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The Secular State's Islamic Empire: Muslim Spaces and Subjects of Jurisdiction in Paris and Algiers, 1905–1957

  • James McDougall (a1)
Extract

In an article published posthumously, in the Revue de la Méditerranée in 1951, Augustin Berque, the intellectually accomplished but professionally somewhat unrecognized former Director of Native Affairs at the Government-General of Algeria, examined difficulties in the public management of religious affairs, and the failures of policy toward successive, competing spokesmen for Islam in France's colonial possessions. In concluding his assessment of this thorny question, Berque addressed his reader as in an imaginary dialogue: “And so? Oh, I quite agree with you! The one great remedy is our laïcité, which would leave to the Faith its secret oratory, intimate and inviolable. But [what are we to do] in the meantime?” There remained at the time a tenacious assumption that the empire, at least in Africa, might still endure into the unforeseeable future and that institution of a rational, public secularism as a lasting benefit of France's rayonnement civilisationnel could still be anticipated as an ultimate goal. But, of course, “the meantime” was in fact all the time that Berque and his colleagues had, and it was running out much faster than they imagined. That as late as 1951 the well-informed, scholarly, and policymaking readers of the Revue could still be expected to imagine the relationship between imperial and Islamic authority in these terms suggests an extraordinary capacity for self-delusion, or a remarkable intractability in the terms of a debate that had been near the top of the colonial policy agenda for almost half a century.

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james.mcdougall@trinity.ox.ac.uk
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1 For Augustin Berque (1884–1946, father of the great French historian and sociologist of Islam, Jacques), as a producer of colonial knowledge, see Colonna Fanny, “Production scientifique et position dans le champ intellectuel et politique. Deux cas: Augustin Berque et Joseph Desparmet,” in Moniot Henri et al. , eds., Le mal de voir: Ethnologie et Orientalisme: Politique et épistémologie, critique et autocritique (Paris: Université de Paris-VII/Union des éditions générales, 1976), 397415.

2 Berque Augustin, “Les capteurs de divin,” repr. in Berque Augustin, Écrits sur l'Algérie (Aix-en-Provence: Edisud, 1986), 100.

3 The classic account of colonial “doctrine” in these terms remains Betts Raymond, Assimilation and Association in French Colonial Theory, 1870–1914 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961; repr. Lincoln: Nebraska University Press, 2005).

4 Paul Silverstein, “Headscarves and the French Tricolor,” Middle East Report Online, 30 Jan. 2004 (http://www.merip.org/mero/mero013004.html); Amel Boubekeur and Abderrahim Lamchichi, eds., “Musulmans de France,” special issue of Confluences Méditerranée 57 (Spring 2006); Bowen John, Why the French Don't Like Headscarves: Islam, the State and Public Space (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007); Geisser Vincent and Zemouri Aziz, Marianne et Allah: Les politiques français face à la “question musulmane” (Paris: La Découverte, 2007); Maussen Marcel, Constructing Mosques: The Governance of Islam in France and the Netherlands (Amsterdam: Amsterdam School for Social Science Research, 2009).

5 Merad Ali, Le Réformisme Musulman en Algérie, 1925–1940: Essai d'Histoire Sociale et Religieuse (Paris and the Hague: Mouton, 1967); Ahmed Nadir, “Le mouvement réformiste algérien: Son rôle dans la formation de l'idéologie nationale,” thèse de doctorat de IIIème cycle, Université Paris-III, 1968; von Sivers Peter, “The Realm of Justice: Apocalyptic Revolts in Algeria (1849–1879),” Humaniora Islamica 1 (1973): 4760; Christelow Allan, “Ritual, Culture and Politics of Islamic Reformism in Algeria,” Middle East Studies 23, 3 (July 1987): 255–73; Rouadjia Ahmed, Les Frères et la mosquée: Enquête sur le mouvement islamiste en Algérie (Paris: Karthala, 1990); Deheuvels Luc-Willy, Islam et pensée contemporaine en Algérie: La revue al-Açâla, 1971–1981 (Paris: CNRS, 1991); Clancy-Smith Julia, Rebel and Saint: Muslim Notables, Populist Protest, Colonial Encounters (Algeria and Tunisia, 1800–1904) (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994); Colonna Fanny, Les versets de l'invincibilité: Permanence et changements religieux dans l'Algérie contemporaine (Paris: FNSP, 1995); Willis Michael J., The Islamist Challenge in Algeria: A Political History (Reading: Ithaca Press, 1996); McDougall James, History and the Culture of Nationalism in Algeria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

6 Turuq (sing. tariqa): Sufi “orders” or brotherhoods; the main organizational expression of Islamic learning and practice in North Africa up to the mid-twentieth century; ‘ulama (sing. ‘alim): scholars in Islamic religious sciences, interpreters and exponents of Islamic law. “Reformists” (muslihin) refers to those ‘ulama promoting the reform (islah) or “revival” of Islam in the modern world, especially from the late nineteenth century onward. This often took the form of “proselytizing” missions to stamp out “backward” popular (especially rural) practice, attacks on saints’ shrines and rituals associated with the turuq, along with the promotion of education for both sexes in modern “rational” curricula, newspapers, cultural circles, and so forth.

7 Christelow Allan, Muslim Law Courts and the French Colonial State in Algeria (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985), examines the question in detail for the nineteenth century. His “Algerian Islam in a Time of Transition,” Maghreb Review 8, 5–6 (1983): 124–29, is the best study to date to address the period from 1890 to 1930, but sees it precisely as one of “transition” (from defeat and acquiescence to a fully formed revival of societal solidarity under the reformists), which oversimplifies matters exceedingly. In particular, the article pays no attention to the way in which, after 1905, the relationship between mosque and state actually worked.

8 “Capteurs de divin,” 98.

9 Benton Lauren, “Colonial Law and Cultural Difference: Jurisdictional Politics and the Formation of the Colonial State,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 41, 3 (July 1999): 564.

10 Benton Lauren, Law and Colonial Cultures: Legal Regimes in World History, 1400–1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Roberts Richard L., Litigants and Households: African Disputes and Colonial Courts in the French Soudan, 1895–1912 (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2005); Osborn Emily, “‘Circle of Iron’: African Colonial Employees and the Interpretation of Colonial Rule in French West Africa,” Journal of African History 44, 1 (2003): 2950; Lawrence Benjamin, Osborn Emily, and Roberts Richard L., eds., Intermediaries, Interpreters, and Clerks: African Employees in the Making of Colonial Africa (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006); Thompson Elizabeth, Colonial Citizens: Republican Rights, Paternal Privilege, and Gender in French Syria and Lebanon (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000); Lewis Mary Dewhurst, “Geographies of Power: The Tunisian Civic Order, Jurisdictional Politics, and Imperial Rivalry in the Mediterranean, 1881–1935,” Journal of Modern History 80 (Dec. 2008): 791830.

11 This argument is made most fully in Cooper Frederick, Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

12 Benton, “Colonial Law”: 565.

13 This point is worth making against some recent oversimplified and totalizing accounts of colonial violence in Algeria, notably Le Cour Grandmaison Olivier, Coloniser, exterminer: Sur la guerre et l'état colonial (Paris: Fayard, 2006); and Lazreg Marnia, Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008). See Vidal-Naquet Pierre and Meynier's Gilbert review of Le Cour Grandmaison, Esprit (Dec. 2005): 162–77; and my review of Lazreg , American Historical Review 114, 4 (Oct. 2009): 1025–27. In a subtler analysis, Martin Thomas argues that spectacular displays of violence such as the repression of May 1945 indicated the breakdown of the imperial “intelligence state,” in his “Forms and Functions of Colonial Violence in Algeria: Sétif 1945,” a paper presented to the Institute for Historical Research, London, Mar. 2008. I have suggested elsewhere that such demonstratively disproportionate repression should be seen as a periodic “exorcism” of settler fear, when the routinized low-intensity violence of legal repression failed to keep the subject population in check. “Savage Wars? Codes of Violence in Algeria, 1830s–1990s,” Third World Quarterly 26, 1 (Mar. 2005): 117–31.

14 O'Brien Donal Cruise, “Towards an ‘Islamic Policy’ in French West Africa, 1854–1914,” Journal of African History 8, 2 (1967): 303–16; and cf. Robinson David, “French ‘Islamic’ Policy and Practice in Late-Nineteenth-Century Senegal,” Journal of African History 29, 3 (1988): 415–35; Harrison Christopher, France and Islam in West Africa, 1860–1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988); Robinson David, Paths of Accommodation: Muslim Societies and French Colonial Authorities in Senegal and Mauritania, 1880–1920 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000).

15 Julia Clancy-Smith, Rebel and Saint, ch. 7.

16 A. Berque, “Capteurs de divin,” 97; and Berque J., Le Maghreb entre deux guerres (Paris: Le Seuil, 3d ed., 1979), 6772.

17 That is, the law of 9 December 1905 on the separation of the churches and the state, Journal officiel de la République française, 11 Dec. 1905. At: http://www.assembleenationale.fr/histoire/eglise-etat/sommaire.asp#loi.

18 Poulat Emile, Notre laïcité publique (Paris: Berg, 2003), 99, quoted in Régnault Jean-Marc, “Application et non-application outre-mer de la loi de séparation de 1905,” Outre-Mers 348–49 (2005): 57. Other articles in this collection provide studies of the separation regime in other colonial territories. For the political history of its application to Algeria, see Vingtième siècle 87 (July–Sept. 2005), especially Oïssila Saadia, “L'anticléricalisme, article d'exportation? Le cas de l'Algérie,” 101–12.

19 Christelow, “Algerian Islam”: 128. A more detailed political history of the question as a tension between republican principle and imperial exigency is Achi Raberh, “La séparation des Églises et de l'État à l'épreuve de la situation coloniale: Les usages de la dérogation dans l'administration du culte musulman en Algérie, 1905–1959,” Politix 17, 66 (2004): 81106. How this state of exception enabled a contestatory politics by the reformist ‘ulama demanding the application of the letter of the law is suggested in Achi, “‘Ouvrir les portes du colonialisme’: La mobilisation de l'Association des Oulémas d'Algérie pour la ‘séparation du culte musulman et de l’état,' (1931–1956),” MS, June 2005.

20 Bauberot Jean, “Outre-mer et séparation: quel universalisme républicain?Outre-mers 348–49 (2005): 128–29.

21 “The Republic does not recognize, salary or subsidize any practice of religion (aucun culte).”

22 On the limited official mosque-building projects of the 1890s and 1900s, see Christelow, “Algerian Islam”: 127.

23 Clemenceau to Jonnart, 13 July 1909, FR/CAOM/Alger/2U/1/2.

24 Maunoury to Steeg, quoted in note (7 pp.), Mirante (director of native affairs) to secretary-general of the government, Algiers, 28 Jan. 1930, DZ/ANA/IBA/CUL/018/0881.

25 Article 13.

26 Statutes and acte portant attribution de jouissance, in DZ/ANA/IBA/CUL/018/0881/1.

27 The administration remained at least partly responsible for maintaining the fabric of mosque buildings, according to a decree of 28 August 1908 (art. 5, quoted in Minute [4 pp.], secretary-general of the government to minister of the interior, 5 Nov. 1910, DZ/ANA/IBA/CUL/018/0881), but seems in practice to have preferred to devolve as much responsibility as possible to the cultuelles.

28 Prefect, Algiers, to governor-general, 29 Oct. 1913, DZ/ANA/IBA/CUL/018/0881/2.

29 Ben Siam to governor-general, 8 June 1920; and reply, 12 July 1920, DZ/ANA/IBA/CUL/018/0881/2.

30 Such was the arrangement approved by Briand and Clemenceau in 1909, as being “as efficacious as a proper right of nomination, without any infringement of the spirit of the new legislation.” Clemenceau to Jonnart, 13 July 1909, FR/CAOM/Alger/2U/1/2.

31 Minute, prefect to sub-prefect, Algiers, Aug. 1908, FR/CAOM/Alger/2U/1/9. Le Cri d'Alger, 5 Aug. 1908, names the founders of the anti-establishment cultuelle. Further correspondence from and about them is in FR/CAOM/Alger/2U/13/1.

32 From 1884, the Algerian Muslim electorate was severely limited in size and prerogatives, with only property owners, government functionaries or decorated ex-servicemen eligible to vote; notables with positions in the system risked little from periodic electoral exercises with predetermined outcomes. The reforms of February 1919, while still restrictive, enlarged the electorate considerably: in municipalities, some 43 percent of the adult male population over twenty-five was enfranchised, doubling the number of eligible voters in “full” municipalities (communes de plein exercice) where local political rights were significant; the electors for the regional and colony-wide assemblies increased from 5,090 to 103,149. For the slow development of the system, see Ageron Charles-Robert, Les Algériens musulmans et la France, 1871–1919 (repr. Paris: Bouchêne, 2005 [1968], 2 vols.), 351–66, 1123–38, 1217–21.

33 Hafnawi, descendant of a saintly family from Bou Saada in the southern Algérois, was professor of Islamic jurisprudence at Algiers from 1897, and author in 1909 of a major biographical dictionary, Ta‘rif al-khalaf bi-rijal al-salaf. Ibnou Zekri, from a modest Kabyle family, was the author of a major treatise on Islamic reform published in Algiers in 1903, Awdah al-dala'il ‘ala wujub islah al-zawaya bi-bilad al-qaba'il. On Ibnou Zekri, see Chachoua Kamel, L'islam kabyle: Religion, état et société en Algérie (Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 2001).

34 Personnel note on Ibnou Zekri, 1909, FR/CAOM/Alger/2U/9/2.

35 Cristelow, Muslim Law Courts, 96, 275.

36 Gouvion Marthe and Gouvion Edmond, Kitab aayane al-maghariba, (Algiers: Imprimérie orientale Fontana, 1920), 180–81; Hafnawi , Ta‘rif al-khalaf (repr., Tunis: Maktabat al-‘atika, 1982), 475–79.

37 Such openings were all the more important to the remnants of notable “great families” whose social standing had largely been undermined, and their material fortunes often ruined, by the 1890s, and whose positions were constantly attacked by the popular colonial press (Ageron, Algériens musulmans, 392–93). The cases submitted to the cultuelle for arbitration, and their disputes with the Government-General over jurisdiction and competence, suggest an acute appreciation of what they clearly considered their proper authority.

38 Prefect, Algiers to Ben Siam, 5 July 1934, DZ/ANA/IBA/CUL/018/0881/2.

39 Reports on Batna, 28 Feb. 1939, and n.d. [1941]; Bône, 18 Sept., 2 Oct., 9 Oct. 1944; Abdelkader Belksier, president of the cultuelle of Saïda, to governor-general, 28 Dec. 1944, FR/CAOM/GGA/16H/75/4.

40 On the local mass politics of the interwar period, see Kaddache Mahfoud, La vie politique à Alger de 1919 à 1939 (Algiers: SNED, 1970).

41 I am not suggesting that interwar Algiers saw the emergence of a full-blown “public sphere” in Habermas’ sense, certainly not one associated with an ascendant and liberal bourgeoisie. But religious affairs too were part of wider social and economic conditions that certainly created an Algerian “public,” as social networks and subjectivities were reconstituted among emerging “middle peasant” landowners, an urban working class, emigrant laborers, and the generation that, from the early 1900s, was sent to rather than kept away from colonial schools. This was also the period in which the press and labor organization became widespread; cafés, present since the seventeenth century, took on new significance. See Carlier's Omar articles, “Les traminots algérois des années 1930: Un groupe social médiateur et novateur,” Le mouvement social 146 (Jan.–Mar. 1989): 6189; “Le café maure: Sociabilité masculine et effervescence citoyenne (Algérie, XVIIè–XXè siècles),” Annales ESC 45, 4 (July–Aug. 1990): 975–1003; “L'espace et le temps dans la recomposition du lien social: l'Algérie de 1830 à 1930,” in Dakhlia Jocelyne, ed., Urbanité arabe (Arles: Actes Sud, 1998), 149224.

42 Petition to Ahmad Ghersi, délégué financier for Miliana, 19 Dec. 1930, DZ/ANA/IBA/CUL/018/0881.

43 Memorandum to the administrative council of the Association cultuelle, 17 Jan. 1931, DZ/ANA/IBA/CUL/018/0881.

44 Petition, 25 Sept. 1923; Note, director of native affairs to governor-general, Algiers, 7 Feb. 1928, no. 2842; MS minute of letter, secretary-general of the government to Moulay Mustafa, 11, 20 Feb. 1928, DZ/ANA/IBA/CUL/018/0881.

45 Prefect, Algiers, to governor-general, 11 Sept. 1931, no. 17081, DZ/ANA/IBA/CUL/018/0881. An intelligence note from the Direction de la sécurité générale to the director of native affairs, 5 May 1931 (in the same dossier), observed that many of Algiers' Muslim inhabitants were “displeased by the conduct of the members of the cultuelle [committee], all of whom are partisans of certain candidates [against others]. Such employment should, they say, be granted on completion of an examination and the Prefecture should thereby designate religious personnel.”

46 Note, Mirante to secretary-general of the government, 28 Jan. 1930, DZ/ANA/IBA/CUL/018/0881.

47 Mirante to secretary-general of the government, Algiers, 8 July 1931, DZ/ANA/IBA/CUL/041/2326.

48 Such a system had existed before 1905, from 1870 through a “Commission for the supervision of mosques,” and from 1902 through a “consultative commission” formally constituted by the Arab section of the Délégations financières under the supervision of the director of native affairs.

49 Al-Ikhlas, 31 May 1933; Al-Najah, 4 June 1933; Al-Mirsad, 9 June 1933. Translated extracts are in DZ/ANA/IBA/CUL/018/0881.

50 From 1933, the administration attempted to regain closer control over mosques, regulating authorizations to preach by an instruction of 2 March (the “Michel circular” named for the administration's secretary-general who presided over the consultative commission that replaced the Algiers cultuelle), suspending publication of reformist newspapers and closing their independent schools. In August 1936 the police falsely implicated Algiers' most popular preacher, the reformist shaykh Tayyib al-‘Oqbi, in a high-profile murder. From 1938, measures of control became even stricter, and during the war leading religious personalities such as the reformist leader shaykh Bashir Ibrahimi were placed under house arrest. The Michel circular was abrogated in August 1943.

51 Prefect, Algiers, to governor-general, 29 Oct. 1944, cautions that the administration should maintain a degree of control. Ben Siam to governor-general, 8 Dec. 1945, courteously insists on autonomy. Minutes of the Association's meeting, 22 Feb. 1945, detail arguments for increased stipends. DZ/ANA/IBA/CUL/018/0881.

52 After 1948, while the newly instituted Algerian Assembly considered the question of religious freedoms as part of the postwar reform agenda, only interim posts were agreed on by the administration, and the cultuelle gradually fell into abeyance. By 1949, when Bashir Boumediene died, the Association had “ceased all regular activity,” though Ben Siam was still trying to keep it alive. When Mahieddine Zerrouk died in February 1954, only two committee members were left alive. Monthly reports, Service des réformes, 25 May–25 June 1949, Feb. 1954, FR/CAOM/Alger/2U/1.

53 On the mosque and its significance, see Bayoumi Mustafa, “Shadows and Light: Colonial Modernity and the Grande Mosquée of Paris,” Yale Journal of Criticism 13, 2 (2000): 267–92. Boyer A., L'institut musulman de la mosquée de Paris (Paris: CHEAM, 1992), provides a generally uncritical history. Michel Renard has studied the control of Islamic space in the metropole more broadly (“Encadrement et contrôle du culte musulman en métropole, 1914–50,” paper presented at the Institut d'histoire du temps présent, Paris, May 2002). See also Césari Jocélyne, Être musulman en France: Associations, militants et mosquées (Paris: Karthala, 1994).

54 Dalil Boubakeur, “La symbolique de la mosquée de Paris” (Paris: Institut musulman de la Mosquée de Paris, n.d.).

55 Notes, Commissariat special de la sûreté publique, Tunis, 26 Sept. 1923, no..1584, in TN/ISHMN/Résidence/R485/2241/1/63 (altercation at La Marsa over collection of funds); 2 Oct. 1923, no..1612, TN/ISHMN/Résidence/R485/2241/1/50 (press article by Mahieddine Klibi against Ben Ghabrit).

56 Rosenberg Clifford, Policing Paris: The Origins of Modern Immigration Control between the Wars (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006).

57 Initially at an Algerian café, no. 6 rue Victor Notal, then at 11 rue Auboin in the 17ème on the edge of Clichy, before moving to no.7 rue Bisson in the 20ème. The Association of ‘ulama was founded in Algiers in May, 1931, around the time of the crisis of the Algiers cultuelle. It was based around a group of reformist arabophone intellectuals established since the mid-1920s around shaykh ‘Abd al-Hamid ben Badis, who became the leading personality of Algerian Islam until his premature death in 1940. The first tangible expression of the movement was the appearance of its arabophone press. Its first newspaper, al-Muntaqid, was published in Constantine in July 1925.

58 Report, Service des Affaires indigènes nord-africaines (SAINA), (Paris Police Prefecture), Paris, 5 July 1937, “Le Cercle de l’Éducation,” (8 pp.), FR/CAOM/Alger/4I/13/3 (2F).

59 La Défense, 1 Oct. 1937, extract in FR/CAOM/Alger/4I/13/3(2F).

60 Reportedly at Montereau (southeast of Paris), Bellegarde (Aïn), and Neuville-sur-Saone (near Lyon). “L'Association des Oulama d'Algérie,” Synthèse des Renseignements Genéraux, Direction de la Sûreté Nationale en Algérie, Algiers, 26 Oct. 1955, no. 6442SNA/RG3 (45 pp. plus appendices), FR/CAOM/Alger/4I/14/1, p. 10.

61 A detailed account is offered in my History and the Culture of Nationalism.

62 Colonna, Les versets, 333.

63 In 1912, there were around three thousand Algerian workers in France. Between 1915 and 1919, a further 78,500 crossed the Mediterranean. The demands of postwar reconstruction brought twenty thousand migrants in 1920, sixty thousand in 1923, and seventy thousand in 1924. By 1926, there were about one hundred thousand Algerians working in the metropole.

64 Quoted in report, Sûreté départmentale, Algiers, 19 Sept. 1937, no..6370, FR/CAOM/Alger/2I/39/3.

65 Ageron Ch-R., Histoire de l'Algérie contemporaine (Paris: PUF, 1979), 440.

66 Shaykh Tayyib al-‘Oqbi, quoted in report, Sûreté, Algiers, 19 Sept. 1937, FR/CAOM/Alger/2I/39/3.

67 Shaykh Ben Badis, quoted in report, Sûreté, Algiers, 30 Aug. 1937, no..5932, FR/CAOM/Alger/2I/39/3.

68 Founded at Nanterre on 20 June 1926, the ENA was dissolved by the Paris Prefecture on 20 November 1929, and reconstituted on 28 May 1933. Its first groups in Algeria were established in August 1936. It was dissolved a second time on 26 January 1937 and replaced by the “Amis d'el Oumma” (after the group's French-language newspaper), and then on 11 March by the Parti du people algérien (PPA), which was banned in turn on 26 September 1939, when all political parties in Algeria were closed down.

69 Shaykh Lamine Lamoudi, quoted in note, SAINA to minister of the interior, Paris, 28 Sept. 1937, FR/CAOM/Alger/4I/13/3(2F).

70 Report, SAINA, Paris, 5 July 1937, FR/CAOM/Alger/4I/13/3 (2F), p. 3.

71 Reports, 31 Aug. 1952, 23 May 1955, and 1 May 1957, FR/CAOM/FM/81F/833/7, 833/4, 833/1.

Acknowledgments: Comments on parts of this paper were gratefully received at the Society for French Historical Studies, Paris, in June 2004; Columbia University, New York, in February 2006; CEMA, Oran, and SOAS, London, in February 2008; and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis in April 2009. Archival collections referred to are those of the Centre des archives d'outre mer, Aix-en-Provence (FR/CAOM), the Algerian National Archives, Algiers (DZ/ANA) and the Institut supérieur de l'histoire du mouvement national, La Manouba, Tunis (TN/ISHMN).

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