views updated Jun 08 2018


ORAN (Ar. Waharan ), seaport on the Mediterranean coast, the second largest city in *Algeria and a key trading and industrial center. Oran as a city (and an administrative unit or region since the 1870s known as a department), is located in western Algeria and is contiguous to the border with *Morocco at a point where Algeria is closest to the Spanish coast. Oran was founded in the 10th century by Andalusian merchants and incorporated into the Kingdom of Tlemcen, serving as its main seaport since the 15th century.

Jews began settling the area mainly in 1391, when they arrived there as refugees from Spain (first wave of expulsion). This population swelled in 1492 and 1502, when Oran afforded refuge to Jewish and Muslim expellees from Spain in the wake of the fall of Granada. As was the case with other parts of the Maghreb in the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, where Spanish and Portuguese influences became supreme, the Spaniards conquered Oran in 1509. Initially the Spanish forces were inclined to expel the Jews from the city, but refrained from doing so in the final analysis. For the next 300 years or more Spain and its colonists remained in control of Oran. Although Jews had been forced to leave Spain (after 1492), the Spanish authorities in Oran learned to tolerate local Jewry and some of the latter engaged in influential trade activity, until the 1760s

In 1669 or 1670, however, the Spanish Queen Maria of Austria expelled the overwhelming majority of the Jews of Oran and its environs. The expellees resettled in Nice, then under the suzerainty of the Dukes of Savoy; from there they made their way to Italian Livorno and reinforced the thriving community that existed there. Jews did return to Oran at the beginning of the 18th century, when the Muslims, led by the Bey of Mascara, captured the city from the Spaniards. But the Spaniards regained control of the area in the 1730s, although this time there was no indication that Jews were barred from Oran. Spanish rule lingered into the last decade of the 18th century and abandoned it in the wake of a devastating earthquake of the early 1790s. Authority passed once again to Muslim hands. This "restoration" period proved advantageous to the Jews. The Muslim authorities now invited Jews from nearby Mostaganem, Mascara, and Nedrona to settle in Oran. The arrival from Morocco of additional Jews only strengthened the Jewish community, transforming it into the second largest Algerian community after Algiers. Many among the Jews plunged into trade activity between the port of Oran and British-controlled Gibraltar, Malaga, and Almeria, as well as Italy and France.

The Jewish community was presided over by a mukkadem, or *nagid, an administrative head. His functions were diversified by local leaders (*parnassim or tovei ha-ir). All disputes among Jews, including marriages and divorce, were decided by the dayyanim (religious judges), the noted exception being criminal matters or disputes between Muslims and Jews, which were referred to the Muslim Shari'a courts run by the qadis. By then the Ottoman Empire was well entrenched in Algeria, in charge of parts of *Algiers and Oran.

Ottoman Turkish rule collapsed in 1830 following the French conquest of Algeria. The French administration gradually removed the Jews from the jurisdiction of both the Muslim and Jewish courts, in the latter case including matters relating to personal status. This applied to Oran. The community of Oran, like those in the regions of Algiers and *Constantine, was administered from the 1840s by a consistoire, a new communal administrative apparatus modeled on the French-Jewish community leadership bodies. The consistoire, which encouraged Jews to modernize, orient themselves to new professions such as agriculture, and send their children to French-type schools, was led by a president and a dozen lay and rabbinic leaders elected by local notables.

From the French occupation of 1830 until France achieved stability over its domination of Algeria (the 1870s), the Jewish community of Oran thrived and its synagogues mushroomed throughout the region. In addition to talmudei torah religious schools, French schools emerged in the community as early as the late 1840s, while in subsequent years Jewish youths frequented French public schools. This was all the more so once France granted Algerian Jewry French citizenship collectively in the spirit of the Crémieux Decree of October 24, 1870. Jews could now serve in the French army and participate in local municipal elections as well as elections to choose local representatives among the European settlers to the French parliament. The Muslims shunned French privileges of naturalization fearing it would run counter to their religious obligations and personal status matters ingrained in the Shari'a. It was then that the local Jewish press in the French language had its inception, though Oran's Jews still continued to disseminate publications in Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic as well.

During the latter half of the 19th century, Oran's Jewry consisted of a heterogeneous population that included indigenous Jews who originated from Mascara, Mostaganem, and Tlemcen. They were reinforced by immigrants from Algiers and Moroccan Jews – émigrés from the mountainous Rif area in northern Morocco, and other northern and western Moroccan regions such as *Tetuan, Figuig, Tafilalet, Oujda, and Debdou. Oran's Jews spoke a variety of jargons, among them Moroccan Judeo-Arabic (a mélange of Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic expressions), Algerian Judeo-Arabic, and Tetuani Judeo-Spanish known as Hakitia – resembling somewhat the Ladino of Sephardi Jews in *Turkey, the Balkans, and *Egypt. Increasingly, however, French became the dominant language among Oran's Jews after World War i.

Until modernization crept in after World War i, Jews engaged in the traditional occupations of crafts and worked as tailors, goldsmiths, carpenters, and shoemakers. By the 1950s numerous Jews had entered the liberal professions. Others established themselves as large-scale merchants and exporters of cereals and cattle to Spanish Malaga and Algeciras, British-controlled Gibraltar, and France.

The Dreyfus Affair and later manifestations of an antisemitic nature in metropolitan France affected the Jews of Oran and the rest of French Algeria. These led to riots and assaults on Jews and their properties. The emergence of the Vichy regime in France (1940) meant that pro-German French influences extended to that country's colonial possessions. Algerian Jews, including those of Oran, were subjected to discriminatory racial laws, stringent quotas in government employment, expulsion of their students and teachers from the public schools, and the temporary abrogation of the Crémieux Decree, leaving the Jews without citizenship status. After the liberation of Algeria by Allied Forces in November 1942, the Crémieux Decree was reestablished. Then, in November 1954, the Algerian war of Muslims against lingering French colonial rule placed the Jews of Oran, Algiers, and Constantine between the hammer and the anvil. They were placed in the awkward position of having to choose between support for the Muslims or for the French. They chose neutrality, even though it was quite evident to the Muslim rebels that deep in their hearts the Jews remained loyal to France and to its colonial policies. From spring 1956 until France granted Algeria national independence in July 1962, the situation of the Jews deteriorated and they were frequent victims of violence. In 1962, of the nearly 30,000 Jews in Oran (out of some 140,000 Algerian Jews), the great majority emigrated to France with only several thousand at the very most making aliyah. In 1963, a year after Algeria's independence, only 850 Jews dwelt in the region of Oran. The Great Synagogue, the most impressive symbol of the Oran community, was transformed into a mosque in the mid-1970s. By 2005, there were apparently no Jews left there.


R. Ayoun, "Problématique des conflits internes de la communauté juive: Simon Kanoui, président du Consistoire Israélite d'Oran," in: Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, 9, B3 (1986), 75–82; J.I. Israel, "The Jews of Spanish Oran and Their Expulsion in 1669," in: Mediterranean Historical Review, 9:2 (1994), 235–55; M.M. Laskier, North African Jewry in the Twentieth Century: The Jews of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria (1994); Museum of the Jewish People: Bet ha-Tefutsoth: The Database of Jewish Communities: The Jewish Community of Oran, Algeria; G. Nahon, "Le Consistoire Israélite d'Ooran et le décret du 16 septembre 1867: documents et correspondances," in: Michael, 5 (1978), 98–129; J.-F. Schaub, Les Juifs du Roi d'Espagne (1999); S. Schwarzfuchs, Les Juifs d'Algérie et la France 18301855 (1981).

[Michael M. Laskier (2nd ed.)]


views updated May 11 2018


largest urban center in western algeria (estimated pop. 693,000, 1998).

On a bay of the Mediterranean Sea, Oran is the administrative, commercial, and educational hub of the petrochemical complex of Arzew-Bethioua (50 km [30 mi.] to the east).

Oran was founded in 903 c.e. by Muslim merchants from Andalusia searching for an alternative port to Ceuta on the West African gold route. The waters of the Ra's al-Ayn river supported the foundation of a sizable walled city with a citadel (qasaba, or Casbah). Muslim CORSAIRS succeeded the merchants at the end of the fourteenth century, then were ousted in 1509 by Christian Spaniards. The Ottomans fiercely opposed Spain's expansion and incorporated Algeria into their empire, but it was only in 1791 that Turkish troops wrested Oran from the Spanish.

The French entered western Algeria in 1831 and occupied Oran, which had some 3,000 Muslim and Jewish inhabitants. European settlers far outnumbered Muslim rural migrants prior to World War I; it was only after World War II that the indigenous population rose to about 40 percent of a total of 413,000 inhabitants.

In the 1840s a canal system and a safe port with breakwaters were constructed. Administrative, commercial, and cultural functions shifted from the Muslim city to the east, along an east-west axis. The Muslim population was forcibly removed in 1845 to its own quarter in the south, resulting in de facto segregation of European settlers and Muslims well into the twentieth century. An urban streetcar system and a main train depot were in place around the turn of the century, an airport was constructed in the 1920s, and paved streets appeared by the 1930s.

During the colonial period Oran was the leading exporter of agricultural goods (red wine, olive oil, soft wheat, citrus, artichokes, tobacco, esparto, wool, and leather). There was little interest in industrialization; apart from mostly small construction and food-processing enterprises, two steelworks were financed by foreign capital. Trade disruptions during World War II encouraged the establishment of import-substitution industries (bottles, containers, cement, and hardware), but these struggled to survive after the war. The Plan of Constantinople (1958), with which France sought to jump-start industrialization in response to the Algerian War of Independence (19541962), created jobs in public works projects but did not enlarge the industrial sector.

After independence Algeria's government embarked on a gigantic program of state industrialization. In 1967 the Oran region was selected to become the main center for the exportation of hydrocarbons and the production of industrial chemicals. These basic industries were supplemented with factories for agricultural machinery and consumer goods. Private investment went primarily into the textile, plastic, food-processing, metalworking and footwear sectors. By the early 1980s the industrial base had grown to 112 state and 284 private businesses with 10 or more employees and total workforces of 32,000 (state) and 10,000 (private).

When the European settlers left Algeria in 1962, they abandoned close to two-thirds of the housing stock of Oran. By 1970 housing was scarce, however, and during the 1970s and 1980s some 12,000 new apartments (about a quarter of what was needed) were constructed. In spite of the periodic razing of shantytowns and the forced return of the inhabitants to their villages of origin, by the mid-1980s about one-third of the rural population had permanently settled in Oran and the other cities of the industrial region. The rural migrants who flooded the city found jobs primarily in construction, low levels of administration, retail, private industry, and the informal sector. Jobs in state industries typically were open only to qualified older workers.

Given the lack of convenient housing, the commute between residence and workplace often is as far as 30 miles (50 km), mostly by public bus or company van. Nearly half of Oran's industrial work-force works outside the city. The new suburbs require additional trips for shopping and entertainment, given the continued concentration of retail shops, services, and entertainment in the city center. On the other hand, many local and regional administrative offices, a new technical university, and vocational colleges have been moved to the suburbs, evening out the distribution of traffic.

In the center of Oran there has been a proliferation of bars, most of which sell coffee and tea. During the interwar period, they were the birthplace of rai, a music of bedouin immigrants that has become Algeria's rock 'n' roll. Also, the mixture of apartment buildings and small commercial and crafts establishments, typical of European inner cities prior to World War II, is still largely intact. Traditional food, clothing, and kitchenware shops are clustered in downtown Oran, and Medina Jadida (a kilometer to the south).

In downtown Oran, upscale residences, professional practices, airline offices, banks, restaurants, and furniture, jewelry, perfume, leather, and record shops coexist with less expensive apartment buildings, retail businesses, and bars as well as mechanical and electrical repair shops (the latter mostly on the periphery). The inner city is no longer the place where established families and rural migrants are neighbors, as was the case in the 1960s, but they still share the same neighborhoods.

The cancellation of the first national elections in 1992 and the return to de facto military rule slowed the process of devolution. In the struggle between the military and Islamists during the 1990s, Oran experienced less violence and terrorism than did Algiers; yet the paralysis was severe. Security under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, inaugurated in 1999, has improved.


Thompson, Ian B. The Commercial Centre of Oran. Glasgow, 1982.

peter von sivers


views updated May 18 2018

Oran (Wahran) City and seaport on the Gulf of Oran, nw Algeria. Founded in the 10th century, it was taken by Spain from its Arab rulers in 1509. Captured by Ottoman Turks in 1708, it was retaken by Spain in 1732. Under French rule from 1831 to 1962, it developed as a naval base. It is Algeria's second-largest city. Industries: iron ore, textiles, chemicals, cereals, wine, fruit. Pop. (1994) 692,516.

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