We often speak of Emir Abdelkader as we speak of a hero of mythology. And yet Abdelkader was much more than that: politician, scholar, military leader and symbol of Algerian resistance to French colonialism.
Abdelkader was born in 1808 in what is now Mascara, which was still only part of the “Iyela” (region) of Algiers under the Ottoman Empire. He is the son of a chief of a Sufi brotherhood and descendant of the Alaouite lineage. His father, Mouhidine el Hasani, personally provided education for Abdelkader.
The young Algerian prince was a gifted child. Between philosophy, Koranic legislation, literature and calligraphy, he early reached the rank of Taleb reserved for imams at the age of 14. Three years later, he had already toured the Arab-Muslim world and met the greatest scholars of the time. Abdelkader returned to Algeria towards the end of 1829, barely a few months before the French invasion.
Abdelkader the Algerian
First, the resentment that Algerian villagers carried towards the Ottoman Empire dated back to the 1831th century. The Ottomans had abandoned the Barbarossa brothers, who faced the Sultan of Fez and the Italo-Spanish invasion without reinforcements. These old resentments and the drift of the empire from the precepts of Islam had contributed to the division of Algerian territory. When Mouhidine and his son Abdelkader called for war against the French invasion, Algeria responded. Abdelkader distinguished himself by his military genius. The most notable victories at the start of the war were those of Oran in 1833 and Mostaganem in XNUMX. After some successful offensives led by Abdelkader, the entire region appointed him Emir, prince of believers.
It was at this precise moment that he proclaimed: “We have assumed this heavy burden. In the hope of being the means to unite the great community of Muslims. But also to extinguish their internal quarrels, to bring security to all the inhabitants of this earth. And to put an end to all illegal acts perpetrated against decent people. We will drive back and beat the enemy who is invading our homeland in the hope of bringing us under his yoke ”. Having no other choice, General Louis Desmichels, commander of the French forces in Algeria, negotiated peace with Abdelkader in 1834.
However, this peace was a political springboard for Emir Abdelkader. He took advantage of the truce with the French to unify the country. The new Emir rallied the tribes who had helped the French in the north, notably those of Miliana and Medea. Then, with the tribes of the west of Oued-Chelif who had sworn allegiance to him, Abdelkader cut the French supply lines. Thus, he declared a new start in the fight for freedom.
Victory, to build a country
So, dissatisfied with Desmichels, who underestimated Abdelkader, France replaced him with General Trézel. The latter sent his troops to the marshes of the eastern banks of the Macta in 1835, in the middle of summer. Abdelkader dodged French troops for a whole day. And in a maneuver worthy of an experienced army, the Algerians took the French from the rear. French troops retreated towards Arzew. This is where Abdelkader already had a garrison in ambush, the defeat of Trézel's troops was bitter and unexpected.
Then Abdelkader continued his attrition strategy against Trézel. For two years, the war of attrition began to displease Paris. The French government replaced General Trézel with Thomas Robert Bugeaud. However, Abdelkader was not inherently belligerent, being a scholar above all else. Its military power came from its ability to rally and inspire its troops. Also, his image of a pious and modern man at the same time intrigued the French who thought they were dealing with some tribal chief.
When General Bugeaud urged Abdelkader to accept a peaceful solution, the latter did not hesitate for a second. Of course, the treaty recognized French domination, but only in French. In its Arabic version, the Tafna Treaty recognized the sovereignty of the State of Abdelkader. And this, on any Mascara to the center of Algeria, from Badis to Algiers, excluding the latter. Nevertheless, this period of peace allowed Abdelkader to realize his political project. He constituted a united state under spiritual authority, instead of a conventional nation. In addition, the Kabyles, the Christians and the Jews of the south, and even the few animists of eastern Algeria, joined his cause. Even the French deserters decided to join the Emir.
In addition, Abdelkader instructed these populations in voluntary service and unconditional patriotism. Most of the state projects were carried out by the inhabitants independently. The army was made up half of Bedouin volunteers, who were formidable fighters.
A homeland that survives
The nation of Abdelkader was being built at a pace too sustained for the French. In 1839, the Duke of Orleans decided to break the Tafna pact. He led a large force from Algiers to Mitidja, where Abdelkader was well situated and had known how to defeat French expansionist efforts. After several raids on advanced French positions, in the context of the impending European peace of 1840, Abdelkader found himself facing a growing colonial power. General Bugeaud had then become the very bloodthirsty governor of Algiers that history describes.
Abdelkader's letter to Bugeaud is sufficient to explain the new nature of the Algerian struggle for independence in 1841: “We will fight when we deem it appropriate, you know that we are not cowards. »Writes Abdelkader. And he adds: “To oppose all the forces you are driving behind you would be madness. But we will tire them, we will harass them, we will destroy them in detail; the climate will do the rest ”. He then finished with this sentence which marked his caption: "Do you see the wave rise when the bird touches it with its wing?" It is the image of your passage in Africa ”.
Indeed, Abdelkader has held firm, since the Biban expedition and until 1846 he fought a force literally a hundred times greater than his own. After the betrayal of Sultan Abderrahmane of Morocco, who dealt the last blow to Abdelkader's army, the latter accepted the surrender towards the end of 1847.
Epilogue of the legend of the holy warrior
Abdelkader was imprisoned in France and moved from residence to residence, until Napoleon III became Emperor of the French. Napoleon freed Abdelkader, under international pressure. Emir Abdelkader spent the rest of his life traveling, devoting himself to the study of Islam. From Constantinople to Syria, he wrote a number of theological, social and philosophical studies. His essays have been translated into twelve languages of his experience, and still remain today references in terms of Sufi thought, philosophy and history.
Like an Arab knight of the dawn of Islam, he alone had prevented the pogrom of Christians in Damascus in 1860. His presence alone was enough to calm the bloodthirsty Druze. The nobility of Emir Abdelkader has earned him worldwide respect and timeless recognition. Like Saladin, he still remains a model of the rebellious man and the independence fighter. A man who has mastered the pen and the sword.