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Ferhat Abbas

Ferhat Abbas

Ferhat Abbas (1899-1985) was the first president of the provisional government of the Algerian Republic. His political career reflected the failure of the middle-class moderate elements to dominate Alge rian nationalism.

Ferhat Abbas was born on Oct. 24, 1899, at Taher in the department of Constantine, Algeria, into a pro-French family of provincial administrators and landowners. In 1924, while a student of pharmacy at the University of Algiers, he helped to found the Association of Moslem Students, over which he presided for 5 years. He graduated in 1932, opened a pharmacy in Sétif, and served on municipal and provincial councils in eastern Algeria.

Until World War II Abbas accepted the validity of the colonial system and became a major spokesman for political reforms and the assimilation of Algerians and the French. In 1936 he even wrote, "I will not die for the Algerian fatherland, because this fatherland does not exist," a point of view which he later jettisoned. Although he joined the French army medical corps in 1939, in February 1943 he drew up the Manifesto of the Algerian People, which marked a rupture with the assimilationist dream and called for the internal autonomy of Algeria. After spending time in jail, in March 1944 he founded the Friends of the Manifesto, but following riots and massacres in Sétif on May 8, 1945, he was again interned.

In 1946 Abbas was released and served as a member of the French Constituent Assembly in Paris. The same year he founded a new party, the Democratic Union of the Algerian Manifesto. In 1947 he became a member of the Algerian Assembly.

By 1954 Abbas, who had married a Frenchwoman and championed dialogue with France, finally realized that the Algerian condition could not be changed through legal means. French colons in Algeria refused to fulfill the promises that Paris had made to Algerian nationalists and attempted to repress the nationalist movement. Nonetheless, the insurrection of November 1954, which ignited the 8-year Algerian revolt, surprised Abbas and other moderates. In May 1955 he secretly joined the National Liberation Front and openly rallied to its ranks on April 22, 1956, by meeting in Cairo with the chiefs of the rebellion. On Aug. 20, 1956, he became a member of the National Council of the Algerian Revolution.

After the French arrested Ahmed Ben Bella, the revolutionary leader, in October 1956, Abbas assumed a more important role in the struggle for independence, and on Sept. 18, 1958, he was named president of the first provisional Algerian government. He lost this post in 1961 and took no part in the negotiations at évian, which led to Algerian independence in July 1962.

In the subsequent civil war between Ben Bella's forces and the provisional government, Abbas supported Ben Bella and became president of the first Algerian Constituent Assembly. His political experience and profound knowledge of middle-class Algerian personalities made him a convenient ally for the more radical victors. But he criticized the new constitution and the regime for its "fascist structures," and on Aug. 14, 1963, he resigned as president of the Assembly.

In July 1964, when an insurrection broke out, Abbas was put under house arrest. Freed in June 1965, on the eve of the coup which replaced Ben Bella with Col. Houari Boumediene, Abbas retired from public life to Sétif. He died in 1985.

Further Reading

There is no biography of Ferhat Abbas in English. Several general books deal with his activities: Edward Behr, The Algerian Problem (1961); Joan Gillespie, Algeria, Rebellion and Revolution (1961); and William B. Quandt, Revolution and Political Leadership: Algeria, 1954-1968 (1969). □

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