Algerian War of Independence begins - a faction of young Algerian Muslims establishes the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) as a guerrilla organization dedicated to winning independence from France
Algeria had been essentially a French protectorate since the 1830s, and by the early 20th century it had become entirely integrated into the French colonial system. It was actually considered part of France. The system, however, was based on pitiless exploitation of the native population and the perpetuation of an apartheid social structure. France justified this state of affairs by portraying itself to the world as the bringer of civilization and egalitarianism to a backward indigenous population.
The early twentieth century had seen the organization of some groups like the Star of North Africa and the Party of the Algerian People that agitated for Algerian independence, although none of them achieved much success. However, the end of the Second World War brought with it the end of old notions of European colonialism. The old ways of doing things were on the way out, and the more astute European powers like Britain and The Netherlands realized that colonialism was a casualty of the war. France, however, insisted on retaining its holdings in North Africa and Indochina by force.
In the early 1950s, a patriot named Ahmad Ben Bella (with the support of Egypt’s anti-imperialist leader Gamal abd al-Nasser) created the National Liberation Front (FLN), with its military arm in Algeria being the National Liberation Army (ALN).
The insurgency began in 1954 with armed attacks on French government and military targets all over Algeria. The FLN leadership in Cairo at the same time called on all Algerians to support the fight for full independence from France. The French responded with a campaign of counter-violence in an attempt to crush the insurgency before it could gain momentum. It was inconceivable to them that Algeria could secede from France; it had been actually integrated into the structure of the French republic.
The FLN strategy was: (1) win the support of the local population by disseminating information and propaganda; (2) separate the French government from the Algerian people by methods both peaceful and violent; (3) gain control of the countryside; (4) destroy the network of French collaborators and informers; and (5) establish an alternative social system and government that would be ready to take power once the French left.
By day, the FLN would attack soft targets in an attempt to provoke overreactions from the government. By night, the insurgents would melt into the local population. These were classic guerrilla tactics, and they worked.
The conflict was brought to the cities in 1957 with calls for a nationwide strike and subsequent act of urban terrorism in Algiers. France also began to train a cadre of native loyalists called harkis to assist in fighting the FLN. By 1957 the French had over 400,000 soldiers in Algeria, but it appears that of these about 170,000 were Muslim Algerian volunteers with little stomach for fighting their countrymen.
In 1957 and 1958, the French divided the country into sectors with permanently stationed troops, and launched large-scale “search and destroy” missions against the FLN. But the overreactions of the French military forces, and the widespread use of torture and other questionable tactics, alienated many otherwise apathetic Algerians from France. On the international front, the French government was unable to gain the moral high ground. None of the major world powers were much interested in helping France retain what was rightly seen as a colonial anachronism.
The brutal conflict would drag on for seven years, until a peace agreement promising an independence referendum was agreed in 1962.