Thursday, 8 November 2007


The case of Khaled Abd Al Qadir in Post-World War I Algiers

Lizabeth Zack*

[From: Journal of North African Studies, Vol. 11, No. 2, Summer 2006]


This article examines a surge of Islamic activism in French-occupied
Algeria in the wake of World War I by focusing closely on the
political career of a leading Islamic activist, Khaled Abd Al Qadir.
Scholars have debated Khaled's credentials as an early `Algerian'
nationalist but have taken for granted his Islamic identity as a
natural by-product of a suppressed native culture and an Islamic
revival in the wider Middle East. While these background conditions
were important, they do not explain some of the specific patterns
associated with Khaled's Islamic activism. Using insights from social
movement theory, this article focuses especially on the role of French
government-sponsored reforms in 1919 in fostering the surge of Islamic
activism in Algeria. The article concludes by challenging ideas about
the origins of Islamic activism in Algeria and by highlighting the
connection between democratisation and the rise of religious politics
in contemporary Algeria and other regimes around the world.

"If you desire the paradise of Islam, choose us because we are the
- Khaled (Kaddache, 1970, p. 41)


Khaled ibn Hashimi ibn Hajj Abd al Qadir1 was born in Damascus in
1875. After spending his youth there, Khaled and his family settled in
Algeria in 1892, at the time under French control. The family was well
known to native Algerians and to the French colonial administration
because Khaled's grandfather, Abd al Qadir, had led an armed struggle
against the French military occupation in the 1830s and 1840s. By the
1890s, the northern territories of Algeria had been incorporated into
France as three official departments—Oran, Alger and Constantine—with
a mixed population of native Arabs, Berbers and Jews, French
administrators, newly settled southern Europeans, and families from
around the Middle East and North Africa. Although European settlers
controlled much of the economic wealth and dominated the political
system, to the exclusion of many of the natives, some well-to-do Arab
families such as Khaled's were able to benefit from the system and
expressed deep loyalty to the French. The young Khaled enrolled in a
French high school in Algiers and passed the baccalauréat exam in
science. In 1893, he was admitted to the prestigious St. Cyr Military
School and eventually rose to the rank of an officer. The government
commended him for his service in regiments in Morocco and Algeria in
the early 1900s. Khaled went on to serve in France during World War I,
but a bout of tuberculosis and evacuation from the battlefield ended
his military duty for the duration of the war. He retired from the
military in 1919 and settled in the capital city of Algiers.

Instead of a quiet retirement, Khaled immersed himself full-time in
the politics of the post-war period. Prior to the war, he had
supported campaigns to reform the status and condition of native
Algerians, but in 1919 he began to champion those reform efforts as a
leading Islamic activist. In speeches, he addressed the crowds as `my
fellow Muslims', insisting that `Muslims', on the way to becoming
equal with `the French', would never give up their culture and
religion; Khaled promoted a `Muslim morality' that called for the
banning of alcohol and gambling, expressed solidarity with Muslims
around the world and insisted that to follow him was to join the
`party of the faithful' (Koulakssis & Meynier, 1987; Kaddache, 1970).
In fact, in the fall of 1919, Khaled joined with other Muslim leaders
in an Islamic party and won an overwhelming victory in the Algiers
city elections. As the Algerian historian Mafoud Kaddache (1970, p.
66) says, `[…] there was a constant reference to Islam in the actions
of Khaled […]' in these few years after the war.

This article seeks to make sense of Khaled's Islamic activism in
Algeria at this time. Scholars have debated Khaled's credentials as an
early `Algerian' nationalist but have taken for granted his Islamic
identity as a natural by-product of a suppressed native culture and an
Islamic revival in the wider Middle East. While these background
conditions were important, they do not explain some of the specific
patterns associated with Khaled's Islamic activism. Using insights
from social movement theory, this article focuses especially on the
role of French government-sponsored reforms in 1919 in fostering a
surge of Islamic activism in Algeria. The article concludes by
challenging ideas about the origins of Islamic activism in Algeria and
by highlighting the connection between democratisation and the rise of
religious politics in contemporary Algeria and other regimes around
the world.

Loyalist, nationalist or Islamist?

Historians took intense interest in Khaled in the 1960s and 1970s, not
as an early Islamic activist, but as a potential source of Algerian
nationalism (Ageron, 1968; Julien, 1972; Kaddache, 1970; Nouschi,
1962). In the period after independence, fierce debates erupted among
scholars, activists and other observers about the precise origins of
Algerian nationalism—when and where an Algerian national identity was
first articulated, who played the most important role in forging it,
and the conditions giving rise to the existence of an Algerian nation.
The Algerian historian Mahfoud Kaddache (1970) insisted that Khaled
deserved credit as the first nationalist. Kaddache marshalled evidence
from Khaled's life of outspoken criticism of the French colonial
administration in the early 1920s, popular support among the masses
and a refusal to accept French citizenship. For Kaddache (1970, p.
67), the `origin of Algerian nationalism can be found in [Khaled's]
refusal [to assimilate]'. French historian Charles-Robert Ageron
(1966, 1979), on the other hand, thought it mistaken to consider
Khaled a nationalist because he remained staunchly loyal to France and
to French republican notions of equality, all the while reserving his
criticisms for the most extreme abuses by the local settler-based
colonial administration. As Ageron (1979, p. 285) points out, Khaled
never advocated separation from France and continued to support a
program of integration of the native population into French society.
Eventually, Ageron changed his position after the discovery of a
letter Khaled had sent to American president Wilson in May of 1919
requesting that Algerians have representation in the `Society of
Nations' (Koulakssis & Meynier, 1987; Ageron, 1980). In 1987, Ahmed
Koulakssis and Gilbert Meynier (1987) published a densely documented
and much more nuanced account of Khaled. They argued that Khaled was
both nationalist and loyalist; in fact, he was a man of multiple
identities—a Syrian Prince, an Arab, a French officer, Algerian
leader, leader of the Muslim community—and was successful in part
because he knew how to use them (Koulakssis & Meynier, 1987, p. 299).
Khaled was significant, they conclude, because he was the first to
articulate a popular vision of Algerian national identity and
eventually became a catalyst for later nationalist movements.

With all the focus on Khaled's nationalist or loyalist tendencies,
scholars have somewhat taken for granted that Khaled would find Islam
to be a natural refuge from the exclusive system of French rule. After
squelching much of the native armed resistance in the 1830s and 1840s,
the French government and the Europeans who settled in Algeria
eliminated native land rights and traditional businesses. In the 1880s
and 1890s, the French government officially incorporated the Islamic
legal and educational systems into the French administration and
appointed representatives to oversee the courts, mosques and schools.
In 1901, the French government replaced the official policy of
assimilation with one of association whereby peoples in
Algeria—European and native—were encouraged to develop within their
own cultures rather than assimilate one into the other. Islam, thus,
was the common denominator of the colonised, the ideological cement of
Algerian society that held together the elites and masses, the Berbers
and Arabs, city dwellers and villagers (Koulakssis & Meynier 1987, pp.
52, 326). Regardless of their view of Khaled, scholars assume that he
took up the mantle of Islam because it resonated with the deep
frustrations of native Algerians. He succeeded in making it a source
of native pride, heritage and self-affirmation (Ageron, 1979, p. 283).
As Kaddache suggests, Islam was the only open way to be Algerian,
making it natural that Khaled's nationalism took shape as an Islamic
movement (Kaddache, 1970, p. 66). To be `Muslim', and to mobilise in
the political sphere as a `Muslim', was a way to rally native
Algerians behind a movement for equality and recognition within a
French-dominated society.

Scholars also point out that Khaled was drawing on the cultural and
political developments of the wider Middle East in this period. World
War I marked the break up of the Ottoman Empire, the defeat of the
Turks and the scramble to take power in the region (Hourani, 1991).
These political changes were also accompanied by the diffusion of two
major cultural themes—the celebration of Islam, or Islamic revival
(nahda), and the call for the modernisation of Islam, or Islamic
reform (islah). News of these developments travelled to Algeria, to
the ears of natives, to the educated intellectuals as well as to the
mass population (Ageron, 1979; Berque, 1962; Kaddache, 1970). Scholars
contend that Khaled too was inspired by this revived sensibility and
showed support for it in the journal Ikdam; in speeches, he used it to
frame and promote his program of political reforms (Ageron, 1979, p.
292; Kaddache, 1970, p. 67). In other words, Khaled was drawing on
resonant elements of the broader culture to frame his political
agendas as a way to gain popular support.

While shared colonial oppression and Islamic revival were important
background conditions affecting Khaled's shift to Islamic activism,
they cannot account for some of the specific patterns associated with
this change. Though Khaled and other native reformists had referred to
their shared Islamic culture and to themselves as `Muslims' all along,
there is a marked increase in emphasis on the Islamic personality of
Khaled's group in mid-1919 that continues until 1922. Khaled used this
discourse in some settings, such as in speeches to local native
Algerians, and not in others, such as in petitions to the French and
American governments. Moreover, we cannot assume that a political
activist in Algeria would automatically identify as a `Muslim' because
an Islamic revival was occurring in the region. A variety of competing
ideas about how to organise society and how to relate to western
powers emerged in the wider Middle East during World War I and the
break up of the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, new models of political and
social change, such as communist revolution and ethnic nationalism,
were also developing outside of the Middle East. In making the case
for parliamentary representation, Khaled sometimes referred not to the
Middle East but to other French colonies in Africa where natives had
won such representation. In the context of an expanding repertoire of
political identities, ideologies and modes of collective action, it is
important to address the question of when and why Khaled took up the
mantle of Islam rather than take it for granted.

As recent scholarship on Islamic activism points out, other factors
besides cultural oppression and religious revival are often at work in
producing the varied patterns of political activity in the Muslim
world (Wiktorowicz, 2004). Organisational resources found in political
parties, mosques, student and professional associations, and informal
networks make possible the broad articulation of certain claims and
the mobilisation of large groups over extended periods of time,
especially in more restricted political systems (Esposito & Voll,
1996). New opportunities, brought about by reforms or openings in a
repressive political system further empower groups with grievances and
resources to mobilise above ground, inside the conventional political
arena in ways they were not permitted to do so in the past (Hafez,
2003). Identities and cultural frameworks that combine traditional
religious themes and calls for modern civil and political rights offer
a sense of belonging and moral support to frustrated and disaffected
populations (Wickham, 2002). It is often these factors that help
convert long-standing grievances and cultural revival into surges of
Islamic activism on the ground, as was the case in French-ruled
Algeria in the years following World War I.

The rise of the young Algerians

The first signs of native resistance to the French appeared during the
1830s and 1840s, when the famous military commander Abd al Qadir led a
war against the French occupation of the area around Algiers. Even
after Abd al Qadir's defeat and the official incorporation of Algeria
into France in 1848, natives continued to launch period attacks
against military and settler outposts. Though Abd al Qadir attempted
to unite and rally tribal groups as `Muslims' in the war against `the
French', most efforts at collective resistance drew on tribal
affiliation. Once the French government replaced military control with
civilian rule in 1870–71, native leaders tended to appeal to
government officials as representatives of weakened traditional
institutions, such as schools and mosques, moving away from an
emphasis on religious and tribal affiliation and toward an identity as
`native' (indigènes). Locked out of the political system under both
the military and civil regimes of the nineteenth century, Algerians
tended to rely on episodic violence or direct negotiations as the
basis for challenging French authorities, doing so as leading
representatives of tribal groups or native communities rather than as
religious leaders or politicians of Islamic parties.

In the early twentieth century, a small group of French-educated and
well-to-do native Algerians were developing a new mode of challenging
the system of colonial rule. These Young Algerians, as they were
called, formed associations and mutual aid societies that promoted the
idea of greater incorporation of the natives into French society
(Saadalla, 1967). Their reform efforts focused initially on extending
the French principle of assimilation to the natives in the form of
equal access to the military and education. In 1908, a delegation of
prominent native elites paid a visit to French Prime Minister
Clemenceau in Paris regarding the issue of military service. If
compulsory, they argued, native participants should be compensated
with civil rights in exchange for service. In 1911, they submitted a
12 point list for the government which included demands for an end to
corruption, unfair taxes, and special tribunals, access to government
jobs, and a consultative role in Parliament. They also condemned
abuses of the colonial regime especially in the use of the Code de
l'indigénat, the set of special legal provisions for prosecuting and
punishing the native population.

The Young Algerians also pressed the issue of political rights. A
large delegation went to Paris in 1912 to demand more representation
in local Algerian assemblies and expansion of the native electoral
college. They were especially critical of the government-appointed
native representatives whom they disparagingly called the `Beni Oui
Oui' (literally, `yes men') (Koulakssis & Meynier, 1987, p. 72).
Khaled made his debut in public political life in 1913 when he joined
the Young Algerian leadership in supporting a non-administration
candidate for a seat on the powerful Algeria-wide budgetary assembly
(the Délégations Financières). He also signed his name to a reform
charter sent to Paris by the Young Algerians (Ruedy, 1992, p. 109;
Koulakssis & Meynier, 1987, p. 76). In 1914, Khaled helped Young
Algerian leaders Dr. Benthami ould Hamida and Omar Bouderba found the
Union franco-algérienne (Franco-Algerian Union) the main organisation
for the Young Algerians (Ruedy, 1992, p. 109). By the time Khaled was
mobilised for war, he had won the attention of the French
administration for his support of native reforms and his active role
in pressing for increased incorporation of native Algerians into the
French system.

The network of Young Algerians provided a number of necessary
resources to those who participated in their campaigns, including
Khaled. They gained knowledge of the French political system and how
to work within it, especially at the national level. They also learned
to operate at the margins of political life since the Young Algerians
were suspect in the eyes of many authorities and were constantly
subject to surveillance and discrimination (Koulakssis & Meynier,
1987, p. 53). Young Algerian leaders made contacts and alliances on
the mainland, with the liberal minority in Parliament and with
metropolitan organisations such as the Human Rights League, the Free
Masons and the Free Thinkers. They built up a body of arguments and
justifications for reform in the documents they presented to
government officials and disseminated those views in their published
journals (L'Islam, El Hack, and Le Rachidi). For Khaled, this brief
pre-war exposure to political mobilisation earned him a reputation,
for better or worse, among leaders and supporters of the native reform
movement and local and national government officials.

Post-World War I political opportunities

World War I ushered in an era of reform in Algeria. Native Algerians
made a major contribution to the war effort between 1914 and
1919—300,000 participated in the war, either as soldiers on the
battlefield or as workers in France.2 These war-time experiences and
the exposure to a more liberal French society opened their eyes to an
alternative to the harsh and unequal conditions of life in
French-ruled Algeria. As Khaled knew, they had been through the two
schools of consciousness-raising—the army and the factory (Koulakssis
& Meynier, 1987, p. 82). Backed by this new awareness, the Young
Algerians used the native contribution as leverage to press again for
expanded civil and political rights. French Prime Minister Georges
Clemenceau was already sympathetic to the demands of the Young
Algerians, and offered to compensate native Algerians for their
contribution to the war effort. Initially, Clemenceau proposed a
fairly liberal package of reforms but after intense negotiations and
vehement opposition by settler politicians, the government eventually
passed a more timid version in February 1919.

The new laws changed the local political structure in Algeria in
important ways. The reforms broadened native political representation
by increasing the number of native seats on city councils (from 1390
to 1540) and on the department-level General Councils (from 18 to 29).
The new laws also deepened Algerian representation by converting some
native seats, including some on the powerful Algeria-wide budgetary
assembly (the Délégations financières), from being appointed by the
administration to being subject to election in the native electoral
college (Koulakssis & Meynier, 1987, p. 114). For a long time, native
elites had sat on a variety of local and departmental assemblies and,
therefore, participated in public affairs, but they had done so mostly
as administration-friendly appointees.3 Along with this conversion,
the new laws expanded the native electorate that would vote for these
seats: the number of native voters for the native city council seats
increased from 57,000 to 90,000, with the number for the General
Council and the Délégations Financières rising from 5000 to 103,000
(Koulakssis & Meynier, 1987, p. 114). Exemption of these voters from
the harsh penal system, the Code de l'Indigénat, greater access to
civil service jobs and permission for individuals to pursue French
citizenship in exchange for giving up allegiance to Islam in private
matters were also included. Analysts have debated the extent to which
the reform package improved the unequal relationship between the
French and the natives. On the one hand, the reforms helped preserve
the existing system. The metropolitan French government, through the
Governor General, still retained ultimate authority over the
assemblies and residents of Algeria, both native and European.
Moreover, the native electorate and their political representatives
still constituted a tiny minority of native Algerians; the reforms
affected the vast majority of Algerians very little. On the other
hand, historian Ageron (1979, p. 280) argues that the 1919 reform bill
ushered in an electoral revolution in Algeria, giving many natives the
chance to participate in the official political structure, as voters
or candidates, for the first time. The long term implications of this
reform package—whether it had the potential to fend off an armed
struggle for national liberation—remain a source of heated controversy
among scholars of modern Algeria.

The short term effects of this political liberalisation were equally
interesting. The changes were not lost on the French Europeans living
in Algeria. As during the proposal stage of the reforms, European
settlers and their political representatives remained nearly unanimous
in their opposition to the reforms. Mayors from across the three
departments joined together to show collective opposition. According
to Ageron (1979, p. 300), the violent tone in the settler press had
not been heard since 1898. In general, settler politicians worked hard
to emphasise the degree to which the changes would negatively impact
`the French element' (Kaddache, 1970, p. 39). Settlers offered a
number of reasons why the reforms were a bad idea, from how the
reforms would endanger French supremacy and retard the progress made
so far, to the fact that the reforms would disturb the harmony between
the settlers and natives and possibly lead to civil war. Practically
speaking, the reforms, they argued, would unfairly alter the tax
burden and deplete the cheap labour supply. They continued to press
for the repeal of the 1919 law. When Parliament refused to undo the
changes, settler politicians began to demand more autonomy from France
to govern their own affairs in Algeria.

Reactions were more mixed among native Algerians. Again, the reforms
affected a small section of the Algerian population—the expanded
electorate included men with a French education, veterans or property
owners for example—leaving the vast majority of Algerians unaffected.
Attention to the changes was most evident in the cities of Algeria,
where natives were more likely to receive a French education and own
some property; the majority still lived in the rural areas of Algeria.
Some native officials remained quiet and acquiescent in the formal
political life of Algeria right after the war, figuring that the
`sacred union' formed with the French during the war had brought them
adequately into the fold of French society. As one historian notes,
native officials on the Algiers municipal council said very little as
European councillors discussed the city budget, financial allocations
to families, and other issues (Kaddache, 1970, p. 53). Some native
officials, including representatives on the city councils, the General
Council, and the powerful Délégations Financières, even opposed the
reforms of Clemenceau for fear that it threatened their own positions
and would stir up the masses.

Strongest support for the reforms came from the Young Algerians,
especially from leading figures such as Khaled and Benthami. Even
though the laws fell short of the Young Algerians' demands for
equality, especially on the issue of representation in Paris, the
Young Algerians agreed to participate in the newly opened political
arena in the hopes of extending their rights even further. Soon after
the passage of the February 1919 reforms, Young Algerians founded the
journal Ikdam (Stora, 1991, p. 124). They began to demand fairness and
equality at the local level on issues of arms possession, the tax
burden, and public assistance to workers. Several associations were
formed in this period after the war; for the most part, they were
eager to collaborate with French authorities. Delegations of
businessmen, students, and professionals paid visits to the Governor
General (Kaddache, 1993, p. 77). In a bold but secretive move, Khaled
sent a petition in May of 1919 to President Wilson requesting that
Algeria be considered for membership in the `Society of Nations'
(Stora, 1991, p. 124). About mid-year, native activists began to
prepare for the upcoming municipal elections in the fall of 1919. They
formed political parties, constructed campaign platforms, and appealed
to voters for support. In July, the Young Algerian leadership formed
the Ligue d'Action Franco-Musulman (Franco-Muslim Action League)
(Koulakssis & Meynier, 1987, p. 114). In the context of the February
1919 reforms, the city council electoral campaigns were a novel

French government authorities paid close attention to this surge of
activism in the wake of the 1919 reforms. They were especially
concerned about the growing support for the Ligue d'Action
Franco-Musulman in the capital city of Algiers.4 Prompted by pressure
from Paris and from settler politicians, the Prefect of Alger, the
central government's representative in the region, moved to derail the
rising Ligue by introducing the issue of the Muslim personal status
and naturalisation into the campaign debates. Authorities knew that
this was the one issue on which the Young Algerians had serious
differences. The Young Algerians tended to share the same ideas about
issues such as allocation of the tax burden and welfare payments, arms
possession, more equal opportunity in education and the professions,
and better overall recognition of native culture, but disagreed over
whether to accept the conditions—giving up allegiance to Islam in
personal matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance—for
acquiring French citizenship. Native leaders had disagreed about the
virtues and pitfalls of adopting French citizenship as far back as
1865 and up through the pre-World War I period. Some supported the
February 1919 law which allowed for individuals to apply for
citizenship in exchange for repudiation of Muslim personal status.
Others, however, insisted on collective naturalisation of natives with
the maintenance of their Muslim personal status. The issue was a
national one, usually taken up with metropolitan authorities rather
than local assemblies. Once the prefect raised the issue, it became
the source of controversy in the local arena of formal, electoral
politics for the first time (Kaddache, 1970, p. 41). Forced to respond
publicly, the Young Algerians took sides on the issue. Benthami led a
group of Young Algerians who supported the new law and individual
naturalisation even if it meant giving up their Muslim status. Khaled
joined the other camp that insisted on the maintenance of one's Muslim
status along with political and civil equality. Before long, the two
sides left the Ligue d'Action Franco-Musulman and formed separate
electoral lists.

Islamic political identity

In the context of new political opportunities and the need to compete
with former allies, Khaled opted to organise his campaign around an
Islamic framework. He formed his electoral team with some of the
city's native elites but made sure to include only those who were not
naturalised French citizens. Khaled aligned himself more closely with
the Young Algerians considered to be serious Muslims—Hadj Moussa, a
well respected and long-time appointed Algiers city councillor since
1884, is a good example—and distanced himself from those who were not
(Ageron, 1979). Khaled focused more and more on the preservation of
Muslim status as the campaigning grew lively. Khaled's position was
already known; he had stated in the journal Ikdam in June of 1919 that
`the native will not accept French citizenship with a status other
than his own' (Kaddache, 1970, p. 67). He insisted that natives want
to `conserve their language, values and religion' and that natives be
able to retain their `Muslim' status along with basic citizenship
rights (Ageron, 1991, p. 79; Kaddache, 1970, p. 67). This issue became
the effective rallying point for Khaled's party.

Over and over in the campaign, Khaled emphasised the theme of unity
(ittihad) among Muslims (Koulakssis & Meynier, 1987, p. 213). In
speeches, Khaled addressed potential supporters as `my fellow
Muslims', showed them that they shared a common language; he spoke to
them in Arabic, often greeting them with the Arabic phrase `greetings
to those on the right path' (Koulakssis & Meynier, 1987, p. 213). He
reminded them that as `Muslims' they had a long and illustrious
history. Khaled invoked his grandfather, Abd el Kader, the great
leader of `Muslim' resistance against the French, as a rallying point
for supporters. He said, `Don't forget that your parents all marched
to the signal of my grandfather' (Kaddache, 1970, p. 41). Khaled
impressed upon them that they shared a common `Muslim' morality, one
that called for the protection of mosques and cemeteries and the
suppression of alcohol and gambling (Koulakssis & Meynier, 1987, p.
223). Together, they were a `party of the faithful', the one with the
`Islamic personality' (Kaddache, 1970, p. 41). To be `Muslim', thus,
was to represent this common culture and to stand firm in protecting
it from a system that had rejected it for so long.

A campaign based on a `Muslim' identity helped Khaled emphasise
differences with the competing list formed by Benthami.5 Benthami's
list included wealthy native elites, some of whom had been
naturalised. As Koulakssis and Meynier (1987) note, a social divide
existed between these `Frenchified and anti-clerical grands bourgeois'
and Khaled's group of `Islamic pétits bourgeois'. Khaled implied that
Benthami's group was too French, too close to the ruling regime, and
too ready to sell out the Algerian people. For Khaled, Benthami's
supporters were `miscreants in hats' because they sucked up to the
French (Kaddache, 1970, p. 41). As the election approached, Khaled's
speeches emphasised the contrast in the level of devotion to the
`Muslim' cause. He beseeched the people to `vote for the Muslim party'
if you don't want to be led by those who have turned their backs on
you (Kaddache, 1970, p. 41). According to Khaled, good `Muslims'
needed to be wary of the `unfaithful', the other Young Algerians. In
fact, he reminded supporters that he refused to become French for
`religious reasons' and insisted that `a good Muslim doesn't vote for
the French' (Kaddache, 1970, p. 41). The quote at the beginning of the
article comes out of this period of campaigning—`If you want the
paradise of Islam, choose us because we are the faithful' (Kaddache,
1970, p. 41). By the eve of the elections, Khaled had become the
`Muslim' leader of the party of Islam.

A campaign for equality framed in the rhetoric of Islam had enormous
appeal for many of the new voters in Algiers. The majority of Young
Algerian supporters were still attached to traditional native culture.
Many had moved recently from rural areas to the cities and were caught
with one foot in each culture. They spoke Arabic but had been through
French schools. They were engineers, shop owners, and professionals,
what Koulakssis and Meynier call the `new pétite-bourgeoisie and the
recent bourgeoisie', but the majority of them were still close to the
popular classes (Koulakssis & Meynier, 1987, pp. 49–50, 53, 280). They
were exposed to European settler life and French society through
business and education, but were unable to equal it in terms of social
status, and still experienced prejudice and discrimination. Many of
them had followed the French way, as Khaled did, by attending French
schools or serving in the military, but were still blocked from the
benefits and recognition of French society. As soon as the reforms
were passed in February, Khaled went to them, visited with them, to
learn their opinions and how to appeal to them (Koulakssis & Meynier,
1987, p. 265). Khaled knew that the cohesion of rural communities and
the authority of traditional elites such as the Muslim brotherhoods
and the Islamic saints (marabouti) were waning in the face of these
new social segments and solidarities forming in the towns and cities
(Koulakssis & Meynier, 1987, p. 326). Khaled had a good sense for the
lack of identity and need for recognition among the new voters.

The results of the Algiers city council elections in the fall of 1919
suggest that Khaled was correct to forge his campaign behind a
`Muslim' political identity. Khaled and Hadj Moussa led their
electoral list to victory in the city of Algiers, beating Benthami's
opposing list 1865 votes to 1073 (Kaddache, 1970, p. 41–42). Beyond
Algiers, Khaled's electoral allies, many of whom also adopted an
`Islamic' platform and identity, did well enough to defeat Young
Algerian opponents, marabout candidates and candidates sponsored by
the administration in important cities such as Constantine, Setif and
Oran-Tlemcen (Kaddache, 1993, p. 101).

If an `Islamic' framework helped native politicians win local
elections, victory seemed to enhance their identities as `Muslim'
activists. Khaled's supporters saw him as a saint and asked him to
take the title of emir. Immediately, Benthami denounced Khaled as a
`Muslim nationalist' and complained to officials (Ageron, 1979, p.
281). The settler press disparaged Khaled's party as `Muslim fanatics'
and `anti-French'. The prefect of Alger condemned Khaled for leading
the natives `in a direction conforming to the Prophet' (Kaddache,
1993, p. 100). More broadly, European settlers were shocked by the
success of `Muslim nationalism' in the elections. Newspapers such as
the Echo d'Alger expressed concern over the rise in `Muslim
fanaticism' during the campaign. The European mayors demanded that the
government revoke the February 1919 reforms and return to the settlers
the exceptional powers to discipline the natives. In early 1920, in a
move to curtail `Muslim' political power, the prefect of Alger
declared Khaled ineligible to run for office and invalidated the
Algiers city election results. The `Islamic' activist was forced to
leave the city council.

Radical Islamist, nationalist or communist?

Despite strong opposition from government officials and settler
politicians, Khaled and his allies remained active in the political
arena in the following years. They continued to compete in elections,
often succeeding by large margins. For example, Khaled won a landslide
election for a General Council seat in February 1920; in April 1920,
he and some of his allies won seats on the powerful budgetary
assembly, the Délégations Financières, by large margins (Kaddache,
1970, p. 102).6 Khaled used the journal Ikdam to publish exposés on
the general situation of the native population and to denounce
administrative abuses. He formed various associations to help out
rural natives.7 And he continued to petition metropolitan officials
for native representation in Parliament.8 As Kaddache (1970, p. 102)
says, from 1920 to 1923, Khaled led a relentless struggle against the
colonial system, the high administration and the European press.
Frustrated by the lack of more extensive reforms, however, Khaled left
Algeria in 1923. He went to Paris in 1924, encouraged by the victory
of the Left and the growth of North African workers organisations, but
eventually disappeared from the political scene altogether.

Interestingly, Khaled's modes of political identification tended to
correspond to these different political contexts. Khaled continued to
campaign on Islamic themes and projected his identity as a `Muslim'
activist while active in electoral politics in 1920–21 and still in
competition with the other camp of Young Algerians. Once he reconciled
with Benthami and the others, however, Khaled emphasised more so their
political identity as `Algerians', indicated in the creation of the
group La Fraternité Algérienne (Algerian Fraternity) in 1922. Though
Khaled tended not to emphasise social and economic themes or support
class-based mobilisation as a strategy for liberation when campaigning
in Algeria, he appeared with the French Communists and North African
workers when he made a brief return to politics in Paris in 1924. As
he shifted political contexts and alliances, so too did his political

Another surge of Islamic activism occurred after Khaled's departure
from the political scene. In the mid to late 1920s, Muslim scholars
(ulamas) began to frame their demands for change in the discourse and
logic of protecting an autonomous cultural and religious sphere
(Kaddache, 1993; Nouschi, 1962; Stora, 1989). This movement was framed
in religious rhetoric, led by Islamic scholars, and planned and
organised in Islamic institutions such as mosques and schools. They
expressed solidarity among Muslim Algerians in their common oppression
under French colonial rule and in their shared cultural heritage of
Islam, the Arabic language and the historical land on which they
lived. In 1931, leaders of this movement came together in the
well-known organisation, the Association of Reforming Ulama. In 1936,
after the election of a Popular Front government in France, the ulama
reformists joined together with the rights-based Fédération des élus
(the Federation of elected officials) and the nationalists in a Muslim
Congress in order to make the case again for expanded citizenship
rights, only to be blocked again by settler politicians and a timid

The wave of mobilisation in the 1920s and 1930s, put on hold during
World War II, eventually coalesced in the national liberation struggle
of the 1950s. By the 1950s, native activists who organised around the
goal of an independent Algerian nation overtook those supporting the
programs of civil equality and cultural autonomy among native
Algerians. As a result, the `Islamic' framework for challenging the
state was submerged under a new political identity as `Algerians'.
During this period, and in the two decades after independence, the
reform movement framed in religious terms gave way to the dominance of
secular nationalism.

Rethinking Islamic activism in Algeria

While historians have debated Khaled's role as an early Algerian
nationalist, it seems clear that Khaled also represents the origins of
Islamic activism in Algeria. After acquiring a political education
through the network of Young Algerians, Khaled ushered in the use of
an `Islamic' political framework as a compelling way to demand that
the French government extend civil and political rights to native
Algerians. Entry into a newly opened political structure in 1919,
especially one that pitted native Algerians against each other,
required native activists to reshape an older repertoire of political
identities that included `Young Algerian', `Arab', `native' and
`Franco-Muslim'. Forced to compete with each other, native reformists
worked to develop distinctive and compelling political programs and
identities. Khaled took advantage of the personal status issue to
frame a new political party, an Islamic party, that linked together
supporters in opposition to competing parties and in common cause
against an exclusive regime in Algeria. It was in this context that
Khaled shifted from being a native reformist and Young Algerian to
becoming an Islamic political activist. In other words, as the
political structure changed in Algeria, so too did the people
participating in it. Certainly, cultural oppression under French rule
and a regional Islamic revival were important background conditions
for the emergence of this Islamic activism, but the timing and
organisational dimensions of it must be attributed to the Young
Algerian social networks, the state-led political reforms of 1919 and
Khaled's effective framing techniques.

Close attention to Khaled's brief career as an Islamic activist
challenges historical accounts of the origins of Islamic activism in
Algeria. Most scholars of modern Algeria locate those origins with the
reformist ulemas of the late 1920s and early 1930s (Ageron, 1979;
Julien, 1972; Kaddache, 1980; Nouschi, 1962; Stora, 1989). Their
movement has been of special interest to scholars because of their
association with the emergence of Algerian nationalism, a topic that
dominated research agendas on both sides of the Mediterranean in the
decades after independence. The debate has revolved around the role of
Islamic reformists in the construction of Algerian national identity
in the 1930s and in the movement for national liberation in the 1940s
and 1950s, with less attention to the question of how and why
`Islamic' reformists emerged in the first place. This article shows
that Khaled and his allies, not necessarily religious scholars, first
utilised an `Islamic' repertoire of political mobilisation in 1919 in
direct response to state-led reforms. This new mode of Islamic
activism, the article suggests, set the stage for subsequent groups
such as the reformist ulemas.

A close look at the case of Khaled in post-World War I Algeria also
offers some potential insights for understanding the rise of more
contemporary Islamic activism in Algeria. In the 1980s, activists
sometimes used Islamic discourses, among others, to frame their
criticism of a closed and repressive state and to make calls for
democratic reforms and increased participation in the political
process. They emerged as `Islamic' activists in the wake of the 1989
government-sponsored reforms, organising into parties and developing
agendas and platforms around open elections and increased
participation in local and national policy decisions (Entelis, 2004;
Hafez, 2003, p. 45). In the context of a more permissive and
competitive political structure, an `Islamic' identity was a way to
link together a mixed coalition of activists and, at the same time, to
distinguish themselves from others, from past identities (`Algerian',
`socialist', `Berber', `Arab'), from other parties in those elections
(`FLN', `communists', `Berbers'), and from an authoritarian `Algerian'
state. The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), the dominant Islamic party,
achieved widespread success in local elections in 1990 and in the 1991
parliamentary elections, prompting the government to annul those
results and to ban the party in March of 1992, events that radicalised
Islamists and kicked off the violent civil war of the 1990s.
Understanding the conditions of Islamic activism, especially being
able to distinguish between more inclusive and reformist Islamic
movements and those advocating violent revolution, can potentially
help to fend off a return to the violence of the 1990s.

In Algeria and elsewhere, analysts have often attributed the rise and
spread of political Islam in the 1980s and 1990s to an Islamic revival
associated with the Iranian revolution and the war against the Soviets
in Afghanistan. Military-backed authoritarian regimes, especially ones
built on more secular foundations and supported by the United States,
also receive credit for restricting or suppressing expressions of
cultural and religious difference that threaten state power. While
these background conditions have been important, state-led experiments
in democratisation and the opening of local political structures to
electoral competition have also been a source of Islamic activism.
Islamists have mobilised successfully in Algeria, but also in Jordan
and the Palestinian territories, for example, when governing regimes
attempted to open the political process. Parties and coalitions in
post-Saddam Hussein Iraq are already doing so. It may be the case that
Islam and democracy are more compatible than we think.

*Lizbeth Zack is Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of South
Carolina Upstate.

Notes 1, Khaled's name literally means `Khaled, son of Hashimi (his father),
grandson of Abd Al Qadir'.

2, Service in the war was compulsory for many native men but many
volunteered as soldiers and many went to work in France as well. A
total of 173,000 natives served in the war as soldiers, of those
87,500 were volunteers; 119,000 worked in France; 25,000 natives died
compared to 22,000 European settlers (Ageron, 1991, p. 78).

3, In 1908, Prime Minister Clemenceau accorded natives the right to vote
for candidates at the department level General Councils; they had been
appointed since the 1870s. Even so, the size of the electorate was
much smaller than it would become under the 1919 reforms.

4, While many natives in the south and outside the cities lacked
enthusiasm for the voting, elections in the cities were lively,
especially in capital city of Algiers.

5, There was a third electoral list that included a mix of Europeans and
lesser known native Algerians, but they fared poorly in the elections.

6, In the General Council election of 1920, Khaled defeated Docteur
Tamzali 2995 to 245; in the April 1920 elections for seats in the
Délégations Financières, Khaled obtained 7000 votes to Zerrouk
Mahieddine's 2500; Khaled's allies for other DF seats were Kaid
Hammoud in Blida-Medea, Ben Rahal in Oran, and Dr. Moussa in
Constantine (Kaddache, 1970, p. 102).

7, He formed the Comité algérien de secours aux Indigènes to help the
rural population hurt by famine (Kaddache, 1970, p. 103). In September
1921, Khaled helped form the Comité de défenses des intérêts musulmans
de l'Algérie to consider publishing a daily paper.

8, Khaled spoke to French president Millerand when he came to Algeria,
impressing upon him the right to Parliamentary representation
(Kaddache, 1970, p. 107). He led a collective resignation by native
elected officials (Kaddache, 1970, p. 107).


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