Abdelkader Leads Algeria Against France Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After France began colonizing parts of North Africa in 1830, Algerian tribes united in resistance under Abdelkader, who created an army to fight the French in a holy war that would last fifteen years.

Summary of Event

During the centuries leading up to the 1830’s, Algeria was ruled by the Ottoman Empire, which was based in Turkey. The Turkish government had established a system of keeping order and collecting taxes by offering financial incentives to tribes in Algeria. The early part of the nineteenth century saw tensions rise as Turkish rulers dramatically raised taxes. A number of small rebellions broke out, but none was strong enough to challenge Ottoman rule. The people of Algeria did not mount a united opposition. Their centuries-old lifestyle kept them divided into tribes, some of which were nomadic and others sedentary. This division, along with other cultural and linguistic differences, made it difficult for the Algerians to resist outside control of the area. Abdelkader Algeria;French conquest Algeria;and France[France] French Empire;and Algeria[Algeria] [kw]Abdelkader Leads Algeria Against France (1832-1847) [kw]Leads Algeria Against France, Abdelkader (1832-1847) [kw]Algeria Against France, Abdelkader Leads (1832-1847) [kw]France, Abdelkader Leads Algeria Against (1832-1847) Abdelkader Algeria;French conquest Algeria;and France[France] French Empire;and Algeria[Algeria] [g]Algeria;1832-1847: Abdelkader Leads Algeria Against France[1720] [g]France;1832-1847: Abdelkader Leads Algeria Against France[1720] [g]Africa;1832-1847: Abdelkader Leads Algeria Against France[1720] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1832-1847: Abdelkader Leads Algeria Against France[1720] [c]Colonization;1832-1847: Abdelkader Leads Algeria Against France[1720] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;1832-1847: Abdelkader Leads Algeria Against France[1720] Charles X [p]Charles X[Charles 10];and Algeria[Algeria] Desmichels, Louis-Alexis Trézel, Camille Alphonse Bugeaud, Thomas-Robert

Meanwhile, across the Mediterranean Sea, the increasingly autocratic policies of France’s King Charles X Charles X [p]Charles X[Charles 10];and Algeria[Algeria] were becoming highly unpopular among his subjects. Charles hoped that a military expedition that expanded France’s influence in North Africa would help him regain support from his people. On June 14, 1830, French forces began landing on the Algerian coast, from which they marched inland unopposed. About three weeks later, the governor, or dey, of Algiers surrendered Algeria’s major port city to the French. Despite this success in North Africa, Charles X was driven from his throne in July.

The new liberal French government that replaced Charles then found itself in control of a North African colony that it did not want, and it faced a growing debate over the question of whether France should expand its Algerian holdings or simply withdraw from North Africa. Algeria’s economic potential did not appear to justify expending more resources to conquer the entire country, but many people in France believed that great riches were to be found in Algeria’s interior. Also, many French people believed that colonization would convey the advantages of their own superior civilization to Algeria’s peoples. In June, 1834, the French government decided to remain permanently in Algeria and issued a decree creating a federal position of governor-general in Africa.

During the early years of France’s occupation of Algeria, the power of Abdelkader’s family grew, paving the way for his rise to power. His family was one of the most prominent in the Oran province. In 1831, the French occupied Oran and relieved of his position Hasan Bey, Hasan Bey the leader appointed under the Turkish regime. Moroccan troops then used Oran as grounds for opposing the French, and in the spring of 1832, Muhi al-Din Muhi al-Din , Abdelkader’s father, was named deputy to the sultan of Morocco Morocco for all of Oran. Tribal leaders repeatedly offered Abdelkader the position of emir, but he refused. Instead, he agreed to lead a jihad against France. After his son had campaigned for two years, Muhi al-Din swore allegiance to his son, and Abdelkader was named emir al-mu’minin—the commander of the believers. That office afforded Abdelkader many political advantages. By that time, several nomadic tribes had already sworn their loyalty to him. Others were attracted to his banner when he issued a pronouncement against the invasion of Christian Europeans, accepting the challenge of uniting Algeria’s Muslims against French occupation.

French soldiers in Algeria. The figure at the left wears the uniform of an infantry soldier; the figure at the right is a chasseur, a member of light cavalry or mounted infantry.

(Library of Congress)

Many tribes accepted Abdelkader’s leadership without dissent, but others feared that accepting him as a leader would cost them not only power within their tribes, but also money and property. At the same time, however, some Algerians did not regard France as a serious threat to their country. Considering the consolidation of central power a priority, Abdelkader named some of the men who resisted his leadership to positions in his newly established government. Although his influence in Oran remained tenuous, Abdelkader was the primary leader of Algerian resistance to French occupation between 1832 and 1834.

In late 1833, members of the Borjia tribe captured a French officer and four soldiers, later killing one of the soldiers. The French demanded their safe return. Abdelkader refused, and the French commander in Algeria, General Louis-Alexis Desmichels Desmichels, Louis-Alexis , began exchanging letters of negotiation with the emir. Abdelkader finally agreed to release the prisoners on the condition that the French enter into a peace treaty with him. In 1834, he accepted a treaty, under which he recognized the French conquest of much of northern Algeria in return for French recognition of his authority in Oran. He then began to train and equip his army according to French models—a practice that helped him overtake tribes that had not previously sworn allegiance to him. Unknown in France until 1836, Abdelkader also signed a second, secret treaty at the same time that granted him more economic and local power. Desmichels abided by the terms of both treaties, recognizing Abdelkader’s power in Oran. Whenever Abdelkader disapproved of French actions, Desmichels was quick to accommodate him.

In 1835, after Desmichels’s tendency to acquiesce to Abdelkader became apparent, he was replaced by General Camille Alphonse Trézel, Trézel, Camille Alphonse who was less cooperative with Abdelkader. Hostilities between Abdelkader and the French soon resumed. Abdelkader won an important early battle against the French, but both sides scored victories. Gradually, Abdelkader gained more strength. In 1837, when a new French governor-general, Thomas-Robert Bugeaud Bugeaud, Thomas-Robert , arrived in Algeria, Abdelkader signed a new peace agreement, the Treaty of Tafna Tafna, Treaty of (1837) . In return for acknowledging French suzerainty in the coastal regions, most of the hinterland was left under Muslim control. Nevertheless, fighting resumed in 1839 and continued until 1847. Abdelkader commanded eighty thousand men, but the French committed ever larger numbers of troops to the war. Under Bugeaud’s command, a large French force began a systematic conquest of the interior, driving Abdelkader into Morocco, where he enlisted the aid of the sultan.

Despite Abdelkader’s successes, his power over the Algerians had long been underestimated by the French. His charisma and ability to unite warring tribes under the banner of jihad supported his authority domestically, and his familiarity with the terrain and use of Western military tactics and arms made him a formidable adversary in battles against occupying French forces. During the first decade of French occupation, Abdelkader managed to restrict the French largely to coastal towns. However, as the conflict continued into the 1840’s, the French began to gain strongholds inland and expanded the conflict into the west, where they conquered Morocco Morocco;French conquest of in 1844. Now under French control, the sultan of Morocco could no longer offer refuge to Algerians, seriously hampering Abdelkader’s ability to mount significant military operations. On August 14, 1844, Bugeaud decisively defeated him at the Battle of Isly. Abdelkader’s armies continued fighting, but the French remained strong and gradually took advantage of divisions within Abdelkader’s army.

In 1846, Abdelkader failed in an attempt to take Algiers. While he was fleeing toward Morocco, he defeated a Moroccan army sent to intercept him but lost his last strongholds in Algeria in the process. Fearful of losing his own position, the sultan of Morocco sent his own army against Abdelkader, forcing the latter back into Algeria in 1847. Abdelkader then realized the hopelessness of his position. When he surrendered to the French general Christophe Lamoriciere Lamoriciere, Christophe on December 21, he negotiated for a safe passage and exile to Acre or Alexandria. However, France did not honor Lamoriciere’s promise and confined Abdelkader in French prisons for four years. Afterward, Abdelkader settled in Damascus, Syria, where he died in 1883.


Abdelkader’s wars against France between 1832 and 1847 marked the most powerful native resistance to European imperial forces in Africa during that period. For fifteen years, he united much of a naturally divided country under his rule and established the first pan-Algerian state. He was a skillful diplomat who used treaties with France to strengthen his position relative to both the Ottoman Empire and numerous local tribes. He was also a brilliant warrior who early recognized the necessity of using Western technology in fighting the French. Although France eventually prevailed in Algeria, Abdelkader’s rule established a model of resistance to European imperialism. During the twentieth century, he was hailed as one of the great early African state builders. During the twenty-first century, he became recognized as an early exponent of Islamic rule and resistance to Western modernism.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Abun-Nasr, Jamil M. A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Broad look at the history of the Maghrib people from the time of the Roman Empire until independence in 1951; touches briefly on the French colonization of Algeria.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Adamson, Kay. Political and Economic Thought and Practice in Nineteenth-Century France and the Colonization of Algeria. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2002. Exploration of the significance of the colonization of Algeria on its colonizers that focuses on political-economic aspects of French colonization.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Danziger, Raphael. Abd al-Qadir and the Algerians: Resistance to the French and Internal Consolidation. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1977. Detailed portrayal of Abdelkader’s rise to power, consolidation of Algerian tribes, and Algerian conflicts with the French. Offers detailed accounts of battles and Abdelkader’s administration and military staff.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Naylor, Phillip Chiviges, and Alf Andrew Heggoy. Historical Dictionary of Algeria. 2d ed. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994. This book’s lengthy introduction surveys key aspects of Algerian history, and individual entries profile most of the important individuals and events involved during the French period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Swain, J. E. “The Occupation of Algiers in 1830: A Study in Anglo-French diplomacy.” Political Science Quarterly 48, no. 3. (September, 1933): 359-366. Brief examination of the interaction between Great Britain and France as they wrestled for control of the Mediterranean region.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vandervort, Bruce. Wars of Imperial Conquest in Africa, 1830-1914. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998. Details the struggle for control in Africa as European forces moved to expand their empires.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Willis, Michael. The Islamist Challenge in Algeria: A Political History. New York: New York University Press, 1996. Discusses the importance of Abdelkader’s resistance to French imperialism in brief summary; the text focuses mainly on post-1962 Algeria.

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Categories: History