Algerian citizens nonviolently intervene to prevent civil war, 1962


After over seven years of a harsh and bloody war between Algeria’s socialist National Liberation Front (FLN) and the French military, Algeria had finally claimed its independence from France in 1962. However, internal turmoil among the state’s leaders threatened to disrupt the country’s peace. At a FLN party congress in late May 1962, one of the leading FLN members, Ahmed Ben Bella, convinced the FLN to vote out the government-in-exile, the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic (GPRA), and its leader Ben Youssef Ben Khedda.

These two groups split the 6 provinces, also called wilayas, in half, with the GPRA taking the city of Algiers and the main FLN coalition occupying the city of Tlemcen. After the conference, the two sides moved closer to a civil war and began some fighting as early as July when the FLN group from Tlemcen began to move towards Algiers. By the end of August a civil war seemed imminent when an FLN group attacked the GPRA-controlled wilaya IV.

However, many Algerians did not want more war. On August 31, 1962, 20,000 workers gathered in a square in Algiers for a rally organized by the General Union of Algerian Workers. The group had come together to protest the fighting between the two rival factions. Union leaders gave speeches to the assembly and the demonstrators shouted, “Seven years is enough!” referring to the war for independence. The entire rally voted in favor of a general strike if a civil war began. The leaders of the wilaya IV province addressed the crowd and called for them to stand without weapons before the tanks and machine guns and to shout in anger at the troops to prevent them from fighting.

Several times, as FLN troops tried to move from Constantine towards rival troops in Oran, unarmed citizens stood in their way to prevent fighting. In the area of Boghari, when two groups of rival troops were about to meet, local villagers stood between the two groups and shouted to them, “No more bloodshed!” The villagers spoke with the groups and eventually were able to convince the two sides to come together peacefully rather than fighting.

In another instance of troops meeting, local Algerians laid down in the road to prevent them from moving towards each other. At the border between two provinces unarmed citizens again intervened with a demonstration, blocking the troops. After talking with the soldiers they were able to convince first the soldiers, then the officers, to lay down their weapons and shake hands with the other side.

Unarmed Algerians did this in many areas of conflict in the country during the last few days of August and the beginning of September. However, it is unclear exactly how often they stopped fighting through this nonviolent interjection. By September 5, the rival sides had declared a ceasefire as a result of the civilian protests. The Algerian citizens were not able to prevent all violence as over 1,000 people were killed during this time. Although sporadic bloody confrontations continued, and the rival groups remained on uneasy terms, the intervening peacemakers were able to utilize the memory of the devastating seven-year war for independence in order to deter an all out civil war.