Governing a Chimera: Ottoman Legacy and Colonial Management in French Algeria (1830–1901)


Ryzhik, Inna. 2012. Governing a Chimera: Ottoman Legacy and Colonial Management in French Algeria (1830–1901). In WCFIA Undergraduate Thesis Conference. Cambridge, MA: Weatherhead Center for International Affairs. Copy at

Date Presented:

February 9, 2012


Algeria was a French colony from 1830–1962 but there has been surprisingly little scholarship done that compares French rule of Algeria with the regime that preceded it, the Ottoman regency of Algiers, which lasted from 1520 to 1830. In my thesis, I will demonstrate that the French administration of Algeria was more stable and better received by the native population when the French appropriated Ottoman strategies of governance and cultivated alliances with Algerian elites. My focus will be on the time period spanning 1830, the year of the French invasion, to 1901, the year in which Algeria’s national boundaries were solidified and internal resistance to the French regime was temporarily subdued. My research findings at Harvard and at the Archives nationales d’outre mer have indicated that, in the first two decades following the invasion, there were concerted attempts made by the French military administration and the Algerian upper class to establish a hybrid form of governance that merged aspects of the Ottoman military oligarchy with those of the French constitutional monarchy. I will argue that, while French gubernatorial practices initially mirrored those of the Ottoman administration, they later diverged from them, a point or rupture that coincides with the transition from the French military to civil administration. Whereas the French military selectively used Ottoman administrative techniques to rule the colony, these policies, which were staunchly supported by generals like General Thomas Robert Bugeaud (1784–1849), were gradually abandoned after the end of the limited occupation (1830–1841). After this time, the design and enforcement of the French colonial program passed to the French civil administration, which ignored the demands of the native population and catered almost exclusively to settlers’ interests. An examination of the effects that these gubernatorial transitions had on the Algerians will reveal that the French failed to capitalize on the initial goodwill of the elite Algerian class and lost an opportunity to establish a truly stable colonial government. Instead, by devising laws that reduced the political power of Algerian merchant elites, landlords, and bureaucrats, the French inadvertently contributed to a rise of fundamentalism and nationalism in the colony.

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