I decided to buy this book the minute I heard of its publication, but I hesitated once I got to the bookshop and read Abdelhalim Abbas’s (the author’s son) text on the back cover. He wrote that his father had asked him to publish the book only when a democratic system would be installed in Algeria and when the word freedom would fully bear its meaning. He added that it was therefore the right time to publish the book. I cannot deny that our public expression limits have been released since the end of the 80s; but saying that we have a real democratic system in Algeria is a plain lie. Our political system is as despotic as before and the red lines nobody is allowed to cross move only according to the system’s confidence in its power and to its paranoia level. Perhaps Abdelhalim Abbas feared to die before he publishes the book…
I found it interesting that in 1985, Ferhat Abbas thought his son would live and witness the democracy’s advent in our country. It looks like he’s always had and kept this excess of optimism and faith in humans, just like he had thought for a long time that the French would award the Algerians equal rights without waging a war against them.
But I bought the book eventually and I even read it. I don’t know much about Ferhat Abbas as I haven’t read his other books. I of course know his political itinerary and how he was the leader of one of the third force‘s versions (like many of the semi-évolués indigènes who studied in French schools), before he moved towards the nationalist movement and finally joined the FLN. I actually remember his 1936 declaration, “Had I discovered the Algerian nation, I would be a nationalist and I would not blush as if I had committed a crime […] However, I will not die for the Algerian nation, because it does not exist. I have not found it. I have examined History, I questioned the living and the dead, I visited cemeteries; nobody spoke to me about it. I then turned to the Quran and I sought for one solitary verse forbidding a Muslim from integrating himself with a non-Muslim nation. I did not find that either. One cannot build on wind” to which Abdelhamid Benbadis had responded, “We state that this Algerian nation is not France, cannot be France, and does not wish to be France“.
But back to the book which had been written under house arrest between 1976 and 1979. Abbas’s thinking had evolved since 1936 and the ideas he shared in this book were too far from his above declaration.
The book starts with a short biography where the author tells us about his family and his father who became a Caid (قايد) almost accidentally. He remembers his beginnings in one of Emir Khaled‘s newspapers, but more importantly his opposition to the “supposedly PPA brothers who were locked-up in their dogmatism.” In this biography, he doesn’t say why he had sided with Benbella and Boumediene after the independence. Was it because he had been removed from the GPRA and wanted a revenge? Perhaps did he say it in his previous books… On the other hand, the whole book is there to explain why he had left “le Pouvoir” in 1963.
I believe the book, which is a sum of propositions to build the Algerian state/nation, comes a bit late as Algeria and the world have changed tremendously. But it’s still a good read as it lets you imagine what the country could have been had it been ruled by a man like Ferhat Abbas: A country which would have been less into Communism and Pan-Arabism, and more into Islamism and “North-Africanism” if I may use the word. I don’t know about you but the “Islamism” bit and the number of Quran verses and Hadiths he put in the book really surprised me coming from Abbas.
He indeed claims that the former PCA members had infected the FLN and, under Boumediene’s rule, had turned Algeria into a bad copy of the USSR. He strongly attacks communism/socialism which were on their way to destroy the Algerian Muslim society (he even makes a comparison with Albania), and says Islam is the solution (you’d think you are reading a book by late Mahfoud Nahnah). Note though that this is in complete contradiction with what many historians say: the FLN as a party had lost all its power after Boumediene’s 1965 coup for the power was then within the army alone.
He also criticizes most of Boumediene’s actions, especially the agrarian revolution and the industrialising industry concepts. He of course believes the Arabisation was a big mistake. Though I do not think it was a mistake, it’s quite obvious to me that it has been a failure, the biggest of all. During my last trips to Iran, I was surprised to find Persian-language books in the most advanced technical fields, which made me think of how far (behind) we got since we achieved our independence and started this Arabisation process.
The second axis of the book is, like I said above, on Algeria’s place in the world. Ferhat Abbas shows his disagreement with Benbella’s stupid (this is my word) Pan-Arabism which was followed by Boumediene. He tells us that Algeria’s natural belonging is foremost to the Muslim world (Umma), North-Africa and then to the Mediterranean region. He mentions Novermber 1st, 1954’s call which insisted on the North-African union aspect. By the way, I think Ben Boulaid and Boudiaf who had written this call were geniuses because all the Algerians, however opposed they may be, always find their beliefs stated in it. Additionally to North Africa, he thinks that working so closely with the Eastern Block is a mistake and we should rather turn to Asia and mostly to Europe (esp. France). He believes that France and the European union would be our best friends in front of the USA and USSR.
I think this is the shortest review I could make without going into the set of propositions he suggests and which range from installing democracy to limiting demography.
For those who want to know more about the man, I suggest reading Malika Rehal‘s or Leila Benammar Benmasour’s works. These two women worked and wrote books about Ferhat Abbas, his party and the Algerian political ecosystem between WWII and the Algerian war. There is also the below video and its second part which you might find interesting.
Title: Demain se lèvera le jour
Author: Ferhat Abbas
Publisher: Alger-Livres Editions 2010