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Dahlab, Saad

By:
Jeremy Rich
Source:
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Dahlab, Saad

(1918–2000),

rebel leader and politician, was born 18 April 1918 in the town of Ksar Chellala, Algeria. He attended primary school in his home town for several years before moving to Médéa. Dahlab then went to a French secondary school at Blida. He passed his baccalaureate examination in 1940.

Dahlab worked briefly as a tax collector, but then joined the French army and eventually reached the rank of sergeant. By 1945 Dahlab had joined the banned nationalist and anti-colonialist Parti du Peuple Algérien (PPA) led by Messali Hadj. On 7 April 1945 Dahlab held a meeting of nationalists in Chellala and then—under Hadj’s orders—tried to present PPA demands to the prefect of Algiers. French police arrested Dahlab on 18 April 1945 after he tried to meet with the administrator, but he escaped. On 22 April 1945 Dahlab surrendered and was jailed for eleven months.

Once freed, in March 1946, Dahlab returned to the PPA and became an editor at the nationalist newspaper L’Algérie Libre. He rose through the ranks of the PPA to become a member of its central committee by 1953. Dahlab had a reputation as a centrist in comparison to more radical figures such as Mostéfa Ben Boulaïd. Dahlab presented himself as a bridge between older figures, such as Hadj, and younger members—who felt the nationalist movement had to become much more aggressive. However, eventually Dahlab broke with Hadj and backed the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) armed movement that began the Algerian war for independence against France on 1 November 1954. The French government had Dahlab jailed immediately. He gained his freedom only in the spring of 1955. Dahlab joined the FLN, and led his first official mission with Youcef Ben Khedda and Abane Ramdane in February 1956 in an effort to link different FLN zones together. French authorities again captured Dahlab, and he spent several months in detention once again.

After this third period of imprisonment, Dahlab moved to Morocco with Abane Ramdane. Some alleged that he had a role in Ramdane’s assassination in December 1956 in Morocco at the hands of FLN agents. He started out his career in exile as the assistant to Ferhat Abbas. By 1959 Dahlab had become one of the top FLN diplomats outside Algeria.

One of Dahlab’s biggest goals was to negotiate an independence agreement with Charles de Gaulle’s government after the French military placed de Gaulle in power in 1958. He proved a skillful diplomat. After John Kennedy became president in 1961, the United States Department of State turned to Dahlab and Belkacem Krim to help put an end to the French war in Algeria. Dahlab played a crucial role in trying to keep the peace negotiations alive in early 1962, even as FLN forces in Algeria and the far right European settler terrorist group Organisation Armée Sècrete (OAS) fought each other and the French army. When de Gaulle’s representative, Georges Pompidou, demanded that Dahlab ensure the FLN in Algeria obey the FLN government in exile, Dahlab responded by telling Pompdiou to stop the violence of the OAS as well. To the annoyance of FLN military commanders in the field, Dahlab was willing to concede some French rights over oil in the Sahara. When French negotiator Louis Joxe contended that Hadj’s Mouvement National Algèrien (MNA) rival party to the FLN still deserved a say in the negotiations, Dahlab was disgusted and claimed the MNA was simply a puppet of the French government. Dahlab backed Mohamed Ben Khedda as the FLN president in exile in 1961. After the Evian Accords in March 1962 led to Algerian independence, Dahlab became embroiled in the internal struggles for power within the FLN in the summer and fall of 1962. He managed to survive these conflicts and became the Algerian ambassador to Morocco in 1963 (which was a thankless position given the major conflicts between the two countries over their border). Dahlab left government service after several years and became the director of Berliet-Algérie. Though Dahlab stayed clear of politics, he did have a vested interest in discussing the war for Algerian independence.

In 1988 Dahlab set up his own printing company to help publish material about the war. In 1990 he published his memoirs of his life before and during the war against colonial rule. He died on 16 December 2000 in Algiers. The university Saad Dahlab in Bilda, named in his honor, was just one way that his legacy as a FLN leader was commemorated. Dahlab’s diplomatic ability aided the establishment of an independent Algeria.

Bibliography

  • Aimeur, Karim. “Saâd Dahlab, le militant au long cours.” L’Expression [Algeria], 19 December 2010. www.lexpressiondz.com/actualite/ 85531-saad-dahlab-le-militant-au-long-cours.html.
  • Dahlab, Saad. Mission accomplice pour l’indépendance de l’Algérie. Algiers: Maison Dahlab, 1990.
  • Naylor, Phillip. France and Algeria: A History of Decolonization and Transformation. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000.
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