In 2022, Malika Rahal published an entire book dedicated to 1962 Algeria, which subverts immutable chronological narratives by compiling a “people’s history” through oral histories, rumors, emotions, objects, clothes, hand signals, and even airwaves. Sixty years later, she brings us into the tangible reality of this pivotal moment. All photos are from Malika Rahal’s book. Courtesy of La Découverte.
LÉOPOLD LAMBERT: Your book, A People’s History of 1962 Algeria (La Découverte, 2022) describes many layers that traditional history books tend to leave out—for whatever reason. Could you describe the several moments that compose the year 1962 and their significance on Algerian people—be them, for most of them, formerly known as “French Muslims of Algeria,” or for few of them, European settlers who decided to become Algerians after the independence?
MALIKA RAHAL: Traditional history, as you call it, both in Algeria and France, focuses on the political events of the year 1962, when Algeria achieved its independence from France after 132 years of colonization and an eight-year-long war for independence. It therefore emphasizes several politically significant dates: the ceasefire that was put into place on March 19, 1962 and ended the war between the French army and the Algerian National Liberation Army (ALN). This began a so-called “transitional period” which ended when the country voted in a referendum of self-determination on July 1, 1962. The resounding “yes” vote led to the transfer of sovereignty from the French to the Algerian authorities on July 3 and to the official celebrations of independence on July 5. The date was chosen by the Algerian provisional Government in reference to July 5, 1830, when the city of Algiers surrendered after having been occupied by the French, thus offering a historical interpretation of 1962 as a cancellation or a reversal of French occupation.
What was striking during the transitional period was the level of violence, especially due to the pro-French Algeria fascist Secret Army Organization (OAS) which launched last-ditch waves of violence against Algerians, as well as against the French who chose to leave Algeria. The chaos this caused contributed to the speed of departures: while one million French inhabitants of Algeria had represented one tenth of the population of the colony, 650,000 of them left the country in 1962 alone. In France, this is the best-known aspect of the history of Algerian independence, since most “Pieds noirs” (settlers) resettled in France. Their story is of course a tragic one of displacement and loss of the country in which most of them were born.