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French Influence in North Africa

posted on: Jan 19, 2021

By: Yaseen Rashed/Arab America Contributing writer

Undoubtedly, France has left its influence within North African culture ranging from language to government, and media. Around half a century ago, France played an even greater role in North Africa. During Europe’s scramble for Africa, France colonized Algeria, Tunisia and many other African nations. Generations later, France’s impact continues to influence North African culture. 

France colonized Algeria in 1830 after a three-year blockade on the capital Algiers. The blockade was initiated after Dey Hussein struggled to find an answer regarding France’s debt to Algeria. During the altercation, Dey was said to have struck the French consul on the face multiple times. In retaliation, the French ordered a blockade on the capital which later matured to a full occupation 

France’s occupation was nothing less than brutal. They were known to rape and massacre entire villages, destroy mosques and dismember sacred burial grounds. During the century-long occupation, France devoted an enormous effort toward cultural and religious erasure within Algerian society. At one point, France outright banned the practice of Islam and the use of the Arabic language. In an effort to protect their heritage, Algerians responded by educating their children in secret through a system of complex underground tunnels. To this day, there are many elderly who never learned Arabic and know French as their only language.


In 1857 Algeria was declared a part of French territory giving French citizens in the region the right to elect deputies in the Paris Assembly. However, these rights weren’t extended to Algerians unless they were to publicly renounce their religion, Islam. To the French’s surprise, there is no recorded case of any Algerian renouncing their religion in exchange for citizenship. This strongly reflects Algerian’s commitment to their identities, culture, and beliefs

Throughout the rest of the occupation, Algeria would go on to earn the nickname “the country of one million martyrs.”France’s occupation spanned 132 years until its independence in March of 1962 after the nearly eight-year-long Algerian War. Today, France and Algeria are considered allies in the global community and continue to maintain a friendly relationship. Although French is not an official language in Algeria, it is still commonly used within an official and social context. Most Algerian schools still choose to teach both languages to their students to maximize communication.

Although France carries minimal physical presence in Algeria and the rest of North Africa, there is still a strong cultural influence through the region. As a result, much of North Africa’s popular culture stems from France or translated into French. During the era of globalization, social media continues to play an important role in the culture. According to Canadian global affairs, most of North African pop culture is dominated by French tv, soccer, and literature. 

Biggest Influence

France’s biggest influence can be reflected across varies frequencies. One of the easiest ways to notice how ingrained French influence extends is though geography. Many cities and neighborhoods are officially named in French. As well as streets and public fixtures, almost everything is translated into French. Many North African TV stations are known for broadcasting many of its programs in French. On the Moroccan TV station, 2M, and the Algerian station, Établissement public de télévision, it is not uncommon to find news briefings, weather forecasts and even cartoons in French!

All in all, France has a crucial role in North Africa. Beyond politics, France continues to influence the culture surrounding North Africa. Today, France is not the only influencer on North African culture. Along with Arab and Berber influence, the region has become a melting pot of cultures and identities. Since the occupation’s end, the citizens of the region are free to explore their own cultures as well and reinitiate what the colonization might have erased. In conclusion, I am interested to see France’s role in North Africa in the post Arab Spring era. With an ever-shifting understanding of culture, North Africa continues to express diversity and history that lives on through its unique culture and people.


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