, pub-5063766797865882, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0 Nationalism and Independence Movements in North Africa and the Middle East after World War II ~ Ancient Egypt Facts

April 18, 2023

Nationalism and Independence Movements in North Africa and the Middle East after World War II

 Nationalism in North Africa and the Middle East

As in Africa below the Sahara, World War II was a turning point for North Africa and the Middle East.

During the war, the British in particular had reestablished their control over strategic countries such as Egypt and Iran. Such control angered many and led to an even more intensive development of nationalism in the region after the war. In addition, the United Nations decision to grant independence to Italy’s former colony of Libya raised expectations and demands among the French North African peoples that they, too, should be free from colonial rule. Not least, the discovery of the extent of the Holocaust, which had almost destroyed the Jewish population of Europe, led to renewed conflict in Palestine and eventually the emergence of the new state of Israaeel.

French North Africa and the Middle East
Like Great Britain, France was exhausted by World War II. Yet also like the British, the French did not immediately expect to have to give up their colonies. The first successful challenge to French colonialism came in the Middle East, in Syria and Lebanon.

Syria and Lebanon. France had first gained control of Syria and Lebanon as a mandate after World War I. In the 1920s, French policy had encouraged the development of a separate state in Lebanon, where there was a slight Christian majority. During World War II, Free French and British troops had taken control of both countries from the Vichy government. After the war, however, despite promises of independence, French troops remained in Syria and Lebanon. Only under British pressure and several brief but bloody battles with Arab nationalists did France finally agree to withdraw. In the mid-1940s both Lebanon and Syria became fully independent republics.

Algeria. The success of Arab nationalism in Syria in particular proved an inspiration to Arab nationalists in French North Africa. The heart of the French colonial empire in North Africa was Algeria. Like South Africa within the British Empire, Algeria had a large European settler community, people known as colons, accounting for about 10 percent of the population. These settlers, many of whose families had lived in Algeria since the 1800s, owned most of the colony’s industry and its best land. Algeria was not just a colony, however, but had been legally absorbed into France. Algerian voters elected representatives to the French National Assembly in Paris, although voting restrictions limited the participation of the large majority of Muslim Arabs.

As nationalism emerged in other parts of the Middle East after World War II, the Algerians also began to demand independence. When both the colons and the French authorities resisted these demands, Algerian nationalists formed an organization in 1954 to fight for independence. The Algerian National Liberation Front, or FLN ( its French initials), launched its revolution on November 1, 1954.

The Algerian war became extremely brutal as both sides committed atrocities to gain their goals. The FLN waged a terror campaign not only against the French but also against less radical Algerian Arabs who opposed independence. Torture was used by both sides in the conflict. So severe was the war that in 1958 an uprising among the colons in Algiers, supported by many army leaders, contributed to the downfall of the French Fourth Republic and the return of General Charles de Gaulle to power in France. The military and the settlers expected de Gaulle to pursue the war against the FLN. Instead, he decided to negotiate a settlement, even if it meant granting Algeria independence. Despite resistance from the army and the settlers, including attempts on his own life, in 1962 de Gaulle did indeed grant Algeria independence.

Morocco and Tunisia. The Algerian war had a devastating impact on French colonialism everywhere. The war was an important factor in influencing de Gaulle to offer his terms for independence to the African territories south of the Sahara. It was also partly responsible for independence in Morocco and Tunisia. Neighbors of Algeria, these two Muslim states were French protectorates. French rule in Morocco, in fact, had only been established relatively recently in the 1920s and Moroccan resistance remained strong. In 1954 both Moroccan and Tunisian nationalists also launched guerrilla campaigns designed to drive the French from their countries. In 1956, as the war raged in Algeria, France finally gave in. Morocco became a constitutional monarchy under the sultan Sidi Muhammad ben Yusuf, who became King Muhammad V. Tunisia became a republic under Tunisian nationalist leader Flabib Bourguiba.


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