- Ferhat Abbas, Vichy's National Revolution, and the Memory of the Royaume arabe
In his memoir, la nuit coloniale (1962), Ferhat Abbas offered what might be termed the conventional account of the impact of the Second World War on the politicization of Algeria's Muslim population. In the inter-war years, Abbas had been an important voice of moderate Muslim opinion in Algeria. A leading member of the Jeune Algérien movement, which took its inspiration from Kemal Ataturk's modernization of Turkey, Abbas had looked to French republicanism to redress the injustices of colonial Algeria. He had, for example, played a key role in the campaign in support of the Blum-Violette reforms of 1936-37, a project to secure a significant increase in the number of naturalized Algerian Muslims that had been blocked largely on account of the actions of the powerful colonial lobby in the French parliament. As Abbas put it in La Nuit coloniale: "ma génération et celles qui l'ont précedée […] se sont obstinées à recourir à la France républicaine et libérale contre la France colonialiste et tyrannique. Elles pensaient qu'il suffisait d'éclairer la première sur les contradictions qui ont fait naître nos malheurs pour qu'elle y mette fin." The events of the Second World War, however, put an end to any such illusions, convincing Abbas that colonialism was "une entreprise raciale de domination et d'exploitation," in which even the most enlightened strands of French republican opinion were fully implicated.1
Hence, according to Abbas, it was the experience of the War that had finally convinced him that an independent Algeria was the necessary precursor to any genuine improvement in the political status and socio-economic condition of Algeria's Muslim population. A concrete manifestation of this significant shift in political position could be found in the "Manifeste du peuple algérien," which Abbas published in February 1943, following the Allied invasion of North Africa in November of the previous year. Here he explicitly rejected any policy of assimilation, whilst strongly suggesting that outright independence was now the only feasible option.2 In justifying his rejection of the politics of assimilation, Abbas alluded firstly to the failure of the Blum-Violette project, to what he termed "le refus systématique ou déguisé de donner accès dans la cité française aux Algériens musulmans." The failure of the Blum-Violette project had demonstrated the inability of enlightened French republicans to achieve even a modest improvement in the Muslims' political [End Page 19] status. Meanwhile the actions of the Vichy regime in Algeria, in the period between the fall of France in June 1940 and the Allied invasion of November 1942, had shown that even were any such improvement in status to be granted by the French, it could all too easily be rescinded with the next change of regime. Here Abbas focused on the abrogation of the Crémieux decree in October 1940, the infamous measure by which the Vichy authorities had stripped Algerian Jews of their French nationality and hence of their political rights. If nationality, once granted by the French, could simply be rescinded on a whim, then Algerian Muslims should no longer place their faith in the ability of French nationality and citizenship to secure their emancipation. What the Vichy regime and its abrogation of the Crémieux decree had proved was that true emancipation and equality could only come through the acquisition of Algerian nationality and citizenship. As the text of the "Manifeste" concluded:
Cette politique [d'assimilation] apparaît aujourd'hui, aux yeux de tous, comme une réalité inaccessible, une machine dangereuse mise au service de la colonisation. L'heure est passée où un Musulman algérien demandera autre chose que d'être un Algérien musulman. Depuis l'abrogation du décret Crémieux surtout, la nationalité et la citoyenneté algériennes lui offrent plus de sécurité et apportent une plus claire et plus logique solution au problème de son évolution et de son émancipation("Manifeste" 37).
In his retrospective account of these events in La Nuit coloniale, Abbas...