|Part of French conquest of Algeria|
Extent of the Mokrani Revolt, 1871
|Kingdom of Ait Abbas||France|
|Commanders and leaders|
Boumezrag El Mokrani
Louis Henri de Gueydon|
Orphis Léon Lallemand
|100,000 Kabyle cavalry, and 100,000 other fighters||Army of Africa (86,000 men) plus native auxiliaries|
|Casualties and losses|
|? 2000 dead||2,686 dead|
The Mokrani Revolt, known locally as the Unfaq urrumi, ("the French war"), which broke out on 16 March 1871, was the most important local uprising against French colonial power in Algeria since the conquest in 1830 : more than 250 tribes rose up, around a third of the population of the country. It was led by the Kabyles of the Biban mountains commanded by Cheikh Mokrani and his brother Boumezrag, as well as Cheikh El Haddad, head of the Rahmaniyya religious fraternity.
Cheikh Mokrani (Mohamed Amokrane) and his brother Boumezrag were sons of a family of high rank - the Ait Abbas dynasty (a branch of the Hafsids of Béjaïa), the Amokrane, masters, since the sixteenth century of the Kalâa of Ait Abbas in the Bibans and of the Medjana region. In the 1830s, their father Ahmed El Mokrani (d. 1853), had chosen to ally himself with the French; it was he who had allowed the Iron Gates expedition in 1839 and he had become khalifa of the Medjana under the tutelage of the French authorities. This alliance had soon revealed itself to be subordination - a decree of 1845 abolished the khalifalik of Medjana so that when Mohamed succeeded his father, as the choice of the Arab Bureaux, his title was no more than "bachagha" (Turkish: ba?a?a=chief commander).:35 During the hardships of 1867, he gave his personal guarantee, at the request of the authorities, for important loans. In 1870, the creditors demanded to be repaid and the French authorities reneged on the loan on the pretext of the Franco-Prussian War, leaving Mohamed obliged to pawn his own possessions. The late 1860s were hard for the people of Algeria: between 1866 and 1868 they lived through drought, exceptionally cold winters, an epidemic of cholera and an earthquake. More than 10% of the kabyle population died during this period. On 12 June 1869, Marshall MacMahon, the Governor General, advised the French government that "the Kabyles will stay peaceful as long as they see no possibility of driving us out of their country."
Under the French Second Republic, the country was governed by a Governor General and a large proportion was "military territory". There were tensions between the French colonists and the army; the former favouring the abolition of the military territory as being too protective of the native Algerians. Eventually, on 9 March 1870, the Corps législatif passed a law which would end the military regime in Algeria. When Napoleon III fell and the Third French Republic was proclaimed, the Algerian question fell under the remit of the new Justice Minister, Adolphe Crémieux, and not, as previously, under the Minister of War. At the same time, Algeria was experiencing a period of anarchy. The settlers, hostile to Napoleon III and strongly Republican, took advantage of the fall of the Second Empire to push forward their anti-military agenda. Real authority devolved to town councils and local defence committees, and their pressure resulted in the Crémieux Decrees.
A number of origins have been suggested for the Mokrani revolt. There was a general dissatisfaction among Kabyle notables because of the steady erosion of their authority by the colonial authorities. At the same time, ordinary people were concerned about the imposition of civilian rule on 9 March, which they interpreted as imposing domination by the settlers, with encroachments on their land and loss of autonomy. The Cremieux Decree of 24 October 1870, which gave French nationality to Algerian Jews was probably another cause of the unrest.:119 However some historians view this as doubtful, pointing out that this story only started to spread after the revolt was over. Indeed, this explanation of the revolt was particularly widespread among French antisemites. News of the insurrectionary Paris commune also played a part.
Several months before the start of the insurrections, kabyle village communities began electing village assemblies ("tijmaa'in") despite the colonial authorities having banned from doing so. The first signs of actual revolt appeared in a mutiny of the spahis in January 1871, who were refusing to be sent to metropolitan France, claiming that they were only required to serve in Algeria. This mutiny began in Moudjebeur, near Ksar Boukhari on 20 January spread to Aïn Guettar (in the region of modern Khemissa, near Souk Ahras) on 23 January, and soon reached El Tarf and Bouhadjar.
The mutiny at Aïn Guettar involved the mass desertion of several hundred men and the killing of an officer. It took on a particular significance for the Rezgui family, whose members maintained that that France, recently defeated by the Prussians, was a spent force and that now was the time for a general uprising. The Hanenchas responded to this call, killing fourteen colonists in their territory; Souk Ahras was besieged from 26 to 28 January, before being relieved by a French column, who then put down the insurgency and condemned five men to death.
Mokrani submitted his resignation as bachagha in March 1871, but the army replied that only the civil government could now accept it. In reply, Mokrani wrote to General Augeraud, subdivisional commander at Sétif:
"You know the matter which puts me at odds with you; I can only repeat to you what you already know - I do not wish to be the agent of the civil government..... I am preparing myself to fight you; today let each of us take up his rifle."
The spahi mutiny was reignited after 16 March 1871, when Mokrani took charge of it. On 16 March, Mokrani led six thousand men in an assault on Bordj Bou Arreridj. On 8 April, French troops regained control of the Medjana plain. The same day, Si Aziz, son of Cheikh Ahaddad, head of the Rahmaniyya order, proclaimed a holy war in the market of Seddouk. Soon 150,000 Kabyles rose, as the revolt spread along the coast first, then into the mountains to the east of the Mitidja and as far as Constantine. It then spread to the Belezma mountains and linked with local insurrections all the way down to the Sahara desert. As they spread towards Algiers itself, the insurgents took Lakhdaria (Palestro), 60 km east of the capital, on 14 April. By April, 250 tribes had risen, or nearly a third of Algeria's population. One hundred thousand "mujahidin", poorly armed and disorganised, were launching random raids and attacks.
The military authorities brought in reinforcements for the Army of Africa; Admiral de Gueydon, who took over as Governor General on 29 March, replacing Special Commissioner Alexis Lambert, mobilised 22,000 soldiers. Advancing from Palestro towards Algiers, the rebels were stopped at Boudouaou (Alma) on 22 April 1871; on 5 May, Mohamed El Mokrani died fighting at Oued Soufflat, halfway between Lakhdaria (Palestro) and Bouira in an encounter with the troops of General Saussier.
On 25 April, the Governor General declared a state of siege. Twenty columns of French troops marched on Dellys and Draâ El Mizan. Cheikh Haddad and his sons were captured on 13 July after the battle of Icheriden. The revolt only faded after the capture of Boumezrag, Cheikh Mokrani's brother, on 20 January 1872.
During the fighting, around 100 European civilians died, along with an unknown number of Algerian civilians. After fighting ceased, more than 200 Kabyles were interned and others deported to Cayenne and New Caledonia, where they were known as Algerians of the Pacific. Boumezrag Mokrani was condemned to death by a court in Constantine on 27 March 1873.
The Kabylie region was subjected to a collective fine of 36 million francs, and 450,000 hectares of land were confiscated and given to new settlers, many of whom were refugees Alsace-Lorraine. especially in the region of Constantine. The repression and confiscations forced a number of Kabyles to leave the country.