggressive response from the French authorities (“Algerian War,” 2003). The interior minister of France during that time was François Mitterand, and he declared that war would be France’s only response to Algerian rebellion. As a result, over 400,000 French forces were deployed in Algeria (Mount Holyoke College, 2008; “Algerian War,” 2003). The French government was thorough in its military efforts against Algerian insurgency, as even the French air force and navy were sent to help restore the peace in the colony (“Algerian War,” 2003). However, despite such military commitment, the French failed to completely defeat the insurgents (Harvey, 1992). In addition, back in France, the people were losing interest in the expenses and developments of the war (“Algerian War,” 2007).
Consequently, another aspect of the war which lead to the Fourth French Republic’s demise was the sentiment of the French people. The Algerian War caused social division in France (Harvey, 1992). More and more French people were opposing the war by the year 1959, and the pressure from other countries to free Algeria was mounting (“Algerian War,” 2003). Even the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was concerned about French involvement in such war (Mount Holyoke College, 2008). Back in France, the public discontent was further exacerbated by the censorship which took effect in both France and Algeria (McNeill, 1999). Newspapers which featured stories or opinions against French war efforts or policies were censored. Since the censorship only covered newspaper articles, La Question by Henri Alleg was exempted. This publication exposed French military torture of Algerian rebels. The censorship of free speech drew strong reactions from French authors such as Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre (McNeill, 1999).
However, the most relevant aspect of the war that caused the collapse of the Fourth Republic was the discontent of the pied noirs. While the Algerian Moslems wanted their freedom, the pied noirs wanted to retain the governance of France in Algeria (Adams, Jordan- Bychkov, ; Kaiser, 2007). This stand was more about their own interests than an allegiance with France. Most of the pied noirs believed that they have established Algeria, and they would fervently defend it against the insurgents (Cooper, 2003).
As the war progressed, the pied noirs became more skeptical of the restoration of order in Algeria (McNeill, 1999). They were disappointed with the incapacity of the French government to successfully settle the conflict in Algeria (Harvey, 1992). On May 13, 1958, the pied noirs, along with some French army officials, united in Algiers with the aim of overthrowing the French government (Harvey, 1992; Mount Holyoke College, 2008). They also created the Committee of Public Safety. Back in France, Premier Pierre Pflimlin was powerless; meanwhile, the newly created committee sought to bring General Charles de Gaulle out of retirement to be the premier and solve the war crisis (Adams, Jordan- Bychkov, ; Kaiser, 2007 ;Harvey, 1992; “Algerian War,” 2007). Even the Moslems welcomed de Gaulle’s authority (“Algerian War,” 2003). However, de Gaulle did not settle the problem the way the pied noirs wanted. In 1958, the FLN founded the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic (GPRA) (“Algerian War,” 2007). At this point, de Gaulle knew that it would be impossible to settle the matter through a military approach. He then proposed three options from which the Algerians could decide their political fate in 1959 (McNeill, 1999). This angered the pied noirs, and in January 1960, they revolted in Algiers; this revolt proved unsuccessful (McNeill, 1999; “Algerian War,” 2007). In 1962, Algeria finally gained its independence (McNeill, 1999). The actual demise of the Fourth Republic came four years earlier, when the National Assembly granted de Gaulle a six-month period of absolute authority, and the power to make a constitution (Adams, Jordan- Bychkov, ; Kaiser, 2007). The Assembly was soon diminished, and the Fourth Republic was over (Adams, Jordan- Bychkov, ; Kaiser, 2007).
The aspects of the Algerian War that contributed to the fall of the Fourth Republic of France were the costliness of war, the social division it created in France and the discontent it caused on the pied noirs. Indeed, Algeria played a significant part in French history. The war did shape French history in many ways.
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