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Ferhat Abbas

Algerian Nationalist Leader


Ferhat Abbas was a nationalist leader in Algeria and the second provisional president (of the National Constituent Assembly) of the newly created republic.

Date of birth: 24 August 1899, Chahna, near Constantine, Algeria
Date of death: 24 December 1985, Algiers, Algeria.

Ferhat Abbas was born on 24 August 1899 near the Algerian city of Constantine, son of a Muslim civil servant, Said Ben Ahmed Abbas, and Maga bint Ali. He attended school at Philippeville (Skikda) and Constantine before going to the University of Algiers. After university he spent two years in the French army and then started work as a pharmacist at the town of Sétif.

Entering the Political World
Ferhat Abbas began his political career in the municipal council of Sétif before moving to the council of Constantine. In these early years he supported collaboration with France, the country's colonial master, and the assimilation of native Algerians into the French Union. However, he soon became disillusioned with the slow pace of progress, and in 1938 he formed the Union Populaire Algérienne (UPA, Algerian Popular Union) which called for equal rights for Algerian Muslims and the preservation of native Algerian culture.

When World War II broke out, Ferhat Abbas joined the medical corps of the French army. It was hoped that involvement in what was essentially a European war would promote the cause of Algerians to gain French citizenship. When the Vichy administration in Algeria fell in December 1942, Ferhat, in his role as a leading Algerian nationalist, demanded the creation of an Algerian Constituent Assembly. On 10 February 1943, he followed up with the release of a 'Manifesto of the Algerian People' calling for reforms, the end of colonization, and the recognition of Arabic as official language. In June he handed the manifesto to the Free French governor-general, along with demands for an independent Algerian state. It was rejected outright.

In March 1944, Ferhat Abbas and another nationalist leader, Messali Hadj, founded the March 1944 Amis du Manifeste et de la Liberté (AML, Friends of the Manifesto of Freedom) calling for an autonomous republic of Algeria federated to (an anti-colonial) France. The Free French administration banned the AML and detained Ferhat Abbas for a year.

In 1946 Abbas formed the Union Démocratique du Manifeste Algérien (UDMA, Democratic Union of the Algerian Manifesto) and called once again for the creation of an independent Algeria, rather than the country becoming a province of France as intended by the current Free French administration. In June the UDMA won 11 out of 13 seats in the Constituent Assembly (which was open to the colonists in Algeria). However, Ferhat Abbas was now considered a problem by the Free French government.

In early 1956 Ferhat Abbas and fellow nationalist Ahmad Francis, of the Union Démocratique du Manifeste Algérien (UDMA, Democratic Union of the Algerian Manifesto), fled to Cairo. Their they joined the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN, National Liberation Front). The FLN represented the majority of Algeria's nationalist groups -- all except Messali Hadj's Mouvement National Algérien (MNA, Algerian National Movement). The FLN was, in effect, the core of the struggle for Algerian independence.

Free Algerian Government
On 19 September 1958 a 'Free Algerian' government was established in Cairo with Ferhat Abbas as Head of the Gouvernement Provisoire de la République Algérienne (GPRA, Provisional Government of the Algerian Revolution) in rebellion. The existence of the GPRA was supposed to stop Charles de Gaulle holding a referendum on Algeria gaining autonomous status within La Communauté (the French community). Abbas resigned in 1961 (and was replaced by Benyoucef Ben Khedda). He switched allegiance to Ahmed Ben Bella's and Houari Boumédiène's Tlemcen Group. Meanwhile the GPRA entered into secret negotiations with the French government over the possibility of independence.

In 1962, with the signing of the Évian Accords, the Algerian War of Independence effectively came to an end. A referendum on independence was held, which gained a yes vote with 91.2%.

Independence was declared on 3 July 1962. Ahmed Ben Bella was elected Prime Minister and Abderrahmane Farès (a member of GPRA) became President of the Provisional Executive. In September 1962, for three days, Ferhat Abbas replaced Farès as Head of State as the Chairman of the National Constituent Assembly. But this was a temporary post since Ahmed Ben Bella was officially installed as President of the Republic on 27 September.

Ferhat Abbas remained an exponent of parliamentary institutions and democracy. This didn't match with the ideals of the now ruling FLN government, and he resigned from the Constituent Assembly. The FNL responded by expelling him from the party, and President Ben Bella had him arrested. He remained under house arrest between 1964 and 65, and was released when Ahmed Ben Bella was removed from power by military coup.

Abbas was placed under arrest once more in 1976, when he openly opposed Colonel Houari Boumédiène, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Council, who had been in power for eleven years. However, his reputation was restored in the 80s, and he was awarded the 'Medal of Resistance' on 30 October 1984 by President Chadli Bendjedid. Ferhat Abbas died a year later, on 24 December 1985.

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