Ahmed Ben Messali Hadj (Arabic: مصالي الحاج) (1898 in Tlemcen, French Algeria - June 3, 1974 in Paris, France) was an Algerian nationalist politician dedicated to the independence of his homeland from France. He co-founded the Étoile nord-africaine, the Parti du peuple algérien and the Mouvement pour le triomphe des libertés démocratiques before dissociating himself from the armed struggle for Independence in 1954. He also founded the Mouvement national algérien to counteract the ongoing efforts of the Front de libération nationale.
Hadj was born in 1898 into an Algerian family, his father was of Ottoman origin, and his mother of native Algerian origin. In 1927 he was elected leader of an Algerian workers' association based in Paris. He attended the Anti-Imperialism Congress in Belgium that year, which created the League against Imperialism, and met with Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh. Back in France and in his native Algeria, then a French colony, Messali helped build an underground movement and work towards Algerian independence. In the 1920s he started Étoile nord-africaine (North African Star), one of the first modern Algerian nationalist organizations, and in 1937 he founded the Algerian People's Party (PPA). Both groups were suppressed by France, and in November 1937, Messali was put on trial for agitation, and imprisoned for several years.
Radicalization in Algeria
In May 1945, nationalist riots and clashes between French troops and native Algerians during World War II victory celebrations led to reprisals; around 6,000 Algerians were killed. Many realized then that the independence movement would not succeed by peaceful means.
He, along with Ferhat Abbas formed the Amis du Manifeste et de la Liberté, which called for an autonomous republic. This resulted in the quick dissolution of the AML. In 1946 Messali founded the Mouvement pour le triomphe des libertés démocratiques (MTLD). Messali lived under house arrest in Brittany, France, and could not travel to Algeria. His group was perceived as moderate and accommodating, but his revolutionary ideals alienated parts of Algeria's conservative Muslim society. Messali's brand of Algerian nationalism gained its most important following among Algerian workers in France, while the FLN and other grass-roots groups took hold in Algeria.
Leader of the MNA
After the outbreak of the Algerian War of Independence in 1954 which was started against his wishes, Messali created the Mouvement National Algérien, or MNA (French Algerian National Movement). Messali's followers clashed with the FLN; his was the only socialist faction not absorbed into the Front's fight for independence. The FLN's armed wing, the Armée de Libération Nationale (ALN) wiped out the MNA's guerrilla apparatus in Algeria early on in the war; the infighting then continued in France, during the so-called "café wars" over control of the expatriate community. In 1958, Messali supported the proposals of President Charles de Gaulle, and France probably attempted to capitalize on the internal rivalries of the nationalist movement. During negotiation talks in 1961 the FLN did not accept the participation of the MNA, and this led to new outbursts of fighting.
In 1962, as Algeria gained independence from France, Messali tried to transform his group into a legitimate political party, but it was not successful, and the FLN seized control over Algeria as a one-party state.
Messali Hadj remained in exile near Paris, with little influence over Algerian politics. He died in 1974.
- Messali avant Messali: l'invention de la nation algérienne, Jacques Simon, p. 17
- Adamson 2006, 25.
- Ruedy 2005, 137.
- Omar Carlier, Raphaëlle Nollez-Goldbach, Le corps du leader: Construction et représentation dans les pays du Sud, L'Harmattan, Paris, 2008, p.266
- Michael Goebel, Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nationalism.
- "Abbas, Ferhat". Encyclopedia Britannica. I: A-Ak - Bayes (15th ed.). Chicago, IL: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. 2010. pp. 9–10. ISBN 978-1-59339-837-8.
- Adamson, Fiona (2006), The Constitutive Power of Political Ideology: Nationalism and the Emergence of Corporate Agency in World Politics, University College London
- Goebel, Michael. Anti-Imperial Metropolis: Interwar Paris and the Seeds of Third World Nationalism (Cambridge University Press, 2015) excerpts
- Ruedy, John Douglas (2005), Modern Algeria: The Origins and Development of a Nation, Indiana University Press, ISBN 0253217822.
- The Messali Hadj Archive - from www.marxists.org