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Messali al-Ḥajj

By:
Mary-Jane Deeb
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The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Messali al-Ḥajj

Messali Al-Ḥajj (1898–1974),more fully Ahmed Messali al-Ḥajj and often spelled Messali Hadj, was the first Algerian nationalist leader in the twentieth century to call for the complete independence of Algeria from France. Born in Tlemcen, to a lower-middle-class Turkish-Algerian family, Messali attended a Qurʿānic school before being sent to a French school where he earned an elementary-school diploma. After joining the French army and serving three years in the Bordeaux region, Messali decided, in 1923, to live in France. He married a French woman, joined the French Communist Party, and became a leading member of the Etoile Nord Africaine (founded in 1926). In 1927 he set the agenda for the Etoile that included demands for Algeria 's complete independence from France and the withdrawal of French troops of occupation; freedom of association and the press; and the election of an Algerian parliament and municipal councils through universal suffrage.

In the mid-1930s, Messali al-Ḥajj left the French Communist Party, which had condemned the demands of the Etoile Nord Africaine, and returned to Algeria to mobilize peasants and workers and to create new chapters of the Etoile Nord Africaine. In March 1937, two months after the French government dissolved the Etoile, he formed the Party of the Algerian People (PPA). When three thousand of his PPA supporters demonstrated in Algiers in July 1937, he was arrested and imprisoned for two years, until the outbreak of World War II. Messali al-Ḥajj was arrested again, however, and he spent most of the war in prison, and in 1945 his PPA was outlawed.

When released in 1946, he immediately created the Movement for the Triumph of Democratic Freedoms (MTLD) to replace the banned PPA. The MTLD  's members won electoral seats in the Algerian National Assembly in 1946, but when they tried again in 1948 and in 1951, the elections were rigged by the colonial administration. By 1950 the MTLD had an estimated twenty thousand members and had become the largest opposition party in Algeria.

In 1947 Hocine Aït Ahmed, a member of the MTLD, built a paramilitary group, the Organization Spéciale (OS), within the MTLD. In 1950 when the MTLD leaders and many OS members were arrested by the French, Messali al-Ḥajj 's fortunes within the MTLD began to decline. He and his supporters were ousted from the MTLD in 1954 for personal and ideological reasons, and the nationalist movement was permanently split. Attempts by a newly created Revolutionary Committee for Unity and Action (CRUA) of former OS members to mediate the conflict failed. On October 31, 1954 the CRUA announced the formation of the Front for National Liberation (FLN) and launched the war of independence the very next day. Messali al-Ḥajj, however, did not support the FLN. He renamed the branch of the MTLD still under his control the National Algerian Movement (MNA) and created a militia that fought the FLN in France until 1957. The movement was finally wrecked by deaths and defections, and although it continued to exist until independence it was no longer a political force.

Messali al-Ḥajj, who had fought so hard for Algeria 's independence, found himself out in the cold politically when his dream was realized. He spent the last years of his life in Lamorlaye, France, writing his memoirs, surrounded by his family and a few loyal supporters. He died of cancer in 1974, and his body was carried back to Algeria for burial in Tlemcen, the city of his birth.

See also ALGERIA.

Bibliography

  • Entelis, John P.Algeria: The Revolution Institutionalized. Boulder, Colo., 1986. Find it in your Library
  • Ruedy, John. Modern Algeria: The Origins and Development of a Nation. Bloomington, Ind., 1992. Find it in your Library
  • Stora, Benjamin. Algeria, 1830–2000: A Short History. Ithaca, N.Y., 2001. Find it in your Library
  • Stora, Benjamin. Messali Hadj, 1898–1974. Paris, 1982. Find it in your Library
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