North Africa

on the World Today

THE Tunisian and Moroccan problems present the United States with a foreign policy dilemma from which there can be no comfortable escape. Whatever positive action we take is likely to endanger our objectives, either in NATO and Western Europe or in the Middle East, and to have unfavorable repercussions upon our Mediterranean strategy. The Soviet Union has been given a tailor-made opportunity to stir up dissension among the Western nations and to pose as the stalwart champion of oppressed peoples, while the South Asiatic states will tend to judge our attitude toward Asia and Africa by the stand that we take on Tunisia and Morocco.

Our attempt to create a Middle Eastern Command including the Arab states failed largely because of popular feeling against the West. Support for the French in North Africa would intensify Arab suspicions of the United States.

On the other hand, France is the keystone of Western European defense and is already showing signs of restiveness under our leadership. Not only do the French at home bitterly resent any American encouragement of the nationalists, but the North African colonists are strongly represented in the groups upon which the present government must rely for its parliamentary majority. The final ratification of such essential elements of our foreign policy as the Contractual Agreement with Germany and the European Defense Agreement could, therefore, be imperiled by any show of American sympathy for nationalist claims.

The divisive elements

The settled portion of North Africa constitutes a thin strip of arable land 1000 miles long and from 150 to less than 20 miles in width, compressed between the Mediterranean and the Sahara. The total population is now about 20,000,000, of which 1,400,000 are Europeans and about 500,000 Jews, who already have been or are being assimilated by the European communities.

Political disunity has been the consequence of North Africa’s geographic configuration. The area has always been divided into three separate regions, corresponding roughly to Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, which the French have not endeavored to unite. Algeria is legally an integral part of France, while Tunisia and Morocco are sovereign states whose rulers are theoretically “advised" but in fact controlled by French officials. The only coordination between the governments of the three countries is through periodic conferences between their principal French officials.

The plains and all the major cities are inhabited by Arabic-speaking peoples, but Tunisia is the only one of the North African countries in which they constitute practically the entire population. Some 30 per cent of the native population of Algeria and about 45 per cent of that of Morocco is still composed of Berbers, the original inhabitants of the country. The Berbers are, for the most part, fiercely independent mountaineers who have preserved intact their ancient social structure, even to the point of refusing to accept Koranic law.

Historically anarchy was the rule in North Africa. The prevailing insecurity confined urban life largely to coastal Tunisia and northern Morocco, where some governmental authority continuously existed. The cities of these two regions were the home of an Arabic middle class and artisan group which have been the backbone of the nationalist movements; as such this middle class is of particular significance at the present time, since a native middle class has not developed with the expansion of the economy except where it existed prior to the coming of the French.

The cities and the countryside have always been divided by a virtual abyss. The Berbers would have no truck with the Arab cities and their governments, while the Arabic-speaking inhabitants of the plains did not even share the same dialect with the urban residents, whom they regarded with suspicion and hostility. These attitudes persist to this day.

The ties of faith

Islam alone unites the conflicting elements of the native population in North Africa. Any issue which acquires or can be twisted into having a religious significance can arouse the fanatical adherence of an otherwise politically indifferent people. The Ulema, the learned in Koranic law, among whom the Ulema of Fez are pre-eminent, have prestige and great potential political power. The Sultan of Morocco occupies an almost unassailable position, not owing to any political power, but because he is a sherif, a descendant of the Prophet, and therefore sacred in his person, and because his accession to the throne was sanctioned by the Ulema of Fez.

The fundamentally theocratic nature of Islam and its hold upon the minds of the North African natives have frequently been advanced by the French as reasons for not taking the Communist danger seriously. Unfortunately, the truth is less rosy. The deeply religious Moslem, in his unquestioning belief in the almighty power of Allah, is quite capable of thinking that he can go for a ride on a tiger and come back unscathed. It is precisely the most orthodox and most reactionary Moslem leaders in North Africa who have flirted with the Communists in the naïve belief that they could overreach and outmatch them in the end.

The French have vastly increased the wealth of North Africa by comparison with what they found there upon their arrival, but it nonetheless remains a relatively poor area. The climate is extremely variable and droughts are frequent and disastrous; there are no commercially exploitable coal deposits, and water for both irrigation and power development is, except in Morocco, scarce and undependable. In the absence of reliable sources of power, industry has been slow to develop.

At the same time the population is rapidly increasing — it has quadrupled in Algeria in the hundred years since the completion of the French conquest. None of the three countries has the resources to stand on its own feet; their defense and the greater part of their development programs are financed out of the French metropolitan budget, and the nationalists readily admit that, if independence were to be achieved, extensive outside financial assistance would be needed.

Class against Class

Nationalism in North Africa is essentially a middle-class movement. The nationalist parties have therefore been strong in Tunisia and Morocco, where there has always been a strong middle class, and weak in Algeria, where a middle class had not developed prior to the coming of the French.

A handful of European-educated intellectuals, largely drawn from the middle class, has provided the top leadership, but they are numerically too few and spiritually too isolated from the mass of the population to be able lo accomplish anything by themselves. The artisan class is rapidly decaying and its support, therefore, is not a long-term source of strength for the nationalists.

In Tunisia, where the growth of the cities has been less spectacular than in Algeria and Morocco, the working class is comparatively disciplined and mature, and the nationalists have been able to organize a strong trade union movement. The unskilled workers of the modern Moroccan and Algerian cities, drawn in recent years from the landless farmers and the overpopulated hill country, together with the migratory laborers who work the large European-owned estates, have been willing recruits for the nationalist movements; but having nothing in common with their middle-class leaders, they have proved to be dangerous and unreliable followers.

The French, moreover, have prevented the creation of purely native trade unions in Algeria and Morocco, and the nationalists have thus been deprived of any reliable link with the working classes.

The rural masses — the great majority of the population in all three countries — have been little affected by nationalist propaganda, and in Morocco the Berber population has been entirely indifferent or even hostile. The support of the Sultan of Morocco and the Bey of Tunisia has, however, provided the nationalists in those countries with easily understood symbols of sovereignty around which the mass of the population might be rallied in a time of crisis. In Morocco, moreover, the spiritual influence of the Sultan has contributed an aura of religious justification to the nationalist cause.

On the other hand, the legal status of Algeria as an integral part of France has severely handicapped nationalist agitation there, which the French have treated as the equivalent of sedition. The nationalist parties in Algeria have been almost harassed out of existence by the French authorities. In desperation over their loss of political influence, they have concluded an alliance with the Communists, the only instance in which North African nationalist parties have entered into such a suicide pact. The Communists have pinned all their hopes — so far in vain — upon such alliances with the nationalists, since their own propaganda has had little effect upon the natives.

France holds on

All the major nationalist parties admit the necessity of French guidance and assistance in the technical and economic fields, and of continued defense arrangements with France, but they insist that purely internal matters should be transferred into native hands. They assert that their countries are at least as advanced as many of the independent nations of the Middle East and that they have an equal right to self-government. They justly claim that the French have denied the natives access to any but the most subordinate official positions and have made no effort to create native administrations.

In Tunisia and Morocco the nationalists regard with apprehension the growth of large foreign colonies which have monopolized the most lucrative sources of wealth and which exercise a preponderant influence in the government. They fear that the two protectorates will ultimately be reduced to the status of Algeria. They have therefore strenuously resisted French reforms, such as the creation of mixed Franco-native municipal councils and legislative bodies, which, though liberal in appearance, would have the effect of consecrating the right of the French colonists to participate in the governments of the protectorates.

On the other hand, the educated cadres required to administer a modern state do not exist in any of the North African countries. It is, moreover, essential that conditions favorable to continued capital investment, which in effect means French investment, be maintained, since, in the absence of a cont inuous large inflow of capital, the rapidly increasing population would soon overtake the means of subsistence.

The French attitude toward North Africa is conditioned by the interplay of two factors which, though radically different in origin, are sometimes indistinguishable in their effects. The first is the belief of the French that it is the sacred mission of France to elevate North Africa to her own political, economic, and cultural level and their consequent refusal to hand over this task to less competent hands.

The second is the determination of the French North African colonist to ensure the protection of his interests through the open or disguised supremacy of the French colonies in the three countries. As many of the colonists have accumulated large fortunes, they have ample funds with which to lobby in the French parliament and to assist in the election of legislators who will be subservient to their interests.

The French can justly claim that they have brought order to anarchic countries, impartial justice where there had been little but oppression, honest government to replace corruption, education in the place of illiteracy, and a phenomenal degree of economic development. If the colonists have benefited most from the development of North Africa, it was because they had the capital, the intelligence, and the energy to exploit resources that had previously been untouched. Moreover, they pay by far the largest share of the taxes in all three countries.

Great as their achievements have been, the French frequently seem to act in such a manner as to defeat their own highest purposes. They claim that their policy is one of gradualism, but the progress is often so gradual as to be imperceptible. They have done everything possible, without resorting to outright totalitarian methods, to stifle the native press and native organizations, especially the trade unions, and to cut off the native from contact with the outside world.

Their failure to appreciate the dangers of driving the nationalists into an alliance with the Communists could prove to be criminal folly. Above all, they have defied the teachings of their greatest colonial administrator, Marshal Lyautey, in resorting more and more to direct administration instead of impelling the natives to govern themselves well.