France and Algeria: A History of Decolonization and Transformation

Article excerpt

France and Algeria: A History of Decolonization and Transformation, by Phillip C. Naylor. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2000. xviii + 290 pages. Maps. Abbrevs. Notes to p. 387. Sel. bibl. to p. 427. Index to p. 457. $49.95.

For the 132 years that Algeria formed the core of France's overseas holdings, the North African territory assumed a crucial role in shaping France itself-as an imperial entity, an economic power, and a champion of Western civilization and Gallic culture. Thus, when Algeria gained its independence in 1962, France confronted a difficult, and previously unthinkable, question: Did the loss of Algeria fundamentally alter the essence of France? Because Algerians had found it difficult to define themselves or their nation during the colonial era-caught as they were between an Arabo-Berber-Islamic heritage and domination by foreigners who did their best to repress, control, or manipulate that heritage-independence posed for them a somewhat different, but not unrelated, challenge. The very existence of an Algerian state, so vigorously denied for so long, had now to be affirmed. This study utilizes the "essentialistexistentialist" quandary as a paradigm in order to track the continuities and discontinuities in the post-colonial relationship between the new state and its former colonizer. As difficult as political decolonization had been in the years between the advent of the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and the signing of the Evian Accords in 1962, it proved easier to achieve than its economic, social, or cultural counterparts. Given the intensity and complexity of the colonial experience for both sides, it is not surprising that a philosophy of "independence with interdependence," which devoted only limited attention to the detachment of Algeria from France in these areas, initially prevailed. The Algiers Accords of 1965 envisioned a reinterpretation of bilateral linkages, but it became clear that the French perceptions of the new arrangement required Algeria to set aside key national ambitions, particularly with regard to hydrocarbons, over which a crisis developed. The ensuing nationalizations in 1971 achieved the economic decolonization of Algeria. Although the relationship stagnated for the remainder of the decade, Algeria, for both cultural and strategic reasons, continued to retain a central place in France's view of itself and of the world. …