French Coup in Algeria

BOSWELL, GEORGE B.

When it kidnaped the leaders of the Algerian rebellion, the French Government jeopardized relations with moderate nationalists in Morocco and Tunisia French Coup in Algeria By George B....

...Both leaders envisaged the eventual formation of a cooperative alliance of the three North African countries, forming a sort of commonwealth closely tied to France for military, economic and technical assistance...
...In the last analysis, it is the rebel demand for immediate and total independence that is the main obstacle to a truce...
...At the time of the flight, one of the FLN leaders, speaking to a French reporter, referred to the crew as a symbol of the cooperation that could eventually be worked out between France and the North Africans...
...On October 22, the French captured in Algiers five key leaders of the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN), among them the rebel commander, Ben Bella, and the FLN political leader, Mohammed Khider...
...Thus, in the middle of September, Bourguiba and Mohammed V launched a diplomatic campaign to promote a settlement of the Algerian revolt...
...Plans for the conference were made public, and it was freely acknowledged that FLN representatives would be present...
...posters to that effect are no longer seen, and right-wing nationalists have dropped the violent campaigns they were organizing last winter in collaboration with the followers of Pierre Poujade...
...Culturally and economically, these countriesówith their substantial European communitiesówould continue to be oriented toward Europe and thus shun demagogic appeals from the Middle East...
...French Premier Guy Mollet politely refused to discuss the issue, and within two days both countries had recalled their ambassadors to Paris and riots and demonstrations had cost the lives of over 40 French residents of Morocco...
...Aside from the Communists, the coup was denounced by a whole section of Mollet's own Socialist party, by the Radical followers of Pierre Mendes-France and by certain elements of the liberal press...
...It was impossible...
...thus, men like Ben Bella and Mohammed Khider would be acceptable spokesmen to the French Government...
...The Sultan was apparently trying to achieve a compromise formula that would recognize Algeria's right to independence without making independence itself a condition for the truce...
...It is hard to foresee the effects in North Africa of the Franco-British intervention...
...At the same time, it announced its willingness to renew the suspended negotiations with Morocco...
...Such incidents, added to the ill will engendered by the Algerian war, provide extremists with material for effective use against France...
...Thus, France was provided with a long-term element of influence in these countries...
...The right-wing advocates of intransigence were decisively silenced a few months ago when Marshal Juin, one of their heroes in previous North African crises, began to speak of negotiating a compromise solution in Algeria...
...Political commentators were quick to point out the possible repercussions of the airport coup...
...Unfortunately, this important declaration happened to be made at about the same time that Israel crossed the Egyptian frontier, and much of its expected impact among Moslems has been lost...
...The Mollet declaration also promised that France would provide economic-development aid to Algeria equal in cost to the present military expenditures for quelling the rebellion...
...Though they have not hidden their sympathies for the rebels, they have not openly supported rebel demands for immediate, unconditional independence...
...Should it bring about the defeat or overthrow of Nasser, it would not compromise France's relations with Morocco and Tunisia, for their leaders have openly expressed their distrust of Nasser...
...The Government dispatched special envoys to the Sultan and the Bey of Tunis to convey personally Mollet's newest appeal for an Algerian truce...
...Avoiding Algerian territory, the plane flew from Rabat to Pal ma, where it stopped to refuel en route to Tunis...
...The concept of "integration" with France has now been entirely discarded...
...The airport coup also put an end to the efforts that the Sultan and Bourguiba had been making to achieve a cease-fire in Algeria...
...Main Savary, who had been working hard to strengthen French ties with Morocco and Tunisia, resigned, as did the French Ambassador to Tunis...
...Yet, it did not necessarily repudiate the previous acknowledgement of the Moroccan-Tunisian mediation effort, particularly since the Mollet Government had not protested any of the previous diplomatic moves leading up to the Tunis conference...
...Both leaders had become aware that the Algerian war actually threatened their own countries...
...They were also irked by Bourguiba's reference to a "conference- among the three," which gave the FLN leaders the status of representatives of a nation...
...The five Algerian rebels were flying to Tunis as guests of the Sultan of Morocco...
...On the other hand, he carefully reiterated France's anxiety to retain friendly and cooperative relations with Morocco and Tunisia...
...Both Mohammed V and Bourguiba indicated clearly that they looked to France to help them overcome the numerous difficulties involved in launching their new nations...
...The activities of Colonel Nasser and the Arab League, as well as the heightened tension of the Algerian war, convinced the Sultan and Bourguiba that it was imperative to bring that war to an early end in order to insure their own survival and the maintenance of their ties with France...
...The coup had been planned by military intelligence without the knowledge of Premier Mollet...
...As representatives of the FLN, they were to confer with Mohammed V of Morocco and Premier Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia on the North African situation...
...The capture of the FLN leaders, who were all sought by French justice, represented a military victory, and the documents they carried with them were an even greater prize...
...Therefore, the Sultan and Bourguiba were shocked by the operation which led to the capture of the FLN chiefs...
...The Government could hardly have conveyed the rebel leaders to safe haven in Tunisia once they had been captured...
...The official French reaction was imposed by the necessities of home politics...
...Special envoys, including the Sultan's eldest son, conferred at length with French diplomats in Paris and North Africa...
...Now Mollet denied that his government had approved the Tunisian-Moroccan mediation effort and cited the French protest to the Sultan on the eve of the Tunis conference...
...Actually, there had not been any change in French Government policy...
...Undoubtedly, the Government had been confronted by a slick, unilateral operation on the part of the military, which it had to endorse once it was completed...
...it was this that Paris hoped to moderate through the intervention of the Sultan and Bourguiba...
...These provided that French technicians, military advisers and administrative personnel would remain in their places, collaborating with the new governments...
...Later the same day, however, the French objected to the fact that the Sultan's son had met the rebel leaders at Tetuan and accompanied them in his own piane to Rabat...
...The rebel leaders thus found themselves in a Moroccan plane operated by a French crew...
...So confident were the Moroccan authorities and the rebels of the French Government's discreet approval that neither felt there was any risk in their taking a plane manned by a French crew...
...Their subjects were being stirred up by nationalist extremists working with Algerian elements and encouraged by Nasser's Egypt...
...They felt they were ideally placed to act as mediatorsóparticularly the Sultan, as religious leader of North African Moslems...
...Now the value of these collaborators will be seriously questioned by the Tunisians and Moroccans, in view of the behavior of the French crew of the Moroccan plane...
...Although the crew hesitated, it finally agreed to bring the plane into Algiers at the time it was scheduled to land in Tunis...
...Both the Sultan and Bourguiba, on the other hand, sought to achieve the future development of their countries through permanent economic and cultural ties with France...
...While the defeat of Nasser would not necessarily entail the collapse of the Algerian rebellion, it might induce the present FLN leaders to moderate their demands to terms which France could graciously accept...
...however, to conecal the diplomatic setback...
...Lacoste did not hear of it until it was under way, nor did any of the other Cabinet members outside the Defense Ministry...
...Influential critics, such as Socialist Andre Philip, stressed that the coup would undermine the political figures in Morocco and Tunisia who had been promoting a Franco-North African community of nations...
...In Palma, the French pilot received radio instructions from French authorities to bring the plane into Algiers...
...The treaties of independence they negotiated with France in the last two years provide for long-term economic credits and the continued presence of French technicians, economists and administratorsóboth needed for the future growth of Morocco and Tunisia...
...The two mediators had apparently been assured by the French Government that it would not object to a conference between the Moroccan and Tunisian leaders and the representatives of the FLN...
...Mohammed V immediately sent Moroccan Premier Si Bekkai and Foreign Minister Balafrej to Paris to lodge his protest and negotiate for the release of his guests...
...Because the Sultan did not want to offend the French, the rebel leaders did not fly in his plane, but were shifted to another plane operated by Air Atlas, originally a French company but recently transferred to Moroccan ownership...
...Such a development would, in a sense, constitute the realization of French diplomatic efforts which have encouraged the growth of moderate pro-European elements in the Moslem world while combating fanatical nationalists...
...The Moroccans called it an act of "piracy...
...Contacts were established in Italy, Switzerland and elsewhere with spokesmen for the rebels...
...The day before the conference, Alain Savary, Minister for Moroccan and Tunisian affairs, asked the Sultan to assure the rebel leaders of France's good faith in seeking a cease-fire...
...French public opinion is gradually realizing that Algeria is not France and that a new status will have to be worked out, granting Algeria a very large degree of autonomy...
...The French thereupon broke off pending economic negotiations with Morocco...
...It has already established unofficial contacts with some rebel leaders, including the just-captured Mohammed Khider...
...They argued that the loss of a few leaders would not be a decisive blow to a movement made up of semi-autonomous guerrilla bands, and that this blow would be more than offset by the diplomatic losses caused by the incident...
...This extremist movement, based more on emotional ties than on political and economic realities, advocates breaking all North African ties with France in favor of the Arab League...
...The whole incident underlines the urgent need to find a swift compromise solution of the Algerian crisis before France loses the confidence of all the North African Moslems...
...The Mollet Government is clearly aware of the emergency...
...The rebel leaders were caught completely by surprise by French police inspectors who leaped into the plane...
...At the same time, the airport coup casts a shadow on one aspect of the Moroccan and Tunisian settlements with France...
...Both Mendes-France and the Catholic MRP's Pierre Pflimlin, while advocating different approaches, recognized in Assembly speeches on October 26 that a spectacular move was needed to end the revolt...
...The conference was also scheduled to explore the eventual formation of a North African "entity" and its ties to France...
...A few days before the scheduled conference, Robert Lacoste, Resident Minister of Algeria, stated that the rebel leaders had asked the Sultan (his name was not given, but his identity was obvious) to serve as a mediator...
...The coup was acclaimed in France as a great tactical victory...
...Both Premier Mollet and President Coty are said to have been extremely alarmed when they heard that the rebel leaders had been captured...
...They have not associated with the Arab League or with Cairo's anti-French campaigns, despite the Algerian revolt...
...When it kidnaped the leaders of the Algerian rebellion, the French Government jeopardized relations with moderate nationalists in Morocco and Tunisia French Coup in Algeria By George B. Boswell Paris Aweek before the Franco-British intervention in the Egyptian war, French air intelligence carried out a coup which may have important effects on France's other war in North Africa: the Algerian campaign...
...Sultan Mohammed V and Premier Bourguiba promptly interpreted this act as an affront to their countries...
...At the same time, the new appeal guarantees universal suffrage to a single-chamber Algerian legislature, thus abandoning the principle of dual representation for the Moslem and European communities which gave the latter dominance...
...The Mollet Government has just issued a new truce appeal which reaffirms the status of autonomy previously granted but now goes further: It no longer insists on dealing with "reliable" representatives of the Algerian people...
...This coup followed by a few days the French seizure of the Athos, a ship en route from Egypt smuggling enough arms to supply more than a thousand Algerians...
...they regarded it as a breach of faith, a personal affront (since the FLN leaders were their official guests), and a public repudiation of policies which the French had discreetly endorsed...
...Meanwhile, the moderate Moroccan government of Si Bekkai fell and was replaced by a new coalition dominated by the more nationalist Is-tiqlal...
...Encouraged by Cairo, the rebel leaders have until now clung to this unconditional demand...

Vol. 39 • November 1956 • No. 46


 
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