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History and the Culture of Nationalism in Algeria


  • 18 b/w illus. 1 map
  • Page extent: 284 pages
  • Size: 229 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.42 kg
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521103671)

  • Also available in Hardback
  • Published December 2008

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History and the Culture of Nationalism in Algeria

Colonialism denied Algeria its own history; nationalism reinvented it. James McDougall's book charts the creation of that history through colonialism to independence, exploring the struggle to define Algeria's past and determine the meaning of its nationhood. Through local histories and individual experiences, McDougall analyses the relationship between history, Islamic culture and nationalism in Algeria. In so doing, he confronts prevailing notions that nationalism emancipated Algerian history, and that Algeria's past has somehow determined its present, violence breeding violence, tragedy repeating itself. Instead, he argues, nationalism was a new kind of domination, in which multiple memories and possible futures were effaced. But the histories hidden by nationalism remain below the surface, and can be recovered to create alternative visions for the future. This is an exceptional and engaging book, rich in analysis and documentation. It will be read by colonial historians and social theorists as well as by scholars of the Middle East and North Africa.

JAMES McDougall is Assistant Professor of History at Princeton University. He has edited Nation, Society and Culture in North Africa (2003).

Cambridge Middle East Studies 24

Editorial Board

Charles Tripp (general editor)
Julia Clancy Smith, F. Gregory Gause, Yezid Sayigh, Avi Shlaim, Judith Tucker

Cambridge Middle East Studies has been established to publish books on the modern Middle East and North Africa. The aim of the series is to provide new and original interpretations of aspects of Middle Eastern societies and their histories. To achieve disciplinary diversity, books will be solicited from authors writing in a wide range of fields including history, sociology, anthropology, political science and political economy. The emphasis will be on producing books offering an original approach along theoretical and empirical lines. The series is intended for students and academics, but the more accessible and wide-ranging studies will also appeal to the interested general reader.

A list of books in the series can be found after the index.

History and the Culture of Nationalism in Algeria

James McDougall

Princeton University

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title:

© James McDougall 2006

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2006

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data

McDougall, James, 1974–
History and the culture of nationalism in Algeria / James McDougall –
1st ed.
p. cm. – (Cambridge Middle East studies; 23)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-0-521-84373-7 (hardback)
ISBN-10: 0-521-84373-1 (hardback)
1. Nationalism – Algeria – History. I. Title. II. Series.
DT294.5.M45 2006
320.540965 – dc22 2005029331

ISBN-13 978-0-521-84373-7 hardback
ISBN-10 0-521-84373-1 hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility forthe persistence or accuracy of URLs for external orthird‐party internet websites referred to in this publication,and does not guarantee that any content on suchwebsites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

Would it exceed the bounds of legitimate doubt if we were to place our emphasis on the part of purely linguistic play in these spiritual, or religious, variations, which constitute the ancient history of the Maghrib? This history is, perhaps, nothing but a study in heresy. The Maghribis, we are told, apostatized as many as twelve times. In this they pursued a search for their own identity which has probably not yet ceased today. As we know, in matters of schism and sect it is the verbal label, the classification by name, or by epithet, which plays the primary role. It is by this that the personalities of individuals, or of groups, situate, recognise, or affirm themselves relative to one another. Do we not see, throughout recent centuries, Islamic religious brotherhoods – just like the Wahhabi movement that today, in turn, attacks them – constantly renewing against one another the same struggle in the name of authenticity and purism? Indeed, throughout North African history, people may always have been labelled as ‘puritan’ or ‘heretic’, just as they have been as ‘nomad’ or ‘peasant’. Or even ‘Arab’ or ‘Berber’ . . . This, surely, is to carry our doubts too far. I have merely wished to show to what extent, in North Africa, this land par excellence of the search for oneself . . . a part of things is held in their sign. A part of history, as of the morphology of groups, hangs on the life of words.

Jacques Berque
‘Qu'est-ce qu'une “tribu” nord-africaine?’


List of illustrations page x
Preface xi
List of abbreviations and acronyms xiv
Map xvi
The language of history 1
Prologue: Tunis, 1899 20
1 The margins of a world in fragments. Maghribi voices in exile: Algeria, Tunisia, Europe and the East 28
2 The conquest conquered? Natural and unnatural histories of Algeria 60
3 The doctors of new religion 97
4 Saint cults and ancestors 144
5 Arabs and Berbers? 184
Epilogue: Algiers, 2001 217
The invention of authenticity 225
Archival sources 239
Bibliography 242
Index 261


Every effort has been made to secure necessary permissions to reproduce copyright material in this work, though in some cases it has proved impossible to trace copyright holders. Omissions brought to the publisher's notice will be appropriately rectified in future editions wherever possible.

Map Northern Algeria in the colonial period page xvi
1 ‘Abd al-Hamid Ben Badis (1889–1940) 13
2. Call for subscribers for the publication of al-Madani's Qar&Tdot;ājanna fī arba‘at ‘u⋅ūr23
3. Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Krim al-Khattabi routs the Spanish army58
4. Constantine, early 1900s61
5. Plaque laid in Constantine, October 1937, in commemoration of the city's conquest a century earlier63
6. Founders of the Association of ‘ulamā in Algiers, 1931108
7. The Great Mosque, Constantine123
8. ‘Algiers the Well-Guarded’145
9. The tomb of Sidi ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Tha‘alibi146
10. Ra's al-Ghul slain by ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib162
11. Algeria in arms171
12. The tomb of the emir ‘Abd al-Qadir, el-Alia cemetery, Algiers180
13. ‘No, I am not an Arab!’ – Kabyle demonstrator at a rally in Algiers, May 1994185
14. ‘Algeria, the heart of the world’207
15. Place du Gouvernement, Algiers, early 1900s218
16. The Ketchaoua Mosque al-Algiers cathedral, early 1900s220
17. ‘The Ketchaoua Mosque recovered, supreme symbol of our aspirations’221
18. Tawfiq al-Madani at Cairo University, 1 November 1960228


This book examines the place of cultural authority and historical imagination in nationalism. My aim has been to move beyond the tropes of awakening and consciousness still common in writing on this subject with regard to the Maghrib, and to put the cultural history of nationalism back into a critical, materialist discursive history of changing forms of social power and modes of domination. I do not pretend to have exhausted this subject; there are many important aspects of the issue not addressed here. Limits of space, competence and material have defined what I have, and have not, been able to discuss.

This study is based primarily on two sets of documentary sources: French colonial archives that chronicle the development of new cultural dynamics in Algerian society through the first two-thirds of the twentieth century; and published periodicals and books in French and Arabic that both constitute and reflect on these same developments. I particularly have to thank the directors and staff of archives and libraries in Aix-en-Provence, Nantes, Tunis, Algiers, Oran and Constantine, the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the Centre culturel algérien, Paris, the National Library and the Institut supérieur de l'histoire du mouvement national, Tunis, the Firestone library at Princeton and the various libraries of the University of Oxford.

In transliterating from Arabic, I have aimed for clarity overall. Place names are given in the most familiar form (Oran not Wahrān). For proper names of persons, I have given Arabic transliterations for people who wrote primarily in Arabic, and established French forms for individuals who themselves wrote in French. Personal names are transliterated on their first appearance, following the system of the International Journal of Middle East Studies (with word-final hamza omitted), and thereafter given in a simplified transliteration without diacritics. Less commonly known Arabic terminology (e.g. dhikr) is transliterated, but words familiar in English (e.g. sufi) are not. All unattributed translations are my own.

Some of this material first appeared elsewhere. I thank the following for permission to reproduce parts of the work: Duke University Press for parts of chapter 5 which appeared as ‘Myth and counter-myth: “The Berber” as national signifier in Algerian historiographies’, Radical History Review 86 (Spring 2003), 66–88; Nebraska University Press, for part of the epilogue appearing in ‘Authenticity/Alienation: the cultural politics of rememoration in post-colonial Algeria’, in William B. Cohen and James D. le Sueur (eds.), France and Algeria: From Colonial Conflicts to Postcolonial Memories; and Indiana University Press, for parts of chapters 4 and 5 appearing in ‘Martyrdom and destiny: the inscription and imagination of Algerian history’, in Ussama Makdisi and Paul Silverstein (eds.), Memory and Violence in the Middle East and North Africa.

It is a pleasure to acknowledge my many debts. The British Academy, latterly the Arts and Humanities Research Board, made my graduate education possible, and I was fortunate to pursue it at the Oriental Institute and St Antony's College, Oxford. I was lucky again to receive a post-doctoral award from the Leverhulme Trust, to be able to hold that award at St Antony's Middle East Centre through the generosity of Jack McCrane and the Hadid Fund, and to be elected to a research fellowship by the Warden and Fellows of St Antony's. It is a privilege to have been part of such a distinguished, stimulating and supportive institution. The book was finished in my first year as a member of another extraordinary institution, the history department at Princeton. It would never have been written without the welcome afforded me by the Institut de Recherches et d'Etudes sur le Monde arabe et musulman at the Maison méditerranéenne des Sciences de l'Homme in Aix-en-Provence, the Institut de Recherches sur le Maghreb contemporain, Tunis, and the Centre de Recherches en Anthropologie sociale et culturelle in Oran. To the wonderful faculty and staff of all of these I am greatly indebted. My thanks go especially to Mastan Ebtehaj, Elizabeth Anderson and Collette Caffrey.

Eugene Rogan's encouragement, guidance and generous enthusiasm have been with this project since its inception. Charles-Robert Ageron and Benjamin Stora reassured me early on that I was doing something interesting, and Robin Ostle and Jean-Claude Vatin gave both heartening encouragement and helpful criticism.

I am grateful to many people for support, criticism, encouragement, advice, hospitality and friendship: in Aix and Marseille, Isabelle Grangaud and Randi Deguilhem, and their families, Jean-Robert Henry and Françoise Lorcerie, Ahmed Mahiou, Bernard Botiveau, Isabelle Merle, Ali Bensaad and Abderrahmane Moussaoui; in Paris, Omar Carlier, Sylvie Thénault, Raphaëlle Branche, Anne-Marie Pathé, Ou

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