In recent months the nationalist upheaval in French North Africa has moved from deep inside the New York Times to Page One—a shift reflecting not only the proportions of the North African crisis in itself, but also a growing realization of how deeply that crisis must concern thoughtful Americans and the people of the free world in general. And, as so often with the world’s political problems, this one has a special importance for Jews, hundreds of thousands of whom are in danger of being caught between the conflicting forces. HERBERT LUETHY, recently returned from an extended visit to Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia, offers here a full and detailed analysis of a menacing situation whose complexities have been too often reduced in American thinking to the simple opposition of “imperialism” and “freedom.” The present article has been translated from the German by Maurice J. Goldbloom.



The history of civilization is also one of colonization—in every sense of that ancient word: settlement, clearing, land reclamation, cultivation, the founding of cities. Colonization is the revolutionary process of history itself, and since the Middle Ages it has transformed whole continents, destroyed or changed entire peoples, and brought all mankind into contact. This process has not been without tragedy; the clash of the new with the old has too often ended in the annihilation of the weaker, and older, party. And what was destroyed was not only crumbling, decadent social and cultural structures, but in many cases flesh and blood itself.

Nevertheless, not colonial rule as such is to be blamed for the decay, corruption, and anarchy that prevail today in almost every back-ward country; rather, industrialization, Western technology, and the rapacity of private economic interests—merchant adventurers, chartered companies, and the rest—brought this about before foreign political rule ever appeared on the scene. Usually, such rule represented an effort to impose order on the chaos resulting from private and purely economic colonialism.

The term “the white man’s burden” was coined to denote this official assumption of responsibility by European governments for strange lands and peoples, and it has been regarded as the consummate expression of imperialist hypocrisy. But may it not be suggested, in retrospect, that a hundred years of British rule (1857–1947) did more for the development—and emancipation—of India than a hundred years of the “Open Door” policy for China? One of the hardest lessons for the partisans of “anti-imperialism” to learn is that colonialism in its purest and most “progressive”—i.e. non-political—form (that kind of economic development of backward countries envisaged by Point Four) produces results exactly the opposite of those hoped for. For what backward countries need most to insure their social and economic development, and for want of which they are “backward,” is a tradition of government in the public interest. They lack, not simply a sufficient number of educated persons, but the very notion of public service and civic responsibility: the conviction that a public office is a trust and a duty, not just an opportunity for personal enrichment. This conviction is the artificial and fragile product of a thousand years of Western history, and it is infinitely more difficult to export than machines or credit. Also, without civic responsibility on the part of the recipient, machines and credit seldom arrive at their intended destination.

Colonialism originally meant colonization bv settlement, where a third factor, the foreign settler, is placed between motherland and colonial people—as in North Africa, where almost two million European inhabitants live side by side with about twenty million “natives.” All the present crises of French policy in North Africa arise, not from the relations between the mother country, France, and her North African dependencies, but from those between the European and Arab populations on the spot.

The problem, though different for each of the three North African lands of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, is basically that of how a tight colonial minority, far superior in standard of living, economic power, and political consciousness, can live together with a native population ten times as large and increasing far more rapidly. From all the angry articles and reports on French colonialism in North Africa one might think there was no problem easier to solve. Yet it has never been solved anywhere else—except where, as in North America and Australia, the natives were completely dispossessed and half exterminated, or, as in Latin America, had their religion and culture destroyed.

No analogy could be more distorted than that between North and South America’s struggle for independence from British and Spanish rule, and the present fight for Arab “liberation” in North Africa. Not the red Indians, but the European colonists in America freed themselves from colonial rule. The parallel case in North Africa would be for the French colonists to secede from the French empire. (That this would be a catastrophe for all concerned does not keep some Frenchmen in Algiers and Tunis from playing with the idea—if only to remind the “liquidationist politicians” in Paris who “want to throw the French in North Africa to the Arab wolves” that the European settlers have something to say in the matter.)

The French Imperial Mission

Metropolitan France’s intervention has served as the balancing factor in North Africa, and it is that today. There are times when— because of internal political weakness in France or reactionary connivance—her power to act seems to break down, leaving the reins in the hands of the colonists on the spot. And then the “Holy War,” which, in North Africa as in all Arab lands, always lurks just under the surface, begins to threaten. But in the long run the colonial tradition of the French motherland has always reasserted itself. This tradition, the oldest and greatest since ancient Rome, is summed up in a word that has come into disrepute lately: assimilation.

The millennial history of French colonialism begins, really, with the assimilation of the piratical Normans. These Scandinavians, after a hundred years on French soil, again swarmed forth, but this time as Frenchmen, and they carried French language and culture to England, Sicily, and Syria. The process of assimilation that had fused into one nation all the peoples thrown together on French soil by the great migration extended almost without break into the creation of a “Greater France” in modern times. The program, or ideology, of French colonialism was always “to make Frenchmen,” and its constant feature has been “cultural imperialism”: the colonialism of a nation that never felt herself a “racial” or “tribal” unit, but rather a cultural one capable of absorbing all other human culture.

The French Republic secularized the sense of mission of the Bourbon monarchy by substituting the school certificate and the civil code for religious faith as symbols of conversion to French “culture and civilization.” The emancipation of the colonial peoples, it was assumed, would be completed when all of them—Madagascar, Algerians, Senegalese, and Khmers— had become Frenchmen. A grandiose idea, and measured by its realization, an abysmally hypocritical one: a hundred years after the conquest of Algiers only one out of a hundred native children goes to school and only one out of a thousand Algerian Arabs is a French citizen. Yet it is the idea that has created this empire and held it together. The myth of the universality of French civilization is, or was, actually one of the few empire building myths of our time. Its crisis is now France’s deepest crisis, and it is hard to say whether the myth is still capable of renewing itself, or whether it will die forever in that cultural chauvinism so typical nowadays of many expressions of the French spirit.

Algeria: Base of the Third Empire

In North Africa, or at least in Algeria, conditions appeared to be very favorable to French colonialism. Algeria is truly “the natural continuation of France on the other side of the Mediterranean,” and it is also a genuinely “French creation.” A nest of pirates and slave traders on an impregnable reef—themselves ruled by Janissaries under nominal Turkish suzerainty—tyrannized over a barren, thinly populated hinterland and paralyzed sea traffic in the western Mediterranean. The conquest of this territory in 1830, which laid the basis for a new, and third, French colonial empire, began as but one more punitive expedition. After an unexpected success, it planlessly and almost automatically merged into the conquest of the hinterland and the founding of “Algeria” —the name itself being first given to this desolate, nameless, historyless land by the French.

An inhospitable highland, cut off from the sea for almost its entire length by steep beaches, Algeria had nevertheless been constantly subject to invasions and nomadic raids from the east, south, and west. It had never found an independent inner unity, a beginning of historical continuity. None of the efforts to establish urban culture on its harsh soil had lasted as much as three generations before being leveled to the ground by a nomadic incursion. The country had no organized force with which to fight colonization, only the anarchical resistance that its mountain and desert tribes put up against every and any kind of rule. This resistance was disposed of by the French in a series of campaigns that took thirty years.

The French began to colonize Algeria by Roman methods, the only efficacious ones here, and to build from the ground up. Annexation was followed by administrative incorporation into the mother country, and by the state-organized founding of military colonies, of cities and villages settled by Frenchmen, that, even in externals, seemed transplanted straight from France. “Ownerless land”—i.e., land not in private possession according to French civil law—and the land of insurgent tribes was confiscated, made arable, and parceled out. Now, half the cultivated soil of Algeria, largely won from salt desert, steppe, and pasture, belongs to French peasants.

When the policy of assimilation was introduced in Algeria in 1865, it could really start with a clean slate. There never had been a nation, people, or past to which Algerian “national” consciousness could cling, and there seemed no conceivable future for the country aside from full absorption into France. And, actually, the amalgamation of Europe and the Orient was never carried so far as it was here. But it produced no real synthesis. Here was France, but the mass of the native population remained outside her schools, her justice, her democratic institutions—in the tragic position of a people that, in their own country, had until five years ago more or less the status of homeless aliens, neither “subjects,” a concept not recognized by French law, nor “citizens” in the true sense. Their language was officially regarded as a foreign one, and their religion as a sect. They were an “internal proletariat,” as much foreigners on the outskirts of the French city of Algiers as in France itself.

Assimilation Founders on Islam

Through the labyrinth of steep alleys and flights of steps of the Arab old city of Algiers— the notorious Casbah—run two broad European streets in the Parisian style of 1865. Here Napoleon III, dreaming of an “Arab empire,” settled state-subsidized French immigrants, hoping that by mixing residential areas he would promote the mixing of races, customs, and ways of life, and hasten a French-Arab symbiosis. Ten years later the last European was gone and the Casbah had swallowed up the broad avenues. The two populations had separated again like oil and water.

One may adduce many reasons for the collapse of the French policy of assimilation in North Africa. The decisive one might appear to be the gulf between the standards of living of the Arab and European populations. But this division does not follow ethnic lines altogether: Algeria has a European proletariat and a prosperous Arab bourgeoisie. And to speak of a “color bar” in North Africa is absurd. The Arabized Berbers of North Africa are not “colored” but “white,” and there was never any policy of segregation. There is really only one bar that is insurmountable: Islam. This is not primarily a question of religion as such. The colonization policy of the French Republic is strictly secular, and has avoided any hint of a religious mission. Islam, to be sure, is a religious system. But it is also a granite block as impermeable to Europeanization as it is to Christianization.

Islam is a totalitarianism grown old and petrified. It means “subjection”—not only to a religious faith, but to a whole religious, political, juridical, and social system comprehending all spheres of life. The radical simplicity of its faith, a strict monotheism abstracted from Judaism and Christianity but stripped of all their mysteries, can be summed up in the formula “God is God.” This, together with a few formulas and rites, gives Islam, even today, an incomparable penetrative power among peoples at the same cultural stage as that of Arabia at the time of the Prophet; thus the conquest of all Africa by Islam is still a thoroughly plausible perspective.

Islam means a social system that recognizes no community other than her own religious one, no law other than the Koran and the Sunnah, no truth outside the revealed truth of the Prophet, and no science except the interpretation of this truth. Every religion is in a certain sense a “total system,” but what distinguishes Islam is its stubborn negation of every distinction between the spiritual and secular spheres, spiritual and secular authority, spiritual and secular law. The kingdom of the Prophet was completely “of this world”; he was the political founder of a religion and the religious missionary who built an empire—prophet, chief of state, and conqueror in one. Arab colonization has been total and lasting as no other before or since, not because it was particularly cruel or intolerant—on the contrary, it had from the beginning a contemptuous tolerance for those who remained apart—but because of its monolithic pressure.

However, the strength and greatness of Islam also proved to be its weakness. The society it created and the law it gave were immutable, and this immutability embraced all spheres of life, spiritual and material, public and private. The high point of Arab culture and science in medieval Cordova and Bagdad is like a burst of fireworks: a shower of sparks was produced by the fusing of the old cultural centers of the Mediterranean into a single Islamic bloc, only to die down quickly once this original fuel had been spent. Since the 14th century, Arab civilization has created literally nothing in art, literature, science, or politics, nor, except for war lords, despots, and imams, has it produced any historical personalities, whether individual or national, since then. As the Arabesque style froze, so the Arabic literary language, bound to the Koran, froze into a learned and ecclesiastical language cut off from living roots. Jurisprudence and philology, the only subjects other than theology taught in Arab universities, likewise became petrified because confined to the exegesis of the Koranic tradition.

The Arab empire and its successors were never able to produce a state constitution, but continued to try to rule with the tribal institutions and organizational forms that Mohammed and his followers had brought out of Arabia. None of the Arab dynasties into which the empire fell apart ever created even a binding law of succession. State power remained the property of the family of the Prophet, handed down according to the same collective right of inheritance that applied to pasture land; in practice this was the right of the stronger—it amounted to “despotism tempered by assassination.”

The Islamic community, whether appearing as state, church, tribe, brotherhood, fanatical army, or political party, has remained the same for thirteen centuries: a chief and his following of faithful—a chief reluctant to divide or delegate his powers. Here such Western concepts as “state,” “nation,” “democracy,” “monarchy,” “feudalism” are futile. The amazing durability of the Islamic form of religio-political organization, apparently doomed at every moment to anarchy and collapse, is owed to its ability always and everywhere spontaneously to reconstitute itself, whether in the remotest valley of the Atlas Mountains or in a barracks in Paris. A chief and a following of the faithful suffice. Another factor is the seclusion of the women, who remain veiled, ignorant, submissive, outside public life. The woman, and thus the family, remain insulated from changes in the outside world, and every new generation is born out of the womb of ignorance into subjection to tradition.

Arab “Nationalism”

The Arab world, by virtue of its numbers and strategic position at the juncture of three continents, has become a significant factor in international politics; but this does not change its inner structure, only its bargaining position. This world has, for a century now, been increasingly threatened by Western technology, Western schools, and Western political intervention; but these all meet resistance. Xenophobia, religious fanaticism, and reactionary traditionalism, all of them basically variants of the “Holy War,” have symptomized the efforts to get rid of the “Western poison.” For thirty years Turkey’s “Kemalist” revolution, a radical effort at westernization, has remained an isolated phenomenon, anathematized by the spokesmen of pan-Arabism; and indeed, though Turkey is a Moslem country, it is not an Arab one. (However, the sudden recent spread of “Kemalism” in new forms over the Middle East may open a more promising chapter in Arab history; it is perhaps the most hopeful current development in this part of the world.)

But so far the Arab’s only answer to the modern world has been “nationalism.” That is another word that has been thoughtlessly transposed from the world of Western ideas into an alien one. Outside Arabia there is no Arab people, but only an Arab civilization, and nothing is more foreign to it than the idea of a nation. Islam is supranational, and Arab colonization largely obliterated the individuality of the nations it overran. What one calls “Arab nationalism” does not express national feeling, or allegiance to a nation, but allegiance to Arab civilization and to Islam. It does not mean national emancipation, but simply resistance to the West. This resistance, though acted out differently in different places, is fundamentally one and the same everywhere.

Of course, there are differences that depend on the length and intensity of European influence. In French North Africa today, there are various sorts of opposition to French rule, from the ever mobilizaole atavism of the “Holy War” to modern nationalism, mostly of Young Turk inspiration. The one looks backward, the other forward; the one toward Cairo, the other toward the West. Movements such as the Party of the Algerian Manifesto and the Tunisian Neo-Destour are led by an elite schooled in French political thought. And it is one of the paradoxes of the French empire that almost all its colonial emancipation movements begin in Paris. The Algerian People’s party of Messali Hadj was founded in Paris after the First World War as the Etoile Nord-Africaine, and even today it has its strongest base among the Algerian workers in France. The Moroccan Istiqlal was founded by a manifesto of Moroccan students in Paris. The Party of the Algerian Manifesto and the Néo-Destour of Tunis are based on the Europeanized intellectual class in each country, who, in their own words, “took their French schoolbooks seriously.” The same is true of the rest of the French empire. It was not from Moscow but from France that Communism was imported into Indo-China, and Ho Chi Minh served his apprenticeship as a political agitator in Paris.

Paris, capital of the French empire, is thus the incubator, too, of all the movements and conspiracies against its rule. Astounding as it seems at first glance, even the most radical independence movements in the French colonial possessions again and again stress their love for France—but for another France than that represented overseas by her governors-general and residents, the France of the “ideas of 1789.” This is not merely rhetoric. The conflict between French colonists and natives startlingly reproduces the style, terminology, and mental attitudes of the conflict between “the two Frances” in the mother country itself. The colonists act as the conservative right and the natives as the radical left, and a superficial observer always runs the danger of forgetting that he is not in Europe. Aside from Abd-el Krim, the hero of the Riff War, whose experience and thinking have remained on the level of the “Holy War,” none of the North African leaders has allied himself with the pan-Arab and pan-Islamic chiefs in Cairo. In that company of whirling dervishes and cynical pashas Habib Abou Rekaba and even Messali Hadj, the Algerian prophet, feel too European. So when one speaks of the collapse of the French policy of assimilation in North Africa one does not mean that it has had no results, but only that they have been different from those anticipated.

North Africa’s Jews

For the Jews of North Africa, French rule has worked brilliantly. Before, they had lived in the worst poverty, demoralization, and disrepute— now they have accomplished a development of six centuries in the course of a few generations. More than half the Jews in Mohammedan countries live in French North Africa, and almost half of these in Morocco. The figures for 1947–8 were 130,000 Jews in Algeria, 85,000 in Tunisia, and 205,000 in French Morocco. (The total number of Jews in all Mohammedan countries was at that time 846,000, but it has materially declined since then owing to emigration to Israel.)

Visiting a Moroccan ghetto, a mellah, one can still get an idea of how North African Jewry lived before the French came—in Morocco it was only forty years ago. Even the Arab old city, the medina, a monument of the “old urban culture” of Morocco that was carefully preserved by Marshal Lyautey, is bad enough from a modern point of view—narrow, overpopulated, and stifling, without light, air, or water. But it has, at least, a picturesqueness in its arched gateways, its mosques, and in the colorful tumult of its market; moreover, behind the whitewashed façades of the narrow and filthy alleys often lie the splendid palaces of rich pashas and merchants, with wide inner courts and bubbling fountains. In comparison, the mellah is a hell without any redeeming elements, a hybrid of catacomb, sewer, prison, and slum. There are ghettos in Morocco where each person has but two square yards of Lebensraum even when streets, courts, and dwelling space are all added together—hardly room for a grave. The population that vegetated there was apathetic, bent, undernourished, pauperized, clothed in black rags, eaten up by disease and sores, living literally on the refuse of Morocco.

The educational work of the Alliance Israélite Universelle, founded in Paris in 1860, began in Morocco under French protection ninety years ago. But it was only under the full French protectorate that it could develop unhindered, and since the end of the Second World War it has acquired the force of an earthquake. In the Alliance schools scattered through Morocco, and especially in the Jewish “university city” of Casablanca, a medieval sub-proletariat is being lifted under our eyes into modern humanity. The Alliance has placed great stress on training not only intellectuals and businessmen, but also skilled artisans, industrial workers, and farmers. Among the Mohammedans in the years before the Second World War, it was necessary for teachers and police to go out and look for students, and many classes remained empty. But the inhabitants of the ghetto fought from the first for every available place in a school, prepared to make any sacrifice in order to open the “road to life” for their children.

In these modern schools, distinguished from Western schools only by the enthusiasm and eagerness of their students, it is difficult to imagine that the pupils and even most of their teachers come directly from the misery of the ghetto. Today practically every native Jewish child in Morocco goes to a French school or one run by the Alliance.

But the solution of one problem leads to another. The new Jewish generation coming out of these schools will no longer accept existence in the mellah. Yet public life is barred to them; the present tendencies of Moroccan nationalism rule out any idea that Morocco might become a religiously neutral state. Thus Moroccan Jewry lives in a sort of “protectorate within the Protectorate.” When the French under Mangin entered Marrakesh in 1912, they were received to their astonishment with the singing of the “Marseillaise”; it was the

Jewish school children who sang it. Neither the Jews nor the Moslems of Morocco can forget that the former owe their emancipation to French suzerainty. It is not a question of “prejudice”; the tradition of Islam, as we know, is one of religious, if discriminatory, tolerance. But this sort of tolerance is no longer acceptable to the Europeanized Jewish minority of Morocco.

To date, the industrial and commercial mushrooming of the North Moroccan cities has provided a sufficient outlet for the newly released Jewish energies. The Jewish population of Casablanca alone has, since 1912, been swelled from 5,000 to 65,000 by immigration from the mellahs of the interior. With peaceful political and economic development, the building up of Morocco would continue to offer opportunity enough for her Jews. Emigration to Israel, which was large for some years, has once again almost reached a standstill. It would rise again, however, and become a mass exodus if France’s position in Morocco should be seriously endangered in the near future.

Algerian and Tunisian Jewry

In Algeria and Tunisia the process that in Morocco is now at its height has, in many essentials, long been completed. In 1870 political and legal inclusion in the body of Greater France made possible a simple and radical solution of the Jewish problem in Algeria. In that year the Crénieux Decree gave full French citizenship to the native Jews of Algeria. The corollary of allegiance to the French civil code, which involved a sort of apostasy for Mohammedans, was no obstacle to Jews. Thus eighty years ago every political, legal, and social limitation was removed from Algerian Jewish life; many Algerian Jews since then have had illustrious careers.

This has not left them without problems. The Crémieux Decree was issued at the demand of the French settlers, in order to strengthen their position by bringing over to the European side the most assimilable part of the native population. It was a special case of “divide and rule.” French colonization begins everywhere by forming native elites that act as outposts of French civilization and French loyalty. But when this elite is drawn from a native minority group, the conflicts are not bridged, but merely shifted. The resentment of the Algerian Arabs at this privileged Jewish assimilation played a role in the Kabyle uprisings of 1871, and has never altogether disappeared.

On the other hand, wholesale juridical assimilation is not exactly the same thing as social amalgamation; it furnishes only one of the conditions that enable an individual to integrate himself into a group other than his original one. As a group themselves, the Jews of Algeria still stand midway between the Arabs and the Europeans, and their way of life ranges all the way from that of the French haute bourgeoisie to that of native squalor. The French-Jewish alliance formed in 1871 has, moreover, often been an uneasy one. At the turn of the century the wave of anti-Semitism that broke in France with the Dreyfus case attained its greatest heights among the French in Algeria. The Vichy government’s repeal in 1940 of the Crémieux Decree struck a serious blow at France’s policy of assimilation, even in the eyes of the Algerian Arabs: “If the grant of French citizenship is a provisional and revocable favor, then it is not only more honorable, but safer, to fight for an Algerian citizenship of our own,” was the conclusion such Algerian leaders as Ferhat Abbas drew.



Tunisia, like Morocco, has the legal status of a protectorate, and its Jewish inhabitants have for the most part remained Tunisians and subjects of the Bey. But the Tunisian state is far less theocratic than the Moroccan, and its Western influences far older and deeper. Tunisia has been developing for almost a hundred years in the direction of a religiously neutral state on the Western model. The Tunisian independence movement itself is the most “Western” and the freest from religious fanaticism of any Arab country. A relatively large number of Tunisian Jews—about 8,000, as compared to approximately half as many Mohammedan Tunisians—have become French citizens individually, and have gone over to the already very heterogeneous European minority in Tunisia.

Thus, in spite of all legal differences, the fate of the Jews in the three North African countries is indissolubly bound up with that of the European minorities. One might say that it poses in the second degree—as a minority within a minority—the basic problem of the Afro-European situation, that of the living together of different peoples and civilizations. The fact that at least three different ethnic groups are “condemned to live together” has the advantage of preventing one minority from being left alone to face one majority in ancestral hostility. But this also means, for the Jews, balancing on two chairs that might be pulled apart some day with dire results.

The reactions of the North African Jews to this situation run a gamut from super-French chauvinism and bitterness against the Arabs at one end, to an eager search for a conciliatory solution at the other. A few Jews incline to a defeatist attitude and see emigration as the only way out. In Morocco, given the political and juridical status of the Jewish community there, Jewish political thinking keeps within the limits of ethnic and religious minority concerns on the whole, asking only for protection and avoiding “interference” in Moroccan-French relations except where Jewish interests are involved. (This only reflects the archaic character of Morocco.) As for Algeria and Tunisia, it would be difficult to isolate a specifically Jewish position on the problems of North Africa in either country. The loyalty Jews generally feel toward France is something they share with their European fellow citizens, and they have retained this loyalty despite the cruel shocks received under the Vichy regime.

Indeed, Jewish political opinion still follows along in the tradition of the solid “bloc” that came into existence in the days of the Dreyfus case, around 1900. Then violent anti-Semitism was widespread in North Africa, and the Jewish vote went en masse, and for good reasons, to the pro-Dreyfus, anti-clerical left-wing parties —the Radical—Socialists, above all, with the Socialists running a poor second. The heritage is still alive in the Jewish community—René Mayer, Jewish deputy from Constantine (Algeria) and former French prime minister, represents the Radical—Socialist party brilliantly in Paris—but it has lost its militant flavor. The problems are different now, and mass Arab emancipation, once an almost exclusively theoretical question, holds the political foreground. Radical-Socialism has itself become quite conservative, and stands uncompromisingly behind French colonial rule, while the Socialists themselves have become a party of moderate reform. It is of a piece with this that Jewish opinion in Algeria and Tunisia is generally even more reluctant to grant Arab emancipation claims than are the European settlers. But the struggle over this issue has been so far entirely a Franco-Arab one, with the Jews standing outside and being wooed, right now, by both sides.

The creation of a genuine multi-national society in North Africa—which, though remote, might be the only real solution of the problem —or even of a state of tolerable “coexistence,” is made neither more difficult nor easier by the presence of an autochthonous Jewish minority. The only difference is that the Jews are more aware than the others that there are no readymade logical “solutions,” and that the situation does not demand moral verdicts so much as down-to-earth politics and slow adaptations and compromises with realities. These would hardly be brought nearer if France were compelled to relinquish her role as arbitrator.

Algeria Seeks Autonomy

One outstanding fact is, however, clear today: the Arabs of North Africa will not become Frenchmen (or Europeans). The naive self-assurance which once stood back of the French idea of assimilation has vanished, and a period of seeking and groping for a new orientation has begun. The old French dream has been wrecked on the reefs of an awakening of Arab “national” consciousness, the resistance of the French colonists, and France’s loss of power and prestige in the Second World War. The political and intellectual transformation from an assimilationist to an autonomist of the most important representative of the Algerian elite, the founder and leader of the Party of the Algerian Manifesto, Ferhat Abbas, strikingly illustrates this.

“Beyond Nationalism! I am France!” was the title of a famous article that he, the young son of an Algerian dignitary and already a commander of the Legion of Honor, published in February 1936. “If I had discovered the ‘Algerian nation’ I would be a nationalist and would not camouflage it. . . . But I will not die for the ‘Algerian fatherland,’ for this fatherland does not exist. . . . I have not found it. . . . . We have discarded once and for all these mists and chimeras, in order to link our future definitely with that of France’s work in this country. Six million Mohammedans live on this soil, which has been French for a hundred years. They dwell in holes, go barefoot, without clothes and often without bread. We want to create a modern society out of this hungry multitude . . . to elevate them to human dignity . . . that they may be worthy to be called Frenchmen. . . .”

That was only sixteen years ago. Today it seems scarcely credible that the realization of this utopia then seemed so near. In 1937 Leon Blum’s Popular Front government laid before the French parliament an assimilation decree in favor of the Arab elite in Algeria. In retrospect, this appears to have been the last great chance for the assimilation policy. It envisaged the granting of citizenship rights to some 30,000 Algerian veterans of the First World War, and to all officials, teachers, and possessors of an advanced education. But—and this was the step of greatest symbolic importance—this would not require a change of civil status, i.e., the transfer of the new citizens from Koranic to French civil law. Thus would be removed that religious obstacle to “becoming French” which only a few Algerian Mohammedans had theretofore surmounted. The project, greeted with enthusiasm by many Algerian intellectuals, was bitterly resisted by the French colony in Algeria as an “invasion of half-assimilated natives.” The mass resignation of the Algerian mayors in protest induced the right wing of the Popular Front, the Radical-Socialist party, and finally the government and parliament to shelve the Blum-Viollette proposal.

When the 1939 war came, Ferhat Abbas volunteered for the French medical corps and, in a “Letter to My Electors,” once again declared his allegiance to France. In 1942, more than two years after the French defeat, with an Allied expeditionary force on Algerian soil, he presented an “Algerian Manifesto” to the French and the Allied authorities, including the Soviet Union, in the name of the native notables of Algeria. The declaration of principles and the program of reform it contained became the charter of Algerian autonomism.

In answer to this “Manifesto,” an Assimilation Decree was issued by the French Committee of Liberation, on March 7, 1944, that realized the Viollette project on a much broader basis. About 80,000 Algerian Moslems were given full French citizenship without changing their personal status. On May 7, 1946, the first Constituent Assembly of liberated France voted that: “From June 1, 1946, all nationals of overseas territories, including Algeria, have the status of French citizens with the same rights as French nationals in the mother country and in the overseas territories.” But this final triumph of France’s policy of assimilation was celebrated on paper alone. The measure awoke no echo in Algeria, the Arab elite of Algeria having by now discovered the “Algerian nation” for which they had sought in vain ten years earlier. They demanded that this new nation be recognized forthwith and granted its own parliament and government as an “Algerian republic within the French Union.”



A year later, in 1947, the “Organic Statute of Algeria” went part of the way toward meeting this demand. The Algerian Financial Assembly, which since 1900 had exercised a limited autonomy in Algerian financial questions on behalf of the European colonists, was expanded into an elective Algerian parliament. But its decisions remained subject to ratification by the French National Assembly and by a governor-general appointed from Paris. A typical compromise that satisfied nobody, the new constitution established a double electoral college for the elections both to the Algerian communal councils and to the French parliament. Under this arrangement 1,000,000 French citizens in Algeria send the same number of members to the Algerian and French parliaments as 8,000,000 Mohammedan citizens. A native Algerian of Koranic status is, if he lives in France, a full voter like any other Frenchman; in his own country he is a second-class one.

Yet this set-up contains a factor which might eventually correct the inequality. The second electoral college is purely native, and the first is open to gradual Algerianization. Besides ethnic Frenchmen, the first electoral college includes all assimilated immigrants from other Mediterranean countries, all Algerian Jews legally assimilated since 1870, and in principle all Algerians who have French citizenship by virtue of the various assimilation decrees prior to 1946, as well as all Algerians who can qualify as members of the “elite” by having finished any school, served in the army, or held any public post, including trade union office. Though the number of Arabs who actually vote has been considerably reduced by a boycott by Arab nationalists as well as by the intentional negligence of many French officials in preparing the voters’ lists, the way is actually opened under the present arrangement for a gradual conquest of the first college by the broadest native Algerian elite.

The French colonists cried bloody murder at this intrusion of natives into the European rep resentation because it would lead in the end to the native Algerians having more than one electoral college and the Europeans less than one. Yet, despite the protests on both sides, it would be hard to find a more practicable way of squaring the Algerian circle. How else can the Algerian natives be given self-government and equal rights, and at the same time the European minority be protected from the extreme Arab nationalists? Ultimate solutions are unthinkable. At any rate, every Algerian is a French citizen today. He can travel freely to France, take a job there, and settle there. The Algerian administration no longer imports its officials from France but recruits them at home, and inequality of pay in public service and the army is disappearing. A native Algerian postoffice or railroad official can transfer to Paris, just as a Frenchman can to Algiers.

Neither autonomy nor independence, however, can solve the fundamental problem of the coexistence of European and Arab. Algeria is no India or Abadan, and only a madman’s fantasy envisages “throwing the Europeans into the sea.” That the extremist Algerian People’s party of the itinerant prophet Messali Hadj talks this way, nevertheless, and that its appeal to religious fanaticism and the “Holy War” temporarily finds more fertile soil than do the far more complicated ideas of the moderate parties, is but part of the pathology of “colonial democracy.” So is the reaction of blind hatred and fear on the part of the European colony.



In the Algerian communal elections that took place some weeks after the promulgation of the new constitution, the “European” college voted down the line for the Gaullist “Rally,” under whose banner all the colonialist and antinative reactionaries had gathered, from the big landholders and mine owners to officials trembling for their jobs. In the “native” electoral college the extremist and terrorist Algerian People’s party of Messali Hadj swamped the moderate Party of the Algerian Manifesto, which only a year earlier had won 70 per cent of all Arab votes. An Algerian parliament made up on the basis of these latest elections would have become the arena of wild and sterile fanaticisms, so the French Interior Ministry and the new governor-general found a way out that, while not very graceful, was scarcely avoidable. The Algerian parliamentary elections of 1948— and in somewhat lesser degree the partial new elections of 1951—were openly and shamelessly rigged by the administration. Except in the cities and larger towns, where the pressure of public opinion kept the elections honest to some degree, hardly any but official candidates—“yesmen”—were sent to the Algerian assembly as representatives of the “native” college.

The result is a parliament where the interests of the colonists are ardently championed by the representatives of the first college, while those of the Arabs are represented, except for a handful of nationalist deputies, by obedient tools of the government-general. The French authorities, when they speak frankly, justify their course more or less as follows: “Universal suffrage, which often does harm even in old democracies, is in Algeria an infernal machine that would blow everything up if it were not manipulated. This people is immature, ignorant, and infinitely gullible; it must be led by the hand like a child. The elections are not an act of self-determination, but rather of political education; as the voter goes to the ballot box he gradually learns to understand problems that his offspring alone will be able to decide as free citizens. He acquires the basic motions of democracy, but he must be told what ballot to drop in the box, and if he still votes wrong, we must be able to correct him.” Since this argument is hard to present to world opinion, the political atmosphere of Algeria is soaked in hypocrisy. But is the argument completely wrong? It is the plea of that “enlightened despotism” which has everywhere been a necessary prelude to democracy; the question is whether the accent is on “enlightened” or “despotism.”



The most encouraging aspect of the Algerian situation is that the search for a solution is also taking place on the Arab side. The manifestoes and reforms proposed by the leaders of the Party of the Algerian Manifesto express genuine political thinking. They do not indulge in sterile hatred or historical denunciations of colonialism, but accept the history of the last hundred years as irrevocable, and start from the present situation. Their model is not the restored Middle Ages of the Arab League, but Kemal’s Turkey. No hall of the Union of the Algerian Manifesto is without his picture. All this betrays the very new recognition that the Arabs of Algiers cannot be emancipated from European domination alone or from European influence altogether, but must also be emancipated from their own past—which is not the same thing as the repudiation of that past.

In Sétif, its political stronghold, I visited one of the youth camps of the Party of the Manifesto. The discussions held there by young Algerians on the organization and internal franchise, the program and ideology of the “Youth of the Manifesto,” were beyond doubt a better school of democracy than the Algerian pseudo-parliament. They would have done credit to any Western youth organization. But the sensational and really revolutionary thing about this particular meeting was that for the first time an Algerian Mohammedan girl took part in a public conference of this sort. She was a delegate from a section, had full voting rights, and did not wear a veil. (Women do not vote in the Algerian “native” electoral college, as they do in the first, and no native deputy or politician has ever actually proposed giving Arab women the suffrage which the Algerian constitution envisaged for women in both colleges.) Significantly, this girl (who was obviously frightened by her own role) did not come from Algeria: as it happened, she was the delegate of an Algerian youth section in Lyons, and had been brought up and educated in France.

Precisely such a piece of boldness as the presence of a woman at a pohtical congress shows how long the Algerian road to modern ways of life still is. The counterpart to the girl from Lyons is the large number of Algerian workers in France, who for the most part no longer adhere to the archaic forms of Islamic family life when they return, if they do at all, to Algeria. (The prophet of extreme Algerian nationalism, Messali Hadj, is himself married to a Frenchwoman.) The conditions under which this “mixture of civilizations” takes place in the Arab quarters of Paris, Lyons, and St. Etienne are indeed not always of the best, which may be why the Algerian proletariat in France provided the first mass basis for Algerian nationalism.

But we are only at the beginning of the drama that began a few decades ago to rock the small educated elite of Algeria, and today affects ever wider circles of the Mohammedan population. After a century of colonization, the clash of Western civilization and Islam has just begun—a clash in which if it is to be fruitful, there must be neither victor nor vanquished. To forget this in dealing with the immediate problems of North Africa, and to attempt to impose quick and complete solutions, can only do harm.

Morocco Demands a Restoration

In Appearance, the problems of the two North African protectorates that flank the central bastion of Algeria on the east and west are much simpler. Morocco and Tunisia retain their individuality, their inherited state forms, and the consciousness of their own history. But today these two ancient monarchies, after having been propped up for several decades by a French protectorate, now demand the return of their independence. Compared with Algerian nationalism, striving laboriously for its own definition, the nationalist movements of Morocco and Tunis have a great advantage. But they also have a great disadvantage. Since they do not have to start from nothing, they try to go backward to what they had—toward a restoration of the pre-colonial era. However, there is a difference of a generation between colonization in Tunis and in Morocco—and a difference of centuries between Néo-Destour in Tunis and Istiqlal in Morocco.

Morocco is a medieval theocracy that survived into the 20th century as the last Arab state, in wild isolation from the outside world. A few decades ago it was abruptly thrown in contact with the modern world. The French protectorate was established in 1912, but not until 1934 were the last Berber tribes, which had never recognized any state authority, even that of the Sultan, conquered. A rugged and inhospitable country, it had barely managed to support a third of its present population at the beginning of the century.

Luckily, the Moroccan protectorate in its first fifteen years was guided by one of the greatest colonizers of modern times, Marshal Lyautey. He understood, loved, and admired the country and its people, and set out to make it into a modern nation without sacrificing its individuality and traditions. With the genius of a great promoter, he “sold” Morocco as a field for capital investment and at the same time protected with conservative zeal its state and religious institutions, its cities and antiquities, and its natural riches. His nationalization, on behalf of the Moroccan state, of the phosphate mines, whose opening up and exploitation gave the country its first great industry, placed its administration on a sound financial basis. The “spirit of Lyautey,” which even the Moroccan nationalists still cite as a model in attacking contemporary French policy in the Protectorate, was a strange mixture of extreme modernity and the colonizing spirit of the ancien régime, which had seen colonization not as a business, or merely a matter of prestige, but as a mission.

Few of Lyautey’s successors in the Residency at Rabat have worked in a similar spirit, even if they have all zealously paid it lip service. Some, like General Juin in the recent past, showed the sense of tact of a police sergeant. In the decade after Lyautey, Algerian administrators and Algerian methods of direct administration were imported into Morocco, a slap in the face to the principle of the Protectorate. The Moroccans are quite aware of the difference between the “French of France” and the French colonists’ sons from Algeria who find it so easy to act as a master race. Nevertheless, enough of the “spirit of Lyautey” has remained alive in the Protectorate’s officials, the army, and the outposts of colonization to set the tone.

In this new country the word “colonization” still has its ancient ring. A French officer and a couple of men, alone in a large district in the Atlas Mountains, represent the “pax franca,” the new peace and prosperity that have replaced the still vividly remembered days of anarchy, tribal wars, and the law of tooth and claw. The teacher of a newly opened school in the Bled has to ride a motorcycle to round up his students and persuade their parents to let them go to school. The staffs of the agricultural modernization stations show single families or whole tribes the advantages of new crops and modern methods of cultivation. They distribute seed and draft animals, bore wells, and lay out irrigation canals. Their outposts often become centers of social life, training schools, kindergartens, smithies, pharmacies, hospitals, and purveyors of assistance and advice in every type of situation. Physicians and medical assistants are scattered over the country, and dispensaries are strategically placed around the disease incubators that are the old Moroccan cities. Veiled Moroccan women visit them with their children, not only for medical help but to learn the simplest things about hygiene and child care. They are also taught cooking, sewing, and housekeeping. These aspects of colonization cannot be wiped out by the ugly drama of the shanty towns—the “bidonvilles” (bidon means tin gasoline drum) that cluster around the larger urban centers in Morocco.



The European-educated intelligentsia that leads the Moroccan nationalist party, the Istiqlal, is a small minority drawn almost without exception from rich and powerful old families. They have gone from the school bench to political action without any transition. In 1934, when the suppression of the last dissident tribes extended the authority of the Moroccan monarchy over the entire territory of the country for the first time, a group of Moroccan students in Paris collaborated with some leftist French journalists in drawing up a “reform plan” for Morocco that demanded a modern democratic and parliamentary constitution immediately. This was the beginning of the Istiqlal. At that time there were only about twenty Moroccans who had finished secondary schools. They were so few that they could have all become cabinet ministers, and all of them wanted to.

Today the Moroccan intelligentsia as yet includes no scientists, engineers, technicians, or agronomists. There are a few physicians, but very many lawyers, this being the kind of education best suited to a political career. What still blocks an-increase of schools for the natives, and a gradual replacement of the European administrative apparatus, is the difficulty of finding Moroccans with enough education to be teachers and officials, even when the requirements are brought down well below those demanded of Frenchmen. Modestly paid public jobs do not attract the Moroccan intellectual elite, who find, thanks to their small number, more than enough brilliant political or business careers open to them.

This complete lack of the home-grown cadres on which a modern, especially a democratic, state must be based doesn’t seem to bother the Istiqlal leaders. It is a party of “revolution from above”—and such a revolution today would mean little more than a restoration of Morocco’s pre-protectorate position. The party’s propaganda shifted some years ago from the democratic theses of the “reform plan” of 1934 to an idolatrous cult of the Sultan, who as Sherif —a direct descendant of the Prophet-incorporates in himself all secular and spiritual authority, and whose portrait in all colors and sizes has been distributed far and wide as the symbol of Moroccan nationalism. Sultan Sidi Mohammed was raised to the throne, while still an adolescent, in 1928 by the French Protectorate authorities over the claims of older rivals. He united all the accessories of an Oriental potentate—harem, palace slaves, Moorish guards, and the luxury of the Arabian

Nights—with a decided modernism. His favorite daughter appears in public without a veil, which no other Mohammedan citizeness could do in this strictly orthodox state. His eldest son, in whose favor the Sultan is trying to establish the Western right of primogeniture instead of the traditional “election” of a favored member of the family by the “scholars of the Koran,” is studying law. Last year the Sultan devoted a great part of his speech from the throne in the imperial mosque of Rabat to celebrating the fact that his son had passed an examination.

The Istiqlal functions as a sort of state within a state. The Moroccan trade union movement, its cells being identical with those of the Istiqlal, is nothing more than its prolonged arm. The party also has its own schools in which three or four thousand sons of the Moroccan aristocracy are brought up in a spirit of strict Arab chauvinism. The Protectorate authorities have tried half-heartedly to block Istiqlal’s expansion into trade unionism and education, but their attempt to make French unions alone legal in Morocco, so that the Moroccan workers would be “trained” by French cadres, had as its sole result that the Moroccan nationalists swamped the Communist-dominated CGT and, by taking over Communist organizational techniques, turned the CGT into another purely auxiliary organization of the Istiqlal.1



The power and prestige of the Istiqlal being based above all on its function as the Sultan’s mouthpiece, its influence is confined to those parts of the population of Morocco— essentially Arab—for whom, the Sultan is the traditional and hallowed ruler. This means that the party has no hold on the Berbers of the mountains and plains, who until lately were practically independent and constantly at war with the Arab rulers.

There is a temptation today to blame the French for the traditional Arab-Berber conflict, and, in fact, French policy has in recent years —with especially heavy-handed incompetence under General Juin—attempted to play it up against the Sultan’s claims to sovereignty. But one should remember that internal dissension in India, too, used to be regarded as an “imperialist trick”—until, with the departure of the British, religious conflict exploded into civil war, massacre, and mass expulsions. Actually, Morocco has been much less Arabized than the rest of North Africa, and outside the cities and the northwestern plain hardly touched by Arab culture. The Berbers of the mountainous hinterland have remained in permanent revolt, and successfully defended their national, linguistic, and, in a certain sense, even their religious individuality. Half the people in Morocco have never accepted the Arabic language, and even where Islam rules, Morocco remains largely a land of magic, heathen sects, local saints, and mystical brotherhoods (zawiya) . Marrakesh, the capital of the South, is a city full of pagan pleasures, in sharpest conceivable contrast to the old capital of the Sultanate at Fez.

French colonization until 1934 was based on the Arabs and the Sultan, on whose behalf the French established the unity of the country, but they have since tended to seek support from the once dissident Berbers and the powerful Pasha of Marrakesh. Many high officials of the Protectorate seem to accept the policy an old colonist in Marrakesh formulated for me: “We shall never hold this country except by feudalism.” Nothing could be wronger. Having established the unity of Morocco for the first time, the French, if they wish to remain, must willy-nilly continue to fuse her various parts into a nation.

The establishment of peace and the authority of the Sherif, the linking together of the most isolated mountain valleys in this split-up land, the temporary or permanent migration of the Berbers to the growing cities of the North, where they are rapidly Arabized, all tend in the same direction. Beyond doubt, Morocco is on the way to becoming a nation, and an Arab one. But her disunity lies only two decades back, and wherever one leaves the immediate vicinity of the cities the slowly crumbling walls that encircle even the most wretched hamlet remind one of the recent past with its ceaseless. feudal and tribal vendettas, banditry, and constant lawlessness. The inner unity of Morocco is still a fragile thing, and it is more than questionable whether, without the Protectorate, it could be held together under the banner of an Arab nationalism that for the Berber is still bound up with the fresh memory of a more oppressive foreign rule than that of the French.



For many Western tourists and journalists, Morocco has become simply the land of the “bidonvilles,” the shanty towns on the outskirts of the new ports and industrial cities in which the Istiqlal has discovered what is for Western eyes the most striking and incriminating indictment of “French imperialism.” The Istiqlal’s “guides” immediately take every visiting journalist on the same auto tour whose minimal program, in Casablanca, includes two huge bidonvilles, Ben M’Sik and Carriére Centrale, each with forty to fifty thousand inhabitants.

In the capital at Rabat, one is shown through the more rustic “duars,” in which all types of structures from mud huts to nomad tents are mixed together. Here the Istiqlal guide forgets to mention that the lovely villa overlooking one of these duars from an eminence on the bank of the Bou Regreg belongs to a rich landowner to whom the inhabitants of the duar pay extortionate rent. This landowner is the former Pasha Bargash, uncle of the editor of the nationalist newspaper El Alam, which organizes the Istiqlal-guided tours through the colonies of the “victims of colonialism.” The social conscience of the Moroccan notables is not troubled, however, because God wills that the community of believers should include both rich and poor, pashas and beggars, tribute-receivers and tribute-payers.

The bidonvilles repeat a picture that was presented in the last century by all the mushrooming industrial cities of Europe, and even more recently by those of America. But the effect of the contrast in Morocco is heightened by the confrontation of two different ages and worlds. The European colonists, entrepreneurs, and merchants bring with them, if they can, a European type of housing, often inflated into a pompous “colonial style.” Similarly, the migrants who stream in from the plateau, the Atlas, and the oases bring with them their huts of mud and straw, their barracks, and their tents. Cynical as it may sound, the wooden barracks of the bidonvilles often represent progress as compared with the usual native home in the Moroccan hinterland; they are also more healthy than, for instance, so rich and holy a city as Fez, where a maze of dark alleys full of pedestrians, peddlers, beggars, donkeys, donkey-drivers, children, garbage, and excrement becomes a stifling cloud of dust on sunny days and a knee-deep swamp on rainy ones. And in the midst of this almost sanitation-proof squalor, rise splendid mosques and palaces. But the truth may be formulated even more cynically: the bidonvilles are true products of colonization, for without colonization most of their inhabitants would have died in infancy or been carried off by disease or starvation before ever having a chance to settle in them.

The problem has a simple cause, and throughout the entire Orient it is the same. In 1910, before the establishment of the Protectorate, Morocco suported about 3,000,000 inhabitants. Drought, famine, disease, high infant mortality, and constant feudal and tribal wars kept the population stable, or periodically “rectified” it. The pacification of the country under the Protectorate guaranteed security; the successful struggle against epidemics, which have disappeared since the end of the 30’s, and the importation of food from overseas in the years of crop failure, as well as industrialization and the reclamation of wasteland—all these combined to eliminate the checks on high fertility that operate among almost all backward peoples. Today Morocco has about 9,000,000 inhabitants, and every passing day brings another 500 to claim food, clothing, and shelter. As rapid as Morocco’s economic expansion has been in the last three decades, it has been unable to keep pace with this population increase. It is not true that the land of the Moroccans was taken away, as the Istiqlal propagandists assert; the million acres of European landholdings, concentrated around Mekhnes and the Atlantic coastal stretch from Casablanca to Rabat, lay barren and treeless before 1912. The arable land cultivated by Moroccans rose between the two world wars from 5,000,000 to 11,250,000 acres, and the irrigation program now being carried out will reclaim enough land for about 800,000 Moroccan families. Yet a vagary of the unpredictable Moroccan climate, like the drought of 1945, is enough to send the surplus population of the worst-hit districts pouring into the cities; the opening up of communications has granted them this way out of what was once an inescapable catastrophe. Whole families and even villages pawn their land and trek to the ports and industrial cities, where they try to bridge the emergency and support their families until the next harvest by working as miners or factory hands, porters or shoeshiners, peddlers or beggars. They always plan to redeem their land some day, and in fact billions of francs in wages saved up in the bidonvilles of the north end up each year in the mountain villages and oases of south and east.



Only slowly is a settled Moroccan proletariat emerging from this fluctuating mass of migrants. The population of the tin-can cities is still made up of simple, frugal sons of shepherds and peasants who ask for little except a quick way of earning the money they need for their families and the redemption of their land. They almost all intend to go back to their villages, and meanwhile feel far better off on the outskirts of town, where they often dwell in tribal fashion, than inside the stifling Arab cities themselves.

It is true that the European settlers took care of themselves first in building the cities and establishing public services, schools, and hospitals. The hermits and ascetics who, going to backward lands, lower their own standard of living to that of the natives are few. But no official policy invited the influx that descends seasonally on the outskirts of every European city in Morocco—even where, as in Port Lyautey, there was previously not the slightest trace of a native settlement. In Casablanca, after the old medina was filled to overflowing, a new medina was built. After the Second

World War the much too small, much too ambitious, and much too expensive Arab model development of Ain-Shok was added. Together, these offer accommodation to 160,000 Moroccans, not counting some 10,000 well-off natives scattered through the European quarter. But the population of Casablanca has risen since 1912 from 20,000 to almost 600,000.

One cannot correctly appraise France’s colonizing achievement in Morocco without seeing what has been accomplished as well as what is lacking. It certainly need not fear comparison with conditions in the independent states of the Arab League. And the criticism of the Istiqlal would be more convincing if this party of rich men and potentates had given a single indication that it was prepared or able to take the slightest initiative or make the slightest sacrifice to solve the economic and social problems of Morocco-or even recognize them. What it wants is easy to understand: it wants to exercise power in its own country—and to exercise it just as before. But the face of Morocco, which has changed more than its elite, hardly makes that possible.

Tunisia Struggles for Independence

Of the three countries of French North Africa, Tunisia is the smallest, but also the richest and most fertile by nature, and the best balanced economically. It suffers less from population pressure, its social contrasts are not so glaring, and the native standard of living is higher. It best combines the prerequisites for an independent national development. A clever and gentle, almost effeminate people (there is an Arab proverb: “The Moroccan is a warrior, the Algerian a man, the Tunisian a woman”), the Tunisians have acquired from a succession of civilizations and colonizations—beginning with Phoenician Carthage-an incredible capacity for understanding and adaptation. Tunis has the broadest and best educated intellectual class in North Africa, in terms of both Arab and French culture. It has a prosperous native bourgeoisie and peasantry, as well as a genuinely autonomous trade union organization—perhaps the only genuine trade union organization in the Arab world. And it has the most “Western” of all nationalist movements.

It is significant that it is just in Tunisia that the conflict between European and Arab has become sharpest; it is a sign that the country has come of age. The present crisis is not the first of its kind, but it is one of the most serious, for it follows immediately upon a promising experiment that will not find so good a chance a second time. The experiment began in the summer of 1950, with the installation of the Chenik cabinet, which for the first time really represented political currents in Tunisia. The participation in this cabinet of the Néo-Destour brought it the official blessing of Tunisian nationalism, and it set out with a clear political program approved by the French Resident, Perillier, and by Foreign Minister Schuman: one of step-by-step transition to democratic self-government. The subsequent events leading to the present impasse are well known. The French colonists in Tunisia raged against the Resident, Franco-Tunisian negotiations collapsed, Tunis complained to the United Nations. Perillier was removed and replaced by a reactionary, de Hautecloque, who on his own responsibility had the Chenik cabinet arrested and established a real despotism in Tunisia.

The question at issue is not, or up to now was not, the economic, political, or strategic position of France in Tunis. The Tunisian nationalists were ready to bring their country into the “Trench Union” as its first full and voluntary member. But they were not ready to share the internal administration of the country with the French colonists, and no step toward Tunisian self-government was possible without a clear decision on this. The sole parliamentary body previously existing in Tunis was the Grand Council, a consultative group divided equally between the French settlers and Tunisian notables. Its transformation into an elective Tunisian Assembly with legislative power was agreed upon in principle. But the even more resolute Tunisian demand that this parliament be composed exclusively of Tunisians, and elected solely by the Tunisian subjects of the Bey, met with violent opposition from the European colony. Preparations for elected communal councils were held up by the same issue. Should French citizens in Tunis be represented in these on a basis of parity, as they demanded, or even proportionally (which would have the same results in an almost half-European dry like Tunis), or should the councils be composed exclusively of citizens of Tunisian nationality? In its note of December 15, 1951, the French Foreign Ministry yielded to the pressure of the colonists’ lobby in the French parliament and for the first time clearly adopted as its own the colonists’ thesis that French citizens in Tunisia could not be excluded from its internal administration. This led to the breakdown of negotiations and the present desperate situation.

For Tunisian spokesmen of all political shades, “co-sovereignty” with the French colonists is an offense against the principles of constitutional and international law. To be sure, Tunisia is under a French protectorate, but its statehood has never been disputed. The Protectorate treaty is an international treaty, and the French Resident is accredited to the Bey of Tunis by the French Foreign Ministry. The French settlers there, like any other immigrants who do not individually acquire Tunisian nationality, are legally foreigners. And who ever heard of foreigners taking part in the election of the parliament and the communal councils of a country where they were guests’?

On the other hand, it is altogether understandable if the French settlers, who used to be not only at home in Tunisia but masters, are scandalized by the sudden proposal that they be treated as foreigners with “nothing to say here.” They regard modern Tunisia as their creation. They have built and administered it, they have brought it sanitation, irrigation, and electrification. More than half of them were born on Tunisian soil. If France does not protect their well-earned rights, they declare, they will act in self-defense. This threat of civil war raises its head in almost every conversation with French colonists today, and at the beginning of this year it was very near reality.



That matters became so envenomed is largely due to the composition of the European colony in Tunisia. If these colonists were, as in Morocco, pioneers opening up a country just emerging from the Middle Ages, they would have nothing to fear even were their legal status that of foreigners. If they were a genuine colony rooted in the country for a century, as in Algeria, the question of whether they were foreigners could not he seriously raised. But the bulk of the European colony in Tunisia is the unhappy result of an ill-starred policy of high-pressure settlement undertaken to compete with Italy’s irredentist claims, which rested on the far greater number of immigrants of Italian origin in Tunisia. The “French” of Tunisia are for the most part compulsorily naturalized Sicilians, Maltese, and Spaniards. Most of them have shown no superiority, either of intellect or accomplishment, over the Tunisian “Orientals.” Their French patriotism, so vociferously proclaimed today, was quite doubtful during the recent war. French landholdings consist mainly of large plantations most of whose owners live abroad, and which are more affairs of financial speculation than pioneering. And even the genuine French settlers are in large part Corsican rather than French—and essentially parasites nesting in the fat cheese of the Protectorate and filling every last official post with members of their clan. In many cases the only thing European about them is their trousers.

This kind of colonist, who asserts so angrily that the Tunisians are not fit to run their own country or even their own post office, has everything to lose. His carefree existence is justified by no achievements, yet he has all the privileges of a colonial official. Such a colonist defends neither France nor any civilizing mission, but only his own existence, and he defends it all the more stubbornly because he is superfluous. Playing with civil war is for him a quite deliberate tactic, and one that cannot fail in the short run. The deeper the chasm between France and native Tunisia, the more inescapably must a weak French government— and especially a conservative one like Pinay’s —stand behind its “threatened sons” in Tunisia. And the price is paid by the genuine settlers, who are fleeing their scattered farms in panic.

Perhaps the road to the solution is a reform of the Tunisian bureaucracy. And the one part of the reform program of 1950 that has really been put into action is the step-by-step transfer of administrative posts from French to Tunisian hands. But all experience teaches us how slow and confused, even with a better will than exists in Tunisia today, such a process as the renovation of a bureaucracy must be under the normal procedures of recruiting, retirement, and dying off; if all new appointments were now reserved for Tunisians, it would still take a generation for the administration to become Tunisian. It is extremely doubtful whether the advanced stage of the crisis will leave time for such detours. In the hate-filled atmosphere of recent months all compromise proposals have met deaf ears on both sides. The move placing the Tunisian struggle before the United Nations has led so far only to further adamancy on both sides in anticipation of a general debate.

In Tunisia, as elsewhere in North Africa, the conflict is not between France and the North African countries, but between colonists and natives. A French government crippled by domestic discord and dependent for its existence on every parliamentary pressure group, and a Foreign Minister beset from all sides and desperately trying to save his European policy, have for the moment handed Tunisian policy over to the colonists in Tunis and let them ran amok. The result is a shambles. It is urgent to return the control of French Tunisian policy to Paris, otherwise France’s whole North African structure will collapse. For the tremors in each of these lands carry over automatically into the others.



The mistakes made in Tunisia can be repaired. If they are not, if French North Africa is broken up, that dangerous “blighted area” which is the Middle East will extend from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic. The West parceled up the supranational empires of Austria-Hungary and Turkey in the name of nationalism and the self-determination of peoples, without even a moment’s consideration as to how a people would become a nation and achieve the ability to determine its own fate. In place of the Austrian empire, Eastern Europe was littered with pseudo-national states, few of which were able to preserve their independence for even a generation. In the name of the same principle we are now about to liquidate the remnant of the Western European empires, without having even the excuse of 1918 that the consequences could not be foreseen. Nationalism is beyond question one of the great forces—or psychoses—of our time. But after so many catastrophic experiences, it is time to recognize that, to date, not a single one of the newly concocted “nations” of the 20th century has benefited from its nationalism. They have merely furnished the great powers with pawns and pretexts for conflict. It is easy to destroy historical patterns with their burden of historical failings, but it is usually impossible to put the pieces together again. Carthage must not be destroyed.



1 The only Communist party of any significance in North Africa is the Algerian one, but it still suffers from the effects of the French nationalist and “assimilationist” line it followed in the days of Communist participation in the French government in Paris. Once a supporter of Algerian nationalism and closely linked with the Etoile Nord-Africaine, this party is now mainly European in composition and following, with its representation restricted to the first, or European, electoral college. Since 1947, however, having returned to its support of Arab nationalism, it has tried to outbid the separatist slogans of Messali Hadj's Algerian People's party, but with little success, since Algerian extremist nationalism and the Algerian working class in particular —even in France—still stand firmly behind the latter. In Algeria the contrast between the followers of the Communist party and its present line is even more grotesque than in certain parts of France where prosperous farmers vote Communist en masse; in both cases a great deal of noise and the appearance of numerical strength go hand m hand with impotence in the field of action. The Communists, being fundamentally as weak in Algeria as in most other Arab countries, are able to do nothing more than pour oil on fires others have lighted. Some defenders of French rule are only too eager to put the blame for the troubles in North Africa on such a universally recognized incarnation of evil, but the only truth in their claims that the Communists are “behind” the Istiqlal, the Néo-Destour, and the Algerian nationalists lies in the fact that in all three cases the Reds try to hang on to the coattails of these movements.

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