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  • Amal N. Ghazal


This article examines the significant yet largely overlooked role of the Mzabis, a community from the northern edges of the Algerian desert, in Algerian and Tunisian anticolonialism and nationalism. In so doing, it pursues two aims: first, to shed light on the importance of Tunis to the politicization of the Mzabis in the 1920s and to their induction into local and regional anticolonial and national movements; and second, to highlight the tensions of subsuming regional identities into overarching national identities by focusing on Mzabi political activists’ negotiation of the relationship between the Mzab and Algeria as a national project. The article also explores the spectrum of political possibilities and alternatives envisioned by Mzabis as they participated in religious reform, anticolonial, and nationalist movements. This spectrum, I argue, conveys the fluid relationship between local, national, and regional identities, thus undermining teleological readings of national identity formation.


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Amal N. Ghazal is an Associate Professor in the Department of History, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; e-mail:


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Author's note: Research for this article was made possible by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in Canada and the Gerda Henkel Foundation in Germany. I delivered versions of this paper at Georgetown University and the Middle East Studies Association annual meeting in 2011, and at New York University in 2012. I thank all who were in attendance, and especially Usama Abi Mershed, Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, Frederick Cooper, Zachary Lockman, and Patricia Lorcin for their valuable comments. My thanks also go to Jens Hanssen, Paul Kingston, Jim Reilly, and Philip Zachernuk for listening to my ideas and sharing many of their own. I am grateful to the four anonymous IJMES reviewers and the IJMES editorial team for helping me to improve this piece and for steering me in the right direction. If not for the generosity of several members of the Mzabi community who are keen on preserving their heritage and sharing material, this article would not have been possible.

1 Hammuda, Mustafa bin al-Hajj Bakir, ed., Mufdi Zakariyya: Amjaduna Tatakallam wa-Qasaʾid Ukhra (Algiers: Muʾassasat Mufdi Zakariyya, 2003), 221.

2 On the history of the Mzab during the colonial period, see Holsinger, Donald, “Migration, Commerce and Community: The Mzābīs in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Algeria,” Journal of African History 21 (1980): 6174; and Holsinger, “Muslim Responses to French Imperialism: An Algerian Saharan Case Study,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 19 (1986): 115. See also Bendrissou, Salah, Implantation des Mozabites dans l’Algérois entre les deux-guerres, 2 vols. (Thèse de doctorat nouveau régime, Université de Paris VIII, Vincennes Saint-Denis, 1999); Salhi, Mohamed Brahim, “Société et religion en Algérie au XX Siècle: Le réformisme Ibadhite, entre modernization et conservation,” Insaniyat 31 (2006): 3361; Brower, Benjamin C., A Desert Named Peace: The Violence of France's Empire in the Algerian Sahara, 1844–1902 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009); Ghazal, Amal N., “The Other Frontiers of Arab Nationalism: Ibadis, Berbers, and the Arabist-Salafi Press in the Interwar Period,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 42 (2010): 105–22; and Jomier, Augustin, “Islah Ibadite et integration nationale: Vers une communauté Mozabite?Revue des Mondes Musulmans et de la Méditerranée 132 (2012): 175–95.

3 See Ghazal, Amal N., Islamic Reform and Arab Nationalism: Expanding the Crescent from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean, 1880s-1930s (New York: Routledge, 2010); and Ghazal, “The Other Frontiers of Arab Nationalism.”

4 Clancy-Smith, Julia A., Rebel and Saint: Muslim Notables, Populist Protest, Colonial Encounters (Algeria and Tunisia, 1800–1904) (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1997); McDougall, James, History and the Culture of Nationalism in Algeria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

5 Cooper, Frederick, “Possibility and Constraint: African Independence in Historical Perspective,” Journal of African History 49 (2008): 178.

6 Rahal, Malika, Ali Boumendjel: Une affaire française, une histoire algérienne (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2010); Shepard, Todd, The Invention of Decolonization: The Algerian War and the Remaking of France (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2006).

7 Émigré anti-colonialism was not exclusive to Algeria or North Africa. See, for instance, Khuri-Makdisi, Ilham, The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism, 1860–1914 (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2010).

8 Clancy-Smith, Rebel and Saint; McDougall, History and the Culture of Nationalism.

9 Christelow, Allan, Algerians without Borders: The Making of a Global Frontier Society (Gainesville, Fl.: University Press of Florida, 2012), 54.

10 On reasons for and patterns of Algerian immigration, see Bardin, Pierre, Algériens et Tunisiens dans l’Empire Ottoman de 1848 à 1914 (Paris: Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1979).

11 See Haggui Jamel, Les Algériens en Tunisie de 1871 à 1962: du communautarisme au nationalisme (Thèse du Doctorat, Université de Tunis et Université de Toulouse le Mirail, 2010), 14–25.

12 al-Majiri, ʿAbd al-Karim, Hijrat al-Jazaʾiriyyin wa-l-Tarabulsiyya wa-l-Maghariba al-Jawawina ila Tunis (1831–1937): Dirasa Tarikhiyya li-Ishkaliyyat al-Istiʿmar wa-l-Hijra wa-Tashakkul al-Jaliyat al-Magharibiyya bi-Tunis wa-Khususiyyatiha al-Ijtimaʿiyya wa-l-Qanuniyya (Tunis: al-Sharika al-Tunisiyya li-l-Nashr wa-Tanmiyat Funun al-Rasm, 2010), 546–49.

13 On the history of Ibadism, see, for instance, Gaiser, Adam, Muslims, Scholars, Soldiers: The Origin and Elaboration of the Ibadi Imamate Traditions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010); and Wilkinson, John C., Ibadism: Origins and Early Development in Oman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

14 Roughly one-fourth of Mzabis were established in the urban areas of the Tell as merchants, traders, or shop-owners. Bendrissou, Implantation des Mozabites, 1:126–28.

15 See Holsinger, “Migration, Commerce and Community,” 61–74; and Holsinger, “Muslim Responses to French Imperialism,” 1–15.

16 Holsinger, “Muslim Responses to French Imperialism,” 1–15.

17 See Ghazal, Islamic Reform and Arab Nationalism; and Merad, Ali, Le Réformisme Musulman en Algérie de 1925 a 1940 (Paris: Mouton & Co., 1967), esp. pp. 222–24 on the Mzabis.

18 Ghazal, “The Other Frontiers of Arab Nationalism.”

19 al-Jabiri, Muhammad Salih, al-Tawasul al-Thaqafi bayn al-Jazaʾir wa-Tunis (Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1990), A-L.

20 ʿAmmi, Muhammad bin Musa Baba et al., Muʿjam Aʿlam al-Ibadiyya min al-Qarn al-Awwal Hijri ila al-ʿAsr al-Hadir: Qism al-Maghrib al-Islami, vol. 2 (Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1999), 19, 91, 372. See also Christelow, Algerians without Borders, 84–85. Christelow identifies Ibn Hamana as an Ibadi but there is no evidence for this in Ibadi sources.

21 Atfiyyash, Abi Ishaq Ibrahim, al-Diʿaya ila Sabil al-Muʾminin (Cairo: al-Matbaʿa al-Salafiyya, 1923); al-Qarari, Ibrahim bin al-Hajj ʿIssa, Irshad al-Haʾirin (Tunis: Matbaʿat al-ʿArab, 1923).

22 These arguments can be found in dossier no. 29H 17, Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer (hereafter ANOM), Aix-en-Provence, France.

23 Despite its analytical flaws, Dabbuz, Muhammad ʿAli's Nahdat al-Jazaʾir al-Haditha wa-Thawratuha al-Mubaraka (Algeria: al-Matbaʿa al-ʿArabiyya, 1965) remains the only work in Arabic commemorating the role of Mzabis in 20th-century Algerian history.

24 See Green, Arnold, The Tunisian Ulama, 1973–1915: Social Structure and Response to Ideological Currents (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1978); and Perkins, Kenneth J., “‘The Masses Look Ardently to Istanbul’: Tunisia, Islam, and the Ottoman Empire, 1837–1931,” in Islamism and Secularism in North Africa, ed. Ruedy, John (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994), 2336. See also al-Khirfi, Salih, ʿAbd al-ʿAziz al-Thaʿalibi: Min Atharihi wa-Akhbarihi fi al-Mashriq wa-l-Maghrib (Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1995).

25 See Julien, Charles-André, “Colons Français et Jeunes-Tunisiens,” Revue Française d’Histoire d’Outre-Mer 54 (1967): 87150; and Mahjoubi, Ali, Les Origines du mouvement national en Tunisie (1904–1934) (Tunis: Université de Tunis, 1982).

26 Thaʿalbi, ʿAbd al-ʿAziz, La Tunisie martyre: ses revendications (Paris: Jouve, 1920).

27 Haggui, Les Algériens en Tunisie, 152.

28 2Mi 241, Bobine no. 1236, 536–37, 29 January 1923, Centre des Archives Diplomatiques de Nantes (hereafter CADN).

29 This is corroborated by al-Madani, Ahmad Tawfiq, Hayat Kifah: Mudhakkarat, vol. 1 (al-Jazaʾir: al-Muʾassasa al-Wataniyya li-l-Kitab), 157.

30 See Shinar, Pessah, Modern Islam in the Maghrib (Jerusalem: Priniv Press, 2004), 110–11; and Stein, Sarah Abrevaya, Saharan Jews and the Fate of French Algeria (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 4156. Mzabi arguments are also summarized in an undated manuscript, “Darurat Ihtiram Faransa Muʿahadat 1853 maʿ Mizab,” TMs (Digital Copy), Jamʿiyyat al-Shaykh Abi Ishaq Atfiyyash li-Khidmat al-Turath, the Mzab, Algeria.

31 “Article du Temps Signalé à l’Attention de monsieur le Directeur,” 25 H 33(1), 8 December 1920, ANOM.

32 “Le Délégé à la Résidence Générale de la République Française de l’Algérie,” *9 H 82, no. 5876, 15 November 1920, ANOM. The French were perhaps making a connection between the activities of Mzabis and Tunisian Dusturis in the 1920's and those of North African exiles during World War I who had considered the establishment of a North African republic. On the idea of that republic, see Seddon, David, “Dreams and Disappointments: Postcolonial Constructions of ‘The Maghrib,’” in Beyond Colonialism and Nationalism in the Maghrib: History, Culture, and Politics, ed. Ahmida, Ali Abdullatif, 2nd ed. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 198.

33 “A. S. des Relations Entretenues par certains indigènes d’Algérie avec les extrémistes du parti nationaliste ‘Jeune tunisien,’” 27 March 1922, 25 H 33(1), no. 5793, ANOM.

34 2Mi 241, Bobine no. 1236, 537, 29 January 1923, CADN.

35 “Relations des Ibadites d’Algérie avec les Nationalistes Tunisiens,” *9 H 82, no. 40 C/P, 14 June 1921, ANOM.

36 “A. S. des Agissements de Certains Ibadites et de Leurs Relations avec les Nationalistes Tunisiens,” 25 H 33(1), no. 20111, 26 July 1921, ANOM.

37 “A Monsieur le Gouverneur Général de l’Algérie,” *9 H 82, no. 67, 24 December 1925, ANOM.

38 2Mi 241, Bobine no. 1236, no. 537, 29 January 1923, CADN.

39 “Nouvelles en circulation,” *9 H 82, no. 111, 14 April 1921, ANOM.

40 “Propagande Bolsheviste au Mzab,” no. 5924, 24 November 1920, ANOM.

41 According to a French list of communist Algerians in Tunisia, there were none from the Mzab. Haggui, Les Algériens en Tunisie, 154.

42 “Le Maire de la Ville de Guelma, a Monsieur le Sous-Préfet de l’Arrondissement de Guelma,” *9 H 82, no. 630, 18 February 1926, ANOM.

43 “Relations entre Nationalistes Algériens et Tunisiens, » 25 H 33(1), no. 143, 18 November 1921, ANOM.

44 “Rapport Mensuel,” April 1921, no. 2384, *9 H 82, ANOM.

45 “Surveillance politique des Mozabites,” *9 H 82, no. 242, 27 December 1922, ANOM.

46 “A.S. des Relations Entretenues par Certains Indigènes d’Algérie avec les Extrémistes du Parti Nationaliste ‘Jeune Tunisien,’” 27 March 1922, 25 H 33(1), no. 5793 B, ANOM.

47 See Abi al-Yaqzan Ibrahim, Sulayman al-Baruni fi Atwar Hayatih, 2 vols. (n.p.: n.p., 1956); Peterson, J. E., “Arab Nationalism and the Idealist Politician: The Career of Sulayman al-Baruni (1870–1940),” in Law, Personalities and Politics in the Middle East: Essays in Honor of Majid Khadduri, ed. Piscatori, James and Harris, George S. (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1987), 124–39; and Ghazal, Amal, “An Ottoman Pasha and the End of Empire: Sulayman al-Baruni and the Networks of Islamic Reform,” in Global Muslims in the Age of Steam and Print, ed. Gelvin, James and Green, Nile (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2013), 4058.

48 “Surveillance des Indigènes. A/S. d’une Association Islamique Dite ‘Ligue des Peuples Opprimés,’” *9 H 82, no. 2510, 2 May 1921, ANOM.

49 “Renseignements,” *9 H 82, no. 54/C, 25 June 1925, ANOM.

50 “A.S. Mzab,” *9 H 82, no. 136/C, 10 July 1922, ANOM.

51 “École Mozabite à Tunis,” *9 H 82, no. 141, 19 July 1922, ANOM.

52 “Rapport de Monsieur le Commissaire de Police de Laghouat en Date du 8 Novembre 1920,” *9 H 82, no. 2771, ANOM.

53 “Renseignements: ‘Souk-Ahras,’” *9 H 82, no. 5749, 27 March 1921, ANOM.

54 “Renseignements: Guelma,” *9 H 82, no. 5749, 27 March 1921, ANOM.

55 “Relations entre les Nationalistes Algériens et Tunisiens,” *9 H 82, no. 25, 11 April 1921, ANOM.

56 “Renseignements Concernant le Mzab,” *9 H 82, no. 2344, 12 May 1921, ANOM.

57 Al-Najah, vol. 44, 19 September 1921, as quoted in Muhammad Nasser, Mufdi Zakariyya: Shaʿir al-Nidal wa-l-Thawra (n.p.: n.p., 1980), 8.

58 Studies on the reform movement in the Mzab have focused mostly on Ibrahim Bayyud (1899–1981) from the town of Guerrara. A towering figure in the Mzabi reform movement and later in the Algerian nationalist movement, he is excluded from this study because he was not a member of the student missions to Tunisia.

59 2Mi 241, Bobine # 1236, no. 548, 12 February 1923, CADN.

60 For more on the importance of al-Khatib's al-Matbaʿa al-Salafiyya, see Lauzière, Henri, “The Construction of Salafiyya: Reconsidering Salafism from the Perspective of Conceptual History,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 42 (2010): 369–89.

61 Al-Zahraʾ, 14 October 1924, 186–89.

62 Al-Minhaj, October/November 1925, 200–201.

63 Al-Minhaj, July/August 1926, 103–4.

64 Ibid., 94–99; al-Minhaj, July/August 1927, 22–28.

65 Chikh, Slimane, “Hommage à Abu al-Yaqzan,” Annuaire de l’Afrique du Nord-Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique; Centre de Recherches et d’Etudes sur les Méditerrannéenes (CRESM) 18 (1980): 1035.

66 Muhammad Salih Nasir, ed., Tarikh Suhuf Abi al-Yaqzan: Bi-Qalam Abi al-Yaqzan Ibrahim ʿIsa (1888–1973) (n.p.: n.p., 2003), 11–12.

67 Ibid., 12. See also Allah, Abu al-Qasim Saʿd, Tarikh al-Jazaʾir al-Thaqafi, vol. 5 (Beirut: Dar al-Gharb al-Islami, 1998), 263–64, 288–94.

68 Murshid al-Umma was founded by Sulayman al-Jadawi, an Ibadi from Djerba Island in Tunisia. See al-Lawati, Hammadi, Abnaʾ Jazirat Jirba fi al-Haraka al-Wataniyya, 1881–1961 (Tunis: al-Sharika al-Tunisiyya li-Funun al-Rasm, 2004), 214–18.

69 A list of the titles is included as an appendix in Nasser, Muhammad, Abu al-Yaqzan wa-Jihad al-Kalima (Algiers: al-Sharika al-Wataniyya li-l-Nashr wa-l-Tawziʿ, 1980), 465.

70 Nasir, Tarikh Suhuf Abu al-Yaqzan, 13.

71 Ibid., 21–23.

72 See, for instance, “Politique Indigène/ Presse Subvérsive,” 9 H 57, 3 April 1935, ANOM.

73 Wadi Mizab, vol. 1, no. 1, 1 October 1926, 1.

76 On the roles of the ENA and the PPA, see, for instance, Stora, Benjamin, Messali Hadj, 1898–1974: Pionnier du nationalisme algérien (Paris: Harmattan, 1986); Simon, Jacques, L’Etoile Nord-Africaine (1926–1937) (Paris: l’Harmattan, 2003); and Aissaoui, Rabah, Immigration and National Identity: North African Political Movements in Colonial and Postcolonial France (London: I. B. Tauris, 2009). On their place in the earlier Algerian historiography, see Carlier, Omar, “Scholars and Politicians: An Examination of the Algerian View of Algerian Nationalism,” in The Maghrib in Question: Essays in History and Historiography, ed. le Gall, Michel and Perkins, Kenneth (Austin, Tex.: University of Texas Press, 1997), 136–69.

77 Similar to Abu al-Yaqzan, Zakariyya started to use Arabism and Arab nationalism as points of reference in the 1930s.

78 al-Jabiri, al-Tawasul al-Thaqafi, 121–35.

79 Haggui, Les Algériens en Tunisie, 230.

80 Augustin Jomier, “Islah Ibadite et Intégration Nationale,” 186.

81 Clancy-Smith, Rebel and Saint, xii.


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