5. The U.S. and the decolonization of French North Africa:
Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria.

Sparking off in the early 1950s, at a critical period of the Cold War, the decolonization issue in French North Africa confronted the United States with a challenging dilemma. In Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, the demands of nationalist elements clashed with France’s determination to keep those territories under her control. As a result, American diplomacy found itself torn between conflicting interests and objectives.

Already, under the Truman administration (1945-1953), the “colonial question” had come to be regarded as an integral component of United States national security interests. With the advent of the Cold War, these national security interests were given a greater urgency. In this particular context, independence for European colonies was no longer seen by Washington as a purely domestic issue between the European colonial powers and their dependencies, but a matter that was directly tied to American strategic interests. The U.S. policy makers had largely come round to the view that the supreme danger confronting their civilization was not old European colonialism but modern Soviet Communism. So, in the East-West confrontation, the Truman administration regarded the Western democracies powers as its natural allies and considered that in most of the territories still under colonial rule in the world, the U.S security interests were better served by a policy of support for the European colonial powers. That position applied to the decolonization of the territories of French North Africa, namely Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, which emerged from the Second World War under continuing colonial rule.

By the mid-1950s, French North Africa was deemed to be of vital importance to U.S. security primarily because of its strategic geographical position on the southern flank of the waterway to the eastern Mediterranean oil fields. In the context of the developing Cold War, these strategic preoccupations took precedence over the nationalists’ calls for independence and accounted for America’s willingness not to undermine French colonial rule in the region. Actually, a Pentagon report on the situation in North Africa defended the U.S. stand very strongly, warning that: “If the countries of French North Africa gain independence abruptly, there is grave danger that they would soon come under at least indirect Communist control, unless the US intervened directly and drastically to prevent it” (1),


By the time Eisenhower came to the presidency in 1953, “Third World” issues, notably, anti-imperialism and non-alignment had become critical points of reference on the agenda of international relations. The problem for President Eisenhower was how to maintain good relationships with France while trying at the same time not to alienate the nationalists in the Maghreb and further afield in the “Third World”, and preventing them from turning for help to the Communist block. Furthermore, under the Eisenhower administration, the containment policy advocated by American diplomat George F. Kennan who argued in 1947 that the U.S. foreign policy should be based on a firm containment of Communism was taken even further. As interpreted by the Eisenhower administration, notably by John Foster Dulles, secretary of state from 1953 to 1959 who was a staunch anti-Communist, containment of Communism also involved its “rolling back” in the Soviet-dominated nations. Even though Eisenhower’s own instincts were actually more conciliatory, he nevertheless considered that weak independent states would not withstand Communist advances, and therefore that independence risked opening up the “Third World” to Soviet influence.

Eisenhower’s position on the issue of the European empires was largely shaped by the contact he had developed with the European military and political elites in the course of his career. His pro-European stand was influenced by his previous top military command positions in Europe: first as Commander of United States troops in Europe, as Commander in Chief of Allied Expeditionary Forces in North Africa and Italy; as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Western Europe; and finally as Supreme Commander of NATO. All these factors naturally inclined him toward greater empathy with the European colonial powers. He was supportive of France’s continued presence in Morocco. And when he was informed in July 1957 that Senator John F. Kennedy intended to propose a resolution in favour of Algerian independence, he held that “the people of Algeria still lacked sufficient education and training to run their own government in the most efficient way”(2). The American military stake in North Africa was then far larger than it was in the rest of Africa. The southern Mediterranean flank was strategically important, particularly because of the U.S. bases located there and the availability of a vital supply route through the Mediterranean in times of crises. Expansion of Soviet influence in the region could therefore adversely affect U.S. security and interests there.

It followed that the United States foreign policy on French North Africa was of a triangular nature. It had to take into account U.S. own interests and the interests of the ruling colonial power while not ignoring totally the North African nationalists’ pressing demands for independence. Consequently, the importance of France in Europe and in NATO alliance, combined with the necessity to preserve their strategic requirements in the Mediterranean, limited considerably U.S. scope of action with regard to the North African problems. What complicated matters even more was that American policy makers were split on the issues. While the African Bureau of the State Department favoured closer contacts with and support to the nationalists against France, the European Bureau cautioned against offending the French. In the end, by hedging their bets and playing an ambivalent hand, the Americans only managed to displease both sides.


France had emerged from the Second World War intent on holding onto her colonial empire. In Indochina, this meant war from 1946 to 1954, a war which ended with the defeat of the French army at Dien Bien Phu, seriously taxing France’s ability to defend her empire in North Africa where the nationalists were stepping up their demands for independence.

The Moroccan nationalist movement entered into a phase of armed insurrection which started in 1951 and was to continue until 1955. Faced with the growing strength of the Istiqlal, the independence party, and its popularity among the impoverished peasantry which had flocked to the huge shanty-towns of northern Morocco, the colonial authorities responded to the political challenge by repressive measures to destroy the nationalist movement, subjecting militants and ordinary people to mass arrest and systematic use of force and violence. In December 1952, a strike organized by the Istiqlal and the trade union movement degenerated into a riot in Casablanca. The French authorities responded by sending the police and the troops in the vast shanty-town of the city. The crackdown lasted several days in which about 300 Moroccans were killed. In the aftermath of the rioting, the French Governor of colonial Morocco outlawed the Istiqlal, and sent the highly respected and nationalist-minded Sultan Mohammed V into exile, putting a puppet king on the throne, a move which sparked off an insurgency in the French protectorate. The following year, rioting crowds in Port Lyautey (today Kénitra) killed a number of Europeans at random in the streets of the city. These attacks were immediately followed by rough, punitive operations against the native quarter of Port Lyautey, establishing a pattern that became standard practice in the Algerian casbahs during the War of Independence. Frank White, an American “Time Magazine” journalist gave a graphic eye witness account of the Port Lyautey operations.

The French cut off the medina with three cordons of troops, through which no Arabs could escape. Inside the medina were detachments of Foreign Legionnaires, colonial infantry with tanks, barefoot Berber goumiers, whose hatred of Arabs is legendary, and French police from whose wrists swung weighted truncheons. Policemen working with maps spilt the medina into half a dozen sectors. Then the legionnaires, working systematically began breaking down the doors of every house. Once a door was smashed, in went the goumiers and drove out every male, except small boys. Women cried out in terror, and were beaten with clubs or gun butts… (3)

The same methods had been used in January 1954 in the medina of Fez, a nationalist stronghold which was blockaded by troops, and cut off from food, water, and electricity supplies for two weeks. (4)

Instead of solving the issue for the French, repression made matters worse for them in their protectorate. With the outbreak of the insurrection in Algeria on 1st November 1954, the French decided to terminate their protectorate over Morocco in order to concentrate their forces in Algeria. Early in 1955 France entered into negotiations with Morocco which led to a nationalist government and to the return of Sultan Mohammed V on his throne two years after his exile. France’s rule over Morocco was officially ended on 2 March 1956.


In Tunisia, following the defeat of the Axis power, the Free French had assumed responsibility for the protectorate. They quickly removed Moncef Bey, exiling him to Algeria and forcing him to abdicate in favour of Amin Bey, his more amenable cousin. The collaboration charges brought against Moncef Bey provided a convenient pretext; the real reasons for his removal were in fact his nationalist leaning and his defiance of the French. The 1949 decision of the United Nations to grant independence to Libya strengthened the Tunisians’ nationalist aspirations. In 1952, the French banned the Neo Destour, the leading independence movement and imprisoned its leader, Habib Bourguiba. The civil disorder and wave of violence which followed resulted three years later in the opening of long negotiations that eventually led to an agreement on the terms of an internal autonomy convention for Tunisia, signed on 3 June 1955 in Paris. Bourguiba who had been released from French prison to a delirious welcome by the Tunisian crowds continued to press for independence. On 20 March 1956, Tunisia gained its full sovereignty. In July, Tunisia’s application for membership of the United Nations was accepted and in the summer of the following year, the beylical monarchy was abolished as Tunisia was proclaimed a Republic.

The U.S. and the Algerian problem

If the decolonization of Morocco and Tunisia proceeded without too much tension between France and the United States, things went differently in Algeria, a country which was considered as an integral part of France, and where a long and brutal conflict presented a more difficult issue that seriously strained the diplomatic relations between the United States and France.

By the mid-1950s, Algeria became a sore spot in Franco-American relations. Unrest had spread to Algeria where an insurrection had broken out on the 1st of November 1954. The troubles in the country caused the French to shift considerable forces to North Africa to the detriment of their contribution to European NATO forces. In 1955, French troops were removed from Germany to be dispatched to Algeria. The French government justified the reduction of its contribution to NATO forces by hammering in the point that it was defending a zone covered by the North Atlantic treaty against Communist threat. Differences on NATO support to the French military effort in North Africa led to the first Franco-American clashes over the Algerian issue. Early in the conflict, the U.S. government had protested against the use by French troops of military equipment of U.S. origin, and largely financed under the Mutual Defence Assistance Program (MDAP).


U.S. reaction to the insurrection in Algeria, however, remained cautious. Although the American government was loath to support the French view that Algeria was an integral part of France -- “a damned nonsense” according to President Eisenhower --, it was prepared to accept that unlike the disturbances in Morocco and Tunisia, the Algerian insurrection constituted an internal problem of national security. But at the same time it insisted that the Algerian problem, involving political aspirations of native populations, could not be met by repressive police measures alone and urged an effective programme of political, economic, and social reforms. As a gesture of goodwill and to provide evidence to the French government and public opinion that the U.S. was willing to respond to French appeals for assistance, the State Department urged Defence to provide the French army with eight helicopters for use in Algeria.

Supporting French presence in Algeria, while urging the French governments to put in place the necessary reforms, were the two prongs of the American middle-of-the-road policy in the early years of the conflict. At its 1955 session, the United Nation General Assembly, the U.S. agreed by the narrowest of margin to put the Algerian question on its agenda. This led to further recriminations between the French and the U.S. governments. The French delegation, claiming an intrusion into its internal affairs had walked out. Notwithstanding the American government’s vote against inscription and the strong statement made by the U.S. ambassador to the UN on the subject, the French government considered that it had not received the full support of the U.S. on that occasion.

As the Algerian conflict went on and spilt over the bordering countries of newly independent Morocco and Tunisia, it became quite impossible for the U.N. General Assembly to ignore the issue. Following the victory of the Front Républicain, a coalition of socialists and radicals in the election of January 1956, the new government formed by Guy Mollet received the support of the U.S. government. The liberal policies that he announced for Algeria, that is, abolition of the dual college system, negotiations with Algerian leaders favouring a federation with France, represented significant steps forward which they encouraged and were prepared to back up. But on 6 February 1956, a demonstration by a mob of proponents of French Algeria in Algiers, forced Mollet to back away from his initial reform intentions. In March 1956, U.S. Ambassador to France expressed concern over mounting anti-American feelings among Frenchmen who believed that the Americans were trying to exploit French difficulties in Algeria and sought to supplant France there.

To allay French doubts and suspicions concerning U.S. policy, the State Department instructed the U.S. Ambassador in Paris to make one or more speeches in which he would reaffirm American support for France’s position in the U.N. and its endorsement of the reasoning that the Algerian question was a French internal problem. But for Ambassador Dillon whose sympathy for the French position was all but evident in his despatches, it was necessary that these public statements be followed up with deeds. Reporting back to Washington on the impact of his first speech, he concluded his despatch with a strong recommendation to respond favourably to the French request for 14 additional helicopters, suggesting that the approval should be given “rapidly and graciously rather than having it dragged out of us by long and increasing French pressure in such a manner that we lose the greater part of the benefits of our decision” (5).


On 22 October 1956, a DC-3 plane transporting five Algerian nationalist leaders (6) flying from Rabat to Tunis was intercepted over international waters, and ordered by the French Air Force to land in Algiers where the five passengers were taken into custody and subsequently transferred to prison in France. The disapproval of the State Department was discreet. It quietly expressed concern to the French government over developments in North Africa resulting from the plane incident but did not demand the release of the Algerian leaders, ignoring the appeal of FLN representative in New York, M’hammed Yazid to President Eisenhower, reminding him that one of the captured leaders, Ahmed Ben Bella, had fought under his command during the Second World War (7). All the American administration did was to urge moderation on Morocco, Tunisia and Libya. The only condemnation of France’s action came from the president of the powerful American Federation of Labour (AFL-CIO), George Meany who addressed a vehement protest to Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles denouncing the arrest of the Algerian leaders.

In the U.S. the FLN was then represented by two of its most active spokesmen: Abdelkader Chanderli and M’Hammed Yazid. They had been sent to New York in 1956 and led the Algerian diplomatic campaigns at the United Nations. Operating from a small bureau on East 56th Street, they gave talks on University campuses, lobbied journalists and congressmen. Both achieved early success on the American scene by cultivating progressive intellectuals like John Kenneth Galbraith of Harvard (8). And through them, they befriended Ted Kennedy who introduced them to his older brother, young Democrat Senator, John F. Kennedy. Following almost immediately, a far greater crisis closely related to the Algerian troubles, pushed the hijacking episode into the background. Early in the conflict, the French persuaded themselves that the Egyptian leader, Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser was the driving force behind the Algerian insurrection. The Egyptian “Voice of the Arabs” beamed fiery broadcasts to French North Africa, fanning the flames of Arab nationalism there. On 16 October, a French vessel stopped and boarded The Athos, a ship that had been tracked by the French naval and air interception services and which was reported to be heading for the Moroccan coast. Sailing under a Sudanese flag with a Greek captain, the ship was revealed to be carrying a small shipment of arms and ammunitions. The cargo had been loaded in Alexandria and was believed to be intended for FLN guerrillas in the western province of Oran. The Athos episode confirmed the French in their beliefs that the principal source of political and material assistance to the Algerian revolt was in Cairo. It also convinced them that if Nasser was eliminated, the Algerian revolt would soon collapse.

Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal Company in July 1956, following the American government’s decision to withdraw its offer of financial assistance for the Aswan Dam gave the French the casius belli they needed to attack Egypt. On the other hand, Nasser’s move infuriated the British who were with the French the main shareholders in the Suez Canal Company. Anthony Eden, the British prime minister for whom Nasser was a new Hitler, began speaking of the necessity for strong measures to undo Nasser’s deed.


Both governments had their own reasons for detesting the Egyptian leader and were equally eager to teach him a lesson. The Israelis who were worried about Egypt’s access to Soviet-bloc arms welcomed the opportunity they were given to strike Nasser before he got too strong. The three governments devised a plan whereby it was agreed that Israel would attack Egypt. That Britain and France would issue an ultimatum to both sides calling for a ceasefire and withdrawal of their forces from the Canal area. It was further agreed between the three that if one of the belligerents refused the ultimatum, the British and the French would send troops to protect the waterway. On 29 October, Israeli forces invaded the Sinai Peninsula and headed for the Suez Canal. The following day, the French and British send the ultimatum. The Israelis withdrew ten miles from the Canal. The Egyptians, as was expected, refused to comply. On 31 October, British and French airplanes bombed Egyptian targets. A few days later British and French troops landed in Egypt while British and French paratroopers dropped near Port Said.

President Eisenhower went on television to deplore the use of force whichever side it came from, clearly referring to the recent Soviet invasion of Hungary. He had refrained from sending military support to the Hungarian revolutionaries, which Soviet troops crushed. The American president also dictated a cessation of hostilities between Egypt and the Anglo-French-Israeli coalition.

The Suez crisis saw traditional alliances being reversed as U.S. and Soviet Union pressures compelled the belligerents to withdraw from Egyptian territory. The two colonial powers were discredited, and what remained of their prestige in the Arab world lay in ruins. Much of the French bitterness was directed against the Americans. The inevitable result was a rise of anti-American sentiment in France. At the start of Eisenhower’s second term, the French-American relations were at their lowest ebb. And yet at the U.N. General Assembly debate on Algeria in February 1957, the U.S. supported the French position and opposed a draft resolution introduced by 18 Asian and African nations calling for Algerian self-determination and French-Algerian negotiations.

In Algeria, the FLN called the Moslem populations to an eight-day strike as from 28 January to draw U.N. attention to the Algerian question. The strike, a miscalculation of the FLN leadership, allowed the French paratroops units of General Massu to trap FLN operatives in Algiers Casbah and to dismantle their urban guerrilla network.

The year 1957 was also marked by a series of events which were going to poison the political relations between France and her Anglo-Saxon allies. The first one was the discovery of oil in the Algerian Sahara. The interest of major Anglo-American oil companies for the newly discovered oil fields increased France’s distrust of her allies whom she suspected of deals with the FLN to ensure their share of the oil wealth in an independent Algeria. That was followed by John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Senate as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Sub-committee on 2 July 1957 in which he was severely critical of U.S. policy concerning the situation in Algeria. He called for a solution that would recognize “the independent personality of Algeria” and accused the U.S. government policy to represent “a retreat from the principles of independence and anti-colonialism” (9), Kennedy questioned France’s claims that Algeria was an integral part of France by pointing out that few Algerians were in fact French citizens and entitled to vote.



In their large majority, he said, they were second-class citizens in a system where equal rights were denied to the native Algerians just as they were actually denied to the black Americans in the United States. He also vigorously denounced France’s brutal attempts to suppress the Algerian independence movement, its leaders, and activities. He finally called for a U.S.-brokered solution, a recommendation that was ultimately rejected by both the Eisenhower administration and by France. But Kennedy’s resounding speech challenged the assumptions of American foreign policy. It not only bolstered the Algerian nationalist fight for independence, but it also gave the young Senator from Massachusetts international stature and brought him one step closer to his party’s nomination for president.

Coming as a final straw later in 1957, the joint U.S-U.K. decision to supply light arms to Tunisia provoked a furious reaction in France. The deal followed a request for arms from Bourguiba after clashes between Tunisian and French soldiers on the Algerian border. Concerned with the flow of Soviet-bloc arms into the Middle East in the wake of the Suez crisis, the United States decided to sell a limited quantity of small arms to the newly created Tunisian army rather than have a friendly Arab nation turning to the rival bloc for arms. The Anglo-American action incurred the wrath of the French who violently denounced on that occasion what they considered to be another stab in the back by their “Anglo-Saxon allies”. The French national daily, Le Figaro denounced it “as an odious blow by our allies”, reflecting the sentiment of a stung nation. Five hundred anti-riot policemen were sent to protect the American and British embassies in Paris.

The internationalization of the Algerian issue

There was a growing anxiety in Washington with regard to the coming 1957 annual debate in the U.N. General Assembly. The situation in North Africa had worsened and was becoming a major source of concern for the U.S. government.

To the French Ambassador who wanted to know whether the U.S. had determined its position on Algeria for the General Assembly, Deputy under Secretary of State, Robert Murphy replied that it would be very difficult to support the French position as they had done in the previous U.N.G.A. session if they could point to nothing constructive on the Algerian issue. The Secretary of State himself made the same point to the Secretary General of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Louis Joxe, leaving him in no doubt “that unless there was real progress toward a peaceful and just solution in Algeria, the United States would find itself unable to play the same role as it had in the past” (10). Even though they wanted to avoid any further impairment of their frayed relations with France, the Americans were increasingly driving a harder bargain to continue to stand by their ally, considering that the absence of a new French policy for Algeria could seriously affect their interests in the region. In a briefing note to the Vice-President prior to the U.N. debate, the Secretary of State underlined the crucial dilemma facing U.S. policy in the North African region. He wrote: “Our relations with France, as you know, have already been strained by our delivery of arms to Tunisia, and we might be running grave risks if we took a position directly antagonistic to the French during the French debate. The fact that this debate is taking place on the eve of NATO meeting, of course, intensified our concern. At the same time we are naturally anxious to maintain friendly relations with Tunisia and Morocco and the other states of Africa and Asia” (11).


In December 1957, the Assembly adopted a moderate resolution. Cabot Lodge had opposed any condemnation of France but the absence of any prospects for a political solution in Algeria, forced the Americans to reconsider their support to France. Although the State Department continued to claim that there was no change in its policies on Algeria, the U.S. actually started in 1958 abstaining at the U.N where, in the past, it had given consistent support to France.

On the military front In Algeria, the year 1957 had seen the building of the Morice line. While they continued to resist American pressure for a compromise peace, the French pursued a policy of military isolation of Algeria in building an impressive defensive barrier of electrified barbed wire, mine fields, and radar-operated artillery along its borders with Tunisia and Morocco.

It was against this backdrop that the Sakiet-Sidi-Youssef raid of February 1958 took place. The previous months had been marked by a series of clashes along the Morice line. These clashes culminated on 11 January in the ambush of a platoon of French draftees by an Algerian army unit which had come across from Tunisia. Fifteen French soldiers were killed by the Algerian unit which withdrew back in Tunisia, taking four French prisoners with them. A few days later, two investigating French planes were shot down by machine gun fire. Under strong pressure from its military in Algiers to hit back at FLN camps in Tunisia, the French government led then by Felix Gaillard granted “right of pursuit” to its forces. On 8 February, within a few hours of the downing of the second plane, three American-built B-26 bombers targeted the Tunisian village of Sakiet-Sidi-Youssef, suspected of harbouring an FLN base, killing 69 and wounding 130 civilians. The Sakiet raid precipitated the internationalization of the Algerian conflict. It discredited a government that had proved incapable to restrain its military and was too weak to refuse the joint “bons offices” mission that the British and American governments were offering to send to mediate in the Franco-Tunisian crisis (12). The latter sealed the fate of the Gaillard government and triggered the events that led to the fall of the Fourth Republic and the return of de Gaulle to power. Seriously concerned over the ensuing surge of anti-Americanism in France and Algeria, the U.S. Secretary felt the need to issue a statement on 15 April, denying rumours of U.S. intentions to replace France in North Africa or to gain control of Saharan resources as totally unfounded.

On 13-14 May 1958, French paratroops and rightist elements of the European Algerian population carried an uprising against the French government authority in Algiers. Quite significantly, the May events started with the mob sacking of the American Cultural Centre in Algiers. The return of General de Gaulle to power was greeted with cautious optimism by the American government. De Gaulle’s strong personality reassured the Americans but they also recognized that his authoritarianism and high sense of France’s stand could make him a troublesome ally as they had discovered during the Second World War.


In September 1958, the FLN announced the creation of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Algeria (G.P.R.A.), a government-in-exile headed by Ferhat Abbas and based in Tunis. The new government was soon recognized by Morocco, Tunisia and a large number of Arab countries. China and other countries of the communist bloc followed suit but the U.S.S.R. declined and only granted a de facto recognition in October 1960. The United States chose not to recognize the G.P.R.A. but while they tried to spare the susceptibilities of their ally, they also took great care not to alienate the Algerian nationalists by fully supporting the French positions on Algeria.

De Gaulle’s government was strongly opposed to a U.N. debate on the Algerian question and a few weeks before the fall session, it issued a communiqué stating that the French delegation would not participate, in any manner or form, to the U.N. debate. The increasingly tense relations between the French delegation and the U.N. secretariat were reflected in the head-on clash of French Representative Georges-Picot with both the President of the Assembly as well as the Secretary General of the U.N. over the presence and activities of the FLN at the U.N.

Once again, the major preoccupation of the French delegation was the position the Americans would take at the U.N. General Assembly. Obviously, the French decision not to participate to the debate or to play active role in lobbying in favour of their position made the U.S. position extremely difficult. The U.S. had first gone on record in favour of the French in opposing, in the first Committee, an Afro-Arab-Asian resolution which made reference to the Algerian provisional government and in lobbying for a more moderate resolution which made reference to the “two parties”. A negative vote would have put the U.S. in an embarrassing position vis-à-vis the Afro-Arab group especially since Soviet bloc had endorsed the Algerian cause. In effect, a negative vote in plenary would have appeared as a vote against right of independence for the Algerian people. So when the resolution came to the vote, the American cast an abstention vote which managed both to infuriate de Gaulle and displease the Afro-Arab group.

De Gaulle’s ire at the U.S. abstention in U.N. General Assembly and its lack of support on an issue where critical French interests were at stake, played a major role in his strained relations with the Americans. Ambassador Alphand stressed that point to the U.S. Acting Secretary and linked French project to withdraw the French Mediterranean fleet from NATO with the position the Americans had taken both on the Algerian question at the U.N., and towards FLN representatives in the U.S. (13).

During the following months, the French authorities took issue with the U.S. government over its contacts with FLN representatives and urged the United States to deny them visas and access to U.S. facilities. Prime Minister Michel Debré protested in a letter to the American Ambassador in France against the great liberty of action that these representatives enjoyed in the United States and most particularly in New York and Washington (14).


The Americans made the point to be extremely specific on an issue that was becoming critical to US-French relations particularly with the approach of the next annual U.N.G.A. session. The U.S. Ambassador was told to remind the French Prime Minister that the U.S. did publicly refuse to recognize the Algerian provisional government; that there was no official or special status granted to FLN members in the U.S.; that in accordance with the Prime Minister’s request, the American government had made an important concession in March 1959 when it took the decision not to receive FLN representatives in the Department of State, and that the French government had always been kept informed of these contacts on previous occasions. Finally, that the number and activities of FLN members in the U.S. were greatly exaggerated. Their actual number did not exceed two, who were Yazid and Chanderli. Both were legally in the country and that it was therefore impossible for the U.S. government to deport them or to put a stop to their activities without violating U.S. constitutional rights on freedom of speech (15). But it was the position that the U.S. would take on the Algerian question in the 14th U.N.G.A. session that was vitally important to the French. The strategies of the two countries were opposed. The French position was to block the adoption of any moderate text likely to receive a positive or even an abstention vote from their allies and get therefore the two-thirds majority in plenary. On the other hand, the Americans were more and more reluctant to be forced to vote against the majority of the emerging countries. So, despite the French pressures, they decided to keep their freedom of action open to the end. Anticipating that the U.S. would again abstain on Algeria at the forthcoming U.N. General Assembly, de Gaulle instructed his Ambassador in Washington to let the Americans know that their position on the Algerian issue in the U.N. will be a test on allied solidarity, warning that “it should be known in Washington, and you could leave absolutely no doubt on that point, that in such a case, our presence in NATO will be put into question” (16).

When President Eisenhower was in Paris on 2 September 1959, General de Gaulle informed him, in a private meeting, on the new proposal he meant to announce in a speech to the nation, and he insisted on that occasion, on the necessary solidarity of the U.S. with the French position at the forthcoming U.N. General Assembly. Two weeks later, on 16 September, de Gaulle gave a speech in which he solemnly outlined French policy on Algeria. The address which was broadcasted and televised in France and Algeria proposed that Algeria’s inhabitants determine its future through a referendum after the country was pacified. The proposal was welcomed by the U.S. government and praised for its promise of self-determination, the key-word that de Gaulle had uttered for the first time.

Prior to the opening of the 14th U.N. session, and in response to U.S. encouragement urging French participation, French Foreign Minister Couve de Murville went to great lengths to present France’s policy on Algeria, even though he still maintained that the U.N. had no jurisdiction over the Algerian problem. So, when the U.N. annual session opened on 30 November 1959, the position of the U.S. government was to give every opportunity for the process set in motion by de Gaulle’s proposals to be carried forward and exert their influence to avoid General Assembly debate on the Algerian question.


The Americans made statements in the Political Committee in support of de Gaulle’s proposals, suggesting that they would oppose any resolution which would compromise a future solution. At the same time, they expected the French to understand that this did not necessarily mean negative vote on any resolution that they did not consider extreme. Their final decision was going to depend on the nature of the specific text.

When the general Assembly resumed its deliberations on Algeria on 12 December 1959, voting on the Pakistani draft resolution, the United States who had voted against the text in Committee abstained in plenary. The resolution failed to gain a two-thirds majority and was therefore not adopted. French Ambassador Alphand expressed his regret at the unwillingness of the Americans to tell him in advance their position. Prime Minister Debré raised the issue again on 21 December with President Eisenhower who was in Paris with Secretary of State Herter to attend the Heads of Government Meeting. To Debré’s direct comment that French public opinion was unable to understand why the U.S. had not voted with France, Eisenhower responded that they themselves had their political difficulties and a long tradition of anti-colonialism which made a lot of Americans fail to understand why their government was supporting de Gaulle instead of “carrying the flag of the Algerian rebellion”. And he added as a conclusion to his remarks, “we had fought hard in support of the French offer but apparently unless we supported the French 100%, gave them a blank check so to speak, we were regarded as almost being enemies” (17).

The beginning of the end

While the population in metropolitan France was largely supportive of de Gaulle’s solution to end the Algerian conflict, for the large majority of the Europeans population and French military in Algeria, the 16th of September proposal of self-determination spelled the end of French Algeria. Claiming that de Gaulle had betrayed them, European extremists, backed by units of the army staged an insurrection in Algiers in January 1960, barricading parts of the city following the dismissal of General Massu from his position as Commander of the Algiers Army Corps. The insurgents won rapid supports among the European population in Algiers, a general strike developed, with the protesters demanding that the French President renounce “self-determination and issue a statement supporting a “French Algeria”. In Paris, de Gaulle called on the army to remain loyal and rallied popular support in France by strongly reaffirming his Algerian policy in a televised address. Most of the army heeded his call. The crisis ended when the insurgents surrendered on 1 February 1960. U.S. Secretary of State, Herter persuaded the President to send a personal note to de Gaulle on that occasion. In that letter, sent by the Department of State to the Embassy in Paris, Eisenhower wrote: “I do want you to know that you have and maintain our full confidence in this troubled period. In re-affirming your forward-looking policy for Algeria you have once again demonstrated the faith and courage which have always marked your actions. As we know it must, France under your leadership guards unshaken its strength and unity” (18).


On 22 April 1960, President de Gaulle arrived in the United States on a State visit. He had four meetings with President Eisenhower in which they held substantive discussions on Algeria as well as the problem of French nuclear testing in the Sahara. De Gaulle left Washington on 26 April for New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, and left the United States on 29 April paying the traditional visit to the United Nations.

On the occasion of the third conference of independent African States, held at Addis Ababa in June 1960, the State Department instructed their Embassy in Ethiopia to indicate to delegates at meeting U.S. general support for de Gaulle declaration and use any influence they could exert on G.P.R.A. representatives to seize the opportunity to persuade them to respond positively to de Gaulle statement. On 20 June, Ferhat Abbas announced that the Provisional Algerian Government had accepted de Gaulle’s offer and would send a delegation to France. FLN emissaries met with French officials at Melun on 25 June to arrange the details of the delegation’s journey. The French reiterated their conditions for a cease fire to precede any further negotiations, while the Algerian delegates repeated that a cease-fire could only be accepted as part of a total settlement, including French unequivocal recognition of their independence. On June 29, the talks broke off. The French government announced that it had offered its conditions. The Algerian Provisional government announced from Tunis that it could not accept them and on 22 August, it released a statement suggesting that the Algerian question be settled in a referendum organized and supervised by the United Nations. De Gaulle responded on 5 September that Algeria was an internal French problem over which the United Nations had no jurisdiction.

Following the Melun deadlock, the GPRA leaders travelled the world to gather votes for the forthcoming U.N. debate. The recognition of the FLN grew among France’s African allies. At the end of October, on the eve of the sixth year of the war, the GPRA had enlarged its international audience. Ferhat Abbas was able to declare: “We had need of allies, and now we have found them in Peking and Moscow.” Attending the 15th Session of the United Nations, the GPRA’s Foreign Secretary, Krim Belkacem, met Khrushchev who informed him that the U.S.S.R. was about to grant the Algerian Provisional Government, de facto recognition.
The Algerian delegation found itself basking in the warmth of sympathy and goodwill among the Third World representatives at the United Nations. The Americans, on the other hand, felt that the Algerians were already shifting sharply toward cooperation with the Soviet bloc. The previous warnings delivered by both Yazid and Chanderli were now convincing signs this was happening. So, more than ever before, the U.S. government was loath to alienate the new emerging nations, notably in Africa, with rigid pro-French positions on Algeria. In the circumstances, France’s decision to boycott the U.N. was proving to be most embarrassing to her American ally.

On 20 December, the U.N. General Assembly voted paragraph by paragraph on the motion drafted by the Political Committee. By a massive vote of sixty-three to eight, with twenty-seven abstentions, it recognised:
-- The right of the Algerian people to self-determination and independence.
-- The territorial unity and integrity of Algeria.


Both the United States and the United Kingdom abstained. Even without its fourth paragraph which called for a referendum, the U.N. resolution was an immense success for the GPRA. All the more so that in the future negotiations, the bone of contention will not be centred on the principle of self-determination but on the crucial question of the status of the Sahara.

In January 1961, John F. Kennedy, the former senator and avowed supporter of Algerian independence, had become president and led an administration which made no secret of her genuine interest in African affairs and sympathies for the nationalist movements. But, as with the preceding Eisenhower’s administrations, security issues which necessitated ties with a major European ally, remained paramount. In 1961, the Algerian nationalists who had strongly applauded Kennedy’s election were disappointed with his administration’s opposition to mentioning the GPRA in the preamble of the U.N. resolution, and using it as a pretext to abstain in the vote. For the Algerians, the U.S. abstention demonstrated continued American support for France. The vote had come five months after the Franco-Tunisian clash over the French military base of Bizerta. By being too neutral in the conflict, the U.S. had appeared once more to be supporting the French.

Following French rejection of a note from President Bourgiba demanding the evacuation of their naval base at Bizerta, as well as rectifications of the southern frontier of Tunisia bordering on the oil discoveries in the Algerian Sahara, Tunisian troops blockaded the French naval installations on 19 July 1961. In the next two days, violent confrontations resulted in tens of French and hundreds of Tunisian casualties. At the U.N. the Bizerta incidents brought fresh condemnations of France, with the U.S. abstaining but with NATO countries like Denmark, Norway and Turkey joining in with the Afro-Asian bloc to vote against France on 26 August. When the General Assembly reconvened in December 1961, France was already engaged in negotiations with the GPRA. Early in January that year, George Pompidou, a trusted banker and confidant of de Gaulle, was sent on a secret diplomatic mission to Switzerland where he conducted, through the good offices of Swiss diplomats, a series of meetings with Algerian representatives that were to lead to the opening of negotiations between the GPRA and the French government. The announcement of the opening of negotiations to be held at the Spa town of Evian on 7 April was soon followed by an attempt at a coup by a group of French army generals. The leaders of the “putsch” intended to seize control of Algeria and topple de Gaulle and his government. Important elements of the French army and the European community joined the rebellious Generals while the newly created “Secret Army Organization” (O.A.S.) led an armed insurrection against French civil authority and launched a campaign of terror against Muslim Algerians.

The “Generals’ putsch” eventually collapsed in four days (22-25 April 1961) because the air force and the larger part of the army had refused to join the insurgents. The “putsch” marked a turning point in the French government attitude toward the Algerian war. De Gaulle was now determined to get rid of the Algerian albatross. Talks with the GPRA re-opened at Evian in May 1961.


The first round of talks at Evian (20 May-13 June) and at Lugrin (17-28 July) stumbled over the status of the European Algerians and more importantly on the status of the Sahara. French authorities envisaged a possible partition of Algeria that would allow them to keep the Sahara under their control. Indeed, the Algerian southern territories represented now a double strategic interest for France: the area had been the site of major oil discoveries in the late 1950s and it had been also the testing ground of the first French nuclear bomb in 1960. The Algerian provisional government, on the other hand was adamant about preserving the integrity of the Algerian territory, including the Sahara. The Negotiations ran aground and had to be momentarily suspended. In the autumn of 1961, a few weeks after the Bizerta incident, de Gaulle took a right-about turn recognizing in a televised speech, Algerian sovereignty on the Sahara. Talks were then resumed and were held in secret. They ended up with the Rousses preliminary agreements (18 February 1962) which were officially renegotiated at the Second Evian Conference which concluded with the signing of the Evian Accords (17 March 1962) that brought the Algerian war of independence to an official end.

American reporting of the Algerian conflict

The Algerian War of independence dominated the political international scene for nearly eight years from 1954 to 1962. The long and brutal conflict was omnipresent in the Western media to almost the same extent as the Vietnam War did ten years later. It was a divisive issue generating a flow of sympathy for the revolutionary action and a worldwide network of support that linked the Algerian movement of liberation with progressive intellectuals and journalists. It had also its determined opponents who supported France’s action in Algeria and who opposed any change in the colony.

The Algerian issue received important press coverage in the United States with scores of articles, political commentaries, and books which helped document the historical, political and social reality of contemporary Algeria and informed the political American debate. Major U.S. national newspapers and magazines regularly carried articles on the conflict. On the plane of the five FLN leaders hijacked by the French on 22 October 1956, an American passenger was aboard, New York Times correspondent Tom Brady who was flying with the Algerian delegation from Rabat to Tunis. With British correspondent Edward Behr, Tom Brady contributed greatly to the internationalization of the Algerian conflict and played an instrumental role in increasing the political awareness of a younger generation of American politicians to the de-colonization issue. Quite significantly, it was in 1957 that John F. Kennedy, then a senator from Massachusetts, delivered his famous speech calling the United States to support the Algerians in their struggle against France.

Among the large group of foreign correspondents who covered the Algerian conflict, Edward Behr was probably one of the most respected reporters in the heyday of the American press. A member of the Time-Life Paris bureau, he was in charge of the North African affairs. Born in Paris to a Russian-Jewish family young Behr studied at the prestigious Lycée Jeanson-de-Sailly.


When German troops occupied Paris, the family escaped to London where he was educated at St Paul’s school. Called up for military service in 1944, Behr added Urdu to his fluent English, French and German. In 1945, he was assigned to a British force overseeing the capitulation of Japanese troops in Indonesia and in Indochina. Demobilised and back in England, he read history at Magdalene College, Cambridge. His first steps in journalism were with Reuters in London, then in Paris.

Behr went on to cover conflicts across the globe – from the Algerian one, the border clash between India and China to the Vietnam War – for the American magazines Times (1957-63), The Saturday Evening Post (1963-1965) and Newsweek -- with which he stayed for 22 years (1965-87). He was one of the most active members of the so-called “Maghreb Circus”, a collection of foreign correspondents which included Tom Brady for the New York Time, Jean Daniel and Borovief for the French magazine L’ Express, Umbaracci for the New Economist. They held leftist views and were generally supportive of the FLN struggle for independence. They formed a group of talented professionals with excellent local connections. They were constantly on the move, following the latest developments in Algiers, Rabat, and Tunis. Their articles and books (19) were seminal for a generation of American academics and intellectuals with an interest in “Third World” issues and for whom the Algerian case became a key reference to the ongoing political debates.

Paul Bowles: an American witness of the passing of French Morocco and Algeria.

North Africa was a determining experience for Paul Bowles. The American writer had a long connection with Morocco where he lived in self-exile in Tangier for more than half a century. He had moved in Tangier after the Second World War and it remained his permanent home until his death in 1999. When he left New York City in 1947 to write The Sheltering Sky (20), he had already been familiar with Tangier for sixteen years. His first visit to the place went back to August 1931 when he spent a few months in the city in the company of his music teacher and friend Aaron Copland.

Bowles had associated with Gertrude Stein and her literary and artistic circle in Paris. And it was on her recommendation that both he and Copland decided to try Tangier as a place to live and work. Paris was then the favourite haunt of such celebrated American expatriates as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Anglo-American poet T.S. Eliot, who escaped there, away from the conventional constraints of their own society.

Bowles and Copland followed Gertrude Stein’s advice and sailed for Tangier where they took a house on the hills above Tangier bay. In December 1947, they travelled to Fez where Bowles met a young Moroccan called Ahmed Yacoubi who spoke only “daridja” -- Moroccan colloquial Arabic --. He belonged to a “cherifian” family reputed for its mystical, healing gifts. Ahmed Yacoubi was to provide the model of young Amar in Bowles’s third novel, The Spider’s House (21).



In January 1948, Bowles took up residence in Tangier where his wife, a writer herself, joined him and where the couple became famous for the American visitors they attracted including Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, and William Burroughs.

The first twenty years of Bowles’s residence in Tangier correspond to a period of increasing U.S. government involvement in Moroccan affairs during which Bowles wrote three of his four novels and a number of his short stories set in North Africa. After Morocco had been divided up between France and Spain, Tangier was made part of an “International Zone” administered by a group of European nations, a status it kept until Morocco’s independence in 1956. By that time the seaport city had become notorious as a playground and permissive place: prostitution was rampant; young Arab boys and girls were easily obtainable; alcohol and drugs under the form of cannabis or “maajoun” -- a local cannabis jam -- were cheap and readily available. Bowles found in Tangier a place of limitless freedom and eccentricities in which he himself indulged openly. He became known for his lifelong hashish or cannabis use, which was one of the things that had led American Beat writers as Ginsberg, Kerouak, and their friend and mentor William Burroughs to the Moroccan city in the mid-1950s--early-1960s. Bowles himself recognized that some of the hallucinatory scenes like the delirium of Port Moresby in The Sheltering Sky were written under the influence of opiates.

In Let It Come Down (22), his second novel, Bowles staged the agonizing fall of Nelson Dyar, a New York bank clerk who comes to Tangier to break away from the conventions of formality of his own world, and ends up in places consistently described as dangerous and deadly. Set in the decadent atmosphere of the International Zone in the last days before Moroccan independence, the novel develops the theme of the unwary “Westerner” going wrong in hostile, alien ground. The story follows Nelson Dyar’s North African jaunt and his descent into the underworld of Tangier, and being eventually overwhelmed by fearsome, primitive forces he can neither understand nor resist. Disintegration of the personality in an alien environment was also the central theme Bowles had developed in his first novel, The Sheltering Sky. The story charts the journey of a young couple from New York, Port and Kit Moresby, and Tunner, a friend of theirs, who shortly after the Second World War, decide to head for North Africa. They land in Oran, and from there, they drift from city to city into the Saharan desert. Bowles follows the American couple on a nightmarish journey that culminates with the death of Port Moresby by typhoid in a Saharan French fort, and the descent into madness of his wife.

Paul Bowles’s residence in Tangier covered the International Zone period and the subsequent period of Moroccan Independence. During the fifty odd years he lived in Tangier, the city changed considerably. In one of his travel piece written in 1958, Bowles expressed his nostalgic yearning for the exotic and pleasurable Tangier of the old colonial order, regretting the changes it underwent after independence. In those days Tangier was an attractive, quiet town with about 60,000 inhabitants.


The medina looked ancient, its passageways were full of people in bright outlandish costumes and each street leading to the outskirts was bordered by walls of cane, prickly pears and high-growing geranium.

Today, where this thick vegetation grew, are the cracking facades of new apartment houses, the Moslems have discarded their frogged Oriental jackets and enormous trousers of turquoise, orange, pistachio or shocking pink, to don Levis, and second hand raincoats imported by the bale from America; the population has augmented at least threefold; and I’m afraid the city would never strike a casual visitor as either quiet or attractive. There must be few places in the world which have altered visually to such an extent in the past quarter of a century. (23)

The relationship Bowles developed with Morocco over these years was affected by the transformations he witnessed in his adopted country. The Spider’s Home, Bowles’s third and most elaborate novel is set in the last days of French rule in Morocco. The story main characters -- ranging from a Moroccan adolescent who belongs to an impoverished “cherifian” family to an American writer who regrets the passing of traditional Morocco – are caught up in the clash between the French colonial forces and the nationalist movements. The story, set mostly in Fez, deals with Bowles’ own views of the changes that Moroccan society underwent during that period. In the preface he added in December 1981 to the second edition of his novel, Bowles explained the particular way in which the novel developed. “I wanted”, he said, “to write a novel using as backdrop the traditional daily life of Fez, because it was a medieval city functioning in the twentieth century. If I had started only a year sooner, it would have been an entirely different book. I intended to describe Fez as it existed at the moment of writing about it, but even as I started to write, events that could not be ignored had begun to occur there. I soon saw that I was going to have to write, not about the traditional pattern of life in Fez, but about its dissolution”.

Bowles started to write his novel in 1955, the year that preceded Morocco’s independence. The story portrays the last days of French rule in Fez seen through the eyes of Stenham, an American expatriate writer and Amar, a poor Muslim boy who lives and works as a potter in the old quarter of the city. Stenham who has lived in Morocco for many years, speaks “darija”, and is an admirer of the local, traditional culture. He relishes the remnants of ancient Fez and finds them far more interesting than the modern European quarters of the city. On the other hand, he is both attracted and exasperated by the Moroccans or “Moslems” as he refers to them with their fatalism and their “unquestioning faith in their God”. Both the American expatriate and his young Moroccan friend see their familiar world being shattered as a result of the ongoing struggle for national independence.


Slowly life was assuming a monstrous texture. Nothing was necessarily what it seemed; everything had become suspect – particularly that which was pleasant. If a man smiled, beware of him because he was surely a chkam, an informer for the French. If he plucked on an oud as he walked through the street he was being disrespectful to the memory of the exiled Sultan. If he smoked a cigarette in public he was contributing to French revenue, and risked a beating or a knifing later in some dark alley. The thousands of students from the Medersa Karouine and the College of Moulay Idriss went so far as to declare an unlimited period of national mourning, and took to walking morosely by themselves, muttering a few inaudible syllables to each other when they met. (24)

Stenham refuses to take sides in the colonial conflict. He does not favour French colonial rule in Morocco but nor does he want to see the country in the nationalists’ hands. He has little sympathy for the French administration and he naively hoped that after independence the country would return to what it had been before the French protectorate. But he knew that the young militants of the Istiqlal were not interested in restoring Morocco to its pre-colonial state. On the contrary, they wanted to make it even more “European” than the French had made it. In The Spider’s House, Stenham, the former communist American writer, has only scorn for the Moroccans’ nation-building project and their aspiration to bring their country into modernity

The methods and aims of the Istiqlal were fundamentally identical with those of Marxism-Leninism; that much had been made abundantly clear to him by reading their publications and talking with members and friends of the organization. But wasn’t it possible that any movement toward autonomy in a colonial country, especially one where feudalism had remained intact, must almost inevitably take that road? (25)

Amar, Stenham’s young Muslim friend, on the other hand, cannot reconcile the methods of the Istiqlal vigilantes to the tenets of his faith. He had always thought that the duty of the believers was to fight the unbelievers, not fellow-Muslims. He disapproves of the enforcement by violence of the nationalist party’s anti-smoking campaign or the fact that the Istiqlal has decreed that there would be no feast on Aid-el-Kebir to protest against the exile of the legitimate king, and threatening with death anyone who would make the traditional sacrifice of the sheep on that occasion. The illiterate potter from the poor quarter of Fez is surprised by the ways and manners of a party of young members of the nationalist party who hold him prisoner in a farm, suspecting him to be spying on them. In the gap that separated the destitute Amar from the westernized, educated militants of the nationalist party, Bowles strangely read the discernible signs of the religious radicalism that was to spread through the region, some twenty five years later.


The difference was principally in the invisible places toward which their respective hearts were turned. They dreamed of Cairo with its autonomous government, its army, its newspapers and its cinema, while he, facing the same direction, dreamed just a little beyond Cairo, across the Bahr el Ahmar to Mecca. They thought in terms of grievances, censorship, petitions and reforms; he, like any good Moslem who know only the tenets of his religion, in terms of destiny and divine justice. If the word “independence” was uttered, they saw platoons of Moslem soldiers marching through streets where all signs were written in Arabic script, they saw factories and power plants rising from the fields; he saw skies of flame, the wings of avenging angels, and total destruction. (26)

Bowles eventually turned away from political realities and devoted himself to the preservation of Moroccan folk culture and music. He remained nostalgic about the Morocco he knew in the years before Independence and resented the changes in his adopted country, often expressing in articles and travel pieces a resigned if critical acceptance of post-independence Morocco and Tangier. When the International zone was returned to Moroccan sovereignty in 1956, the government launched a cleansing campaign against decadence. Following a scandal that broke out in 1957 in which his friend Yacoubi was arrested for sexual abuse, Bowles was called in for questioning by the Moroccan police. Soon after that incident, he and his wife fled to Portugal in January 1958 and a few months later the couple moved to New York. They returned to Morocco nearly a year later after Yacoubi was released, and the government campaign aimed at purging Tangier of foreign decadence seemed to be over.

In the winter of 1947-48 while working on The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles had travelled to the Saharan oasis of Taghit, in South-western Algeria. The outcome of that trip, however, came some fifteen years later when its memory provided the framework of The Time of Friendship, the title piece of the collection of short stories he published in 1967.

About that winter excursion to the oasis of Taghit, Paul Bowles wrote in his autobiography: “The tiny hotel atop the rocks was run in conjunction with the military fort nearby. There was a solitary old servant who did everything; fortunately he had only one other guest besides me, an elderly Swiss lady who taught school in Zurich and spent her winters in the Sahara. She and I got on perfectly and took long walks together in the valley to the south.” (27).

“The Time of Friendship” is told from the point of view of Fraulein Windling, an elderly Swiss schoolmistress. For years, she had divided her time between Bern and an oasis in the Algerian Sahara which she had come to consider more of a home than her native land. The story develops the theme of the desert and its restorative influence contrasted with the mechanical, debilitating life in modern societies.

Her first sight of the desert and its people had been a transfiguring experience: indeed it seemed to her now that before coming here she had never been in touch with life at all. (28)


Destructive forces, however, are already at work, threatening the old order. Fraulein Windling regrets the intrusion of the modern world in the oasis, the increasing impact of western ways and culture, and more importantly the war which has just started in the North and which is affecting the old society she knew. She resents that the “virus of discontent from the far off-North” is insidiously spreading in her oasis. She determines to ignore the war, the reports of mass arrests and the disappearance of some of her old friends. Although her sympathies are with the natives in their fight to free their land, she feels that the war could bring them nothing but unhappiness and will ultimately destroy the village community. She sees a change of attitude among the younger generation and is distressed to hear Slimane, the young boy of twelve she has been using as a guide and companion in her walks about the oasis, boast that some of his friends had joined the insurgents and that “they are killing the French like flies”.
Eventually, as the troubles spread south, she is ordered by the French army to leave the Saharan oasis. Out of the hundred of books that have been written on that theme, few have actually rendered with such poignancy the tragic sense of banishment from one’s blest secret garden.

In American literature just as in his life, Paul Bowles has always been a lone man. No other American writer has made such a remarkable body of fiction out of his first hand knowledge and long experience of the North African terrain. Paradoxically, however, Bowles has remained an outsider, both in the United States, his native country, and in Morocco where he lived for most of his life. His long self-exile in Morocco cut him from the mainspring of 20th century American literature and may well account for the relative neglect he suffered in comparison with the other American storytellers of his generation. But neither, for that matter, did his work receive great acclaim in Morocco, his adoptive home where his provocative comportment troubled his hosts and those Moroccan officials who were less than pleased with the representation he gave of their world.

Although Paul Bowles was loath to be considered a Beat Generation writer, he did unwittingly inspire the leading figures of that group including, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg to head for Tangier, a city perceived as a safe haven by those who felt repressed back home by law and conventional morality. Burroughs arrived in Tangier in 1953 six years after Bowles had taken residence there. In 1957, Jack Kerouac arrived in the city and during the month he spent there, he helped Burroughs organize and typed for him the scattered manuscript pages of the big Tangier novel he had started to write. It was also Kerouac who suggested a new title – The Naked Lunch -- to the book which Burroughs finished and got published in Paris in July 1959. Considered as obscene, the book was banned by the Boston courts in 1962, a decision that was later reversed in 1966 by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Kerouac was soon followed in Tangier by Allen Ginsberg accompanied by his friend, the poet Peter Orlovsky. Howl, Ginsberg’s long poem in which he celebrated the “angel-headed hipsters” and vilified America’s conservative values had just been published and was shortly after censured as obscene.

The three founding figures of the “Beat Generation” were re-united again in Tangier, twelve years after they had met as fellow undergraduates at Columbia University, New York. Kerouac settled in the Muniria hotel, a couple of floors above Burroughs’ own room. He was relaxed and solvent having sold the rights to his novel, On the Road, to both a London and New York publisher.


Ginsberg and Orlovsky arrived in Tangier in April 1957 just before Kerouac left by ship for Marseille. The couple moved into the room he had vacated at the Muniria.

Kerouac’s On the Road (1957), Ginsberg’s Howl (1956), Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch (1959), these related works of three close friends, symbolized the literature break with conventional form and the provocative rejections of moral conformity. They all objected to the affluence and consumerism that pervaded America’s three golden decades. They strongly opposed the way of life of their parents and contemporaries. They actually initiated the social and cultural revolution of the sixties and seventies in which opposition to the Vietnam War resulted in urban and campus violence, but also encouraged the feminist movement and gave rise to the black movement for the civil rights.

Throughout that period, Tangier continued to act as a magnet for other American writers including Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Saul Bellow, and many others. John Hopkins’s The Tangier Diaries, 1962-1979 (29) gives a vivid, inside picture of the expatriate milieu of European and American writers, painters, and artists who flocked to Tangier in search for a hedonistic life of social and creative freedom. John Hopkins was a Princeton graduate who came to Tangier after adventures in Latin America, a motorcycle trip that had taken him across Europe and a large part of Africa before he settled for a teaching job at the American School of Tangier. During the seventeen years he spent there, he made friends with Jane and Paul Bowles, and encountered William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, billionaire Malcolm Forbes, Barbara Hutton, Tennessee Williams, Saul Bellow, J. Paul Getty, and countless other expatriates and visitors who turned up in the city from the early sixties through the late seventies. Hopkins’ diary entries, selected from a decade and half of life in Tangier offer an extraordinary portrait of the city and the host of writers, painters, artists, expatriate residents, and celebrities who drifted to Tangier during that particular period.

Hopkins’ Diaries closes with his marriage to Ellen Ann Ragsdale in Tangier’s Anglo-Moorish St. Andrews Church, by the Grand Socco square in the old heart of the city. The church offers today a tranquil oasis from the outside bustle, with its back garden and bower of trees over the gravestones of expatriates, and British servicemen killed in World War II.


(1) Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS), 1947, vol. V, p. 531.

(2) Quoted by S.E. Ambrose in Eisenhower, vol.2: The President, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984, p. 378.

(3) Frank White, “Morocco: Running the Gauntlet”, Time Magazine, 23 August, 1954, 127.

(4) See Alison Baker, Voices of Resistance: Oral Histories of Moroccan Women. New York: State University of New York, 1998.

(5) Telegram from the Embassy in France to the Department of State, March 20, 1956, FRUS, 1955-1957, vol. XVIII, pp. 240-41.

(6) The five FLN leaders were: Hocine Aït-Ahmed, Ahmed Ben Bella, Mohammed Khider, Mohammed Boudiaf and Mostefa Lacheraf. The first four were founding members of National Council of the Algerian Revolution (CNRA); the last was an FLN information officer. Their plane was a French airliner and had a French crew. The plane had been chartered by King Mohammed V who considered the FLN leaders to be his guests and under his protection.

(7) Telegram from M’hammed Yazid of the National Liberation Front of Algeria to President Eisenhower, October 23, 1956, FRUS, 1955-1957, op. cit., p. 246.

(8) John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006) was an influential Canadian-American economist. He was a Keynesian and a leading supporter of 20th century liberalism and progressivism. Appointed as professor of Economics at Harvard University in 1949, he taught there for many years. His books on economic topics notably The Affluent Society (1958) and The New Industrial State (1967) were bestsellers in the nineteen-fifties and sixties. “The Affluent Society” inspired the “war on poverty” programme brought on by the administration of John F. Kennedy.
Among other official political responsibilities, Galbraith served as United States Ambassador to India (1961-63) under J.F. Kennedy.

(9) Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy on Algeria, on 2 July, 1957.
An advance text of the speech was distributed to the press before Kennedy’s intervention.
Full text of speech in: Congressional Record, vol. 103, July 2, 1957, pp. 10780-10793.

(10) Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, July 10, 1957. FRUS, 1955-1957, op. cit., pp. 271-272.


(11) Memorandum from the Secretary of State to Vice President, Washington, November 30, 1957, FRUS, 1955-1957, op. cit., pp. 291-294.

(12) The mission to heal the Franco-Tunisian crisis was composed of an American veteran of North Africa, Robert Murphy, and H. Beeley of the British Foreign Office.

(13) Telegram from the Department of State to the Embassy in France, Washington, March 6, 1959. FRUS, 1958-1960, vol. XIII, p. 650.

(14) Letter from Prime Minister Debré to the Ambassador in France, Paris, April 28, 1959. FRUS, 1958-1960, op.cit., pp. 652-653.

(15) Telegram from the Department of State to the Embassy in France, Washington, June 20, 1959. FRUS, 1958-1960, op. cit., pp. 657-659.

By one of those ironies of history, the State Department invoked the same constitutional rights to reject Algerian officials’ requests for action against the Islamic Salvation Front representative in the U.S. some thirty-five years later.

(16) Hervé Alphand, L’étonnement d’être. Journal, 1933-1973, Paris, Fayard, 1977, pp. 303-304.

(17) US/MC/19; Department of State, Central files, 751S00/12-2159, p. 685.

(18) FRUS, 1958-1960, op. cit., p. 686.

(19) Edward Behr, The Algerian Problem, London: Penguin Books, 1961. The book was published one year before the end of the conflict. It was one of the earliest accounts in English of the Algerian conflict. Objective, concise, and well-informed, Behr’s book was prescribed as compulsory reading assignment for students and foreign affairs officials.

(20) The Sheltering Sky, London: John Lehmann, September 1949; New York: New Directions Book, October 1949; New York: Vintage, 1990; New York: Harper Collins, 1998; New York: The Library of America, 2002, combined with Let it Come Down and The Spider’s House, in one volume.

(21) The Spider’s House, New York: Random House, 1955; London: Macdonald, 1957; Santa Rosa, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1993; London: Peter Owen, 1995; New York: Ecco Press, 2003.

(22) Let It Come Down, London: John Lehmann, 1952; New York: Random House, 1952; New York: Harper Collins, 1981; New York: HarperPerennial, 2006.


(23) Paul Bowles, Travel Writing, “The World of Tangier”, (1958), The Authorized Paul Bowles Web Site (http://www.paulbowles.org/).

(24) Paul Bowles, The Spider’s House, Santa Rosa, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1993, p. 49.

(25) Ibid., p. 155.

(26) Ibid., p. 104.

(27) Paul Bowles, Without Stopping: An Autobiography, New York: Ecco Press, 1985, p. 282.

(28) Paul Bowles, Collected Stories,1939-1976, with an introduction by Gore Vidal, Santa Rosa, California: Black Sparrow Press, 1993, p. 338.
The first volume of short stories was published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1967.

(29) John Hopkins, The Tangier Diaries, 1962-1979, first published as Carnets de Tanger, 1962-1979 by La Table Ronde in Paris in 1995, first English language edition, 1998.


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Website resources

Paul Bowles: Galleries of photographs


French-Algerian War – Archive Collections –TIME


Documents to illustrate this part:

TIME Magazine Cover: Ferhat Abbas – Oct. 13, 1958 – Algeria.

TIME Magazine Cover: Benyoussef Benkhedda – Mar. 16, 1962 – Algeria.

The Authorized Paul Bowles Web Site, Paul Bowles: Galleries of Photographs, Literary friends, Part Three.

The Tangier Diaries, 1962 – 1979 by John Hopkins, cover illustration by Ahmed Yacoubi.