(AFRICA and IMPERIALISM – continued)

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The French in Tunisia and Algeria

After the world war a new nationalist movement arose in Tunisia, inspired in part by Egypt's liberation from British tutelage. Various intellectuals united to form a Constitutional Party. It advocated improved health services and an economy that served Muslims as well as European settlers. It sought better educational opportunities for Muslims, full recognition of Islamic customs, and local government with equal representation for Muslims. The Constitutional Party remained a party of intellectuals, without support among the common people. In 1925, when the French exiled leaders of the Constitutional Party, the Constitutional Party disintegrated.

Just west of Tunisia, in Algeria, conflict had arisen between European settlers and Muslims. The Europeans wanted to keep the Muslims subservient and politically weak. Farming – largely of wine grapes, citrus crops and vegetables – was dominated by European settlers, and the Europeans produced forty percent of Algeria's wheat. Poverty among Muslim Algerians was widespread, with many forced to seek work on European owned farms at extremely low wages. Inflation had diminished the purchasing power.

After the war, harvests through 1924 were poor and hurt most everybody in Algeria. Herds of sheep and cattle and other farm animals that Muslims owned had diminished substantially. But beginning in 1925, harvests were good. Wine production was especially successful, the European growers in Algeria having defeated an effort by growers in France to limit competition from Algeria. Algeria was on its way to becoming the world's third largest producer of wine. The prosperity increased the demand for Muslim labor and services, especially in the labor intensive wine industry, which hired rural Muslims for pruning, cultivating and harvesting.

Some other Muslims, meanwhile, had gone to France to work. New laws restricted the migration of Algerians to France. New movements for Algerian rights were organized in France and in Algeria. In the city of Algiers in 1927, 150 Muslim Algerians attended the first congress of a nationalist group called the Federation. The Federation called for representation for native Algerians in France's Parliament, equal pay for equal work on government jobs, equality in length of military service, free travel between France and Algeria, more educational opportunities and other social benefits for native Algerians.

A more militant nationalist group was led by Messali al-Hadj, a laborer and army veteran who had married a French communist. France's Communist Party had been supporting Algerian demands for reform, hoping to win Algerians to its cause, but the Party had been reluctant to support independence movements among the colonized. Party leadership was describing calls for independence as a diversion from the class struggle. According to France's Communist Party, Marxists were supposed to advocate worker solidarity rather than nationalist aspirations. Marxists were not supposed to be drawing lines between white Frenchmen and black Africans.   

Hadj left the Communist Party, and his movement, called the Etoile Nord-Africaine (North African Star), called for Algerian independence and for the withdrawal of France's "army of occupation" from Algeria. His movement grew to about 4,000 members inside France. Then in 1929, France outlawed Hadj's movement, and Hadj became a fugitive.


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