Ahmed Ben Bella
Mohamed Ahmed Ben Bella (Muhammad Ahmad Bin Balla) () (born December 25, 1918, Maghnia
Maghnia is a town in Tlemcen Province, northwestern Algeria, near the border with Morocco. It is known for the Treaty of Lalla Maghnia between France and Abderrahman, Sultan of Morocco, which established the boundaries between Algeria and Morocco...

, Algeria
Algeria , officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria , also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa with Algiers as its capital.In terms of land area, it is the largest country in Africa and the Arab...

) was a soldier and Algerian revolutionary, who became the first President of Algeria
President of Algeria
The President of Algeria is the head of state and chief executive of Algeria, as well as the Commander-in-Chief of the Algerian armed forces.-History of the office:...



Ben Bella was born in a small village in western Algeria during the height of the French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 colonial period to a Sufi Muslim
A Muslim, also spelled Moslem, is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the Quran, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad. "Muslim" is the Arabic term for "submitter" .Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable...

 family. He attended school in Tlemcen
Tlemcen is a town in Northwestern Algeria, and the capital of the province of the same name. It is located inland in the center of a region known for its olive plantations and vineyards...

 and was disturbed by the discrimination towards Muslims by his European teacher. He failed his brevet exam, and subsequently dropped out of school.

Service with French Army

Ben Bella volunteered for service in the French Army
French Army
The French Army, officially the Armée de Terre , is the land-based and largest component of the French Armed Forces.As of 2010, the army employs 123,100 regulars, 18,350 part-time reservists and 7,700 Legionnaires. All soldiers are professionals, following the suspension of conscription, voted in...

 in 1936. The Army was one of the few avenues of advancement for Algerian Muslims under colonial rule and voluntary enlistment was common. Posted to Marseille
Marseille , known in antiquity as Massalia , is the second largest city in France, after Paris, with a population of 852,395 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Marseille extends beyond the city limits with a population of over 1,420,000 on an area of...

 he played center mid-field for Olympique de Marseille
Olympique de Marseille
Olympique de Marseille is a French association football club based in Marseille. Founded in 1899, the club plays in Ligue 1 and have spent most of its history in the top tier of French football. Marseille have been French champions nine times and have won the Coupe de France a record ten times. In...

 in 1939–1940. He was offered a professional spot on the team, but rejected the offer. He also played for IRB Maghnia
IRB Maghnia
Ittihad Riadi Baladiat Maghnia , known as IRB Maghnia or IRBM for short, is an Algerian football club based in the city of Maghnia in the Tlemcen Province. It was founded in 1928 as Société Sportive d'éducation Physique de Maghnia...


Ben Bella's eldest brother had also served in the French Army during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 and died of his wounds. Two other brothers died at young ages. In 1940 Ben Bella enlisted again and was awarded the Croix de guerre . He was demobilised after the fall of France but joined a regiment of Moroccan tirailleurs (infantry) with whom he saw service throughout the Italian campaign. Ben Bella was promoted to the rank of warrant officer
Warrant Officer
A warrant officer is an officer in a military organization who is designated an officer by a warrant, as distinguished from a commissioned officer who is designated an officer by a commission, or from non-commissioned officer who is designated an officer by virtue of seniority.The rank was first...

 and received the Médaille militaire
Médaille militaire
The Médaille militaire is a decoration of the French Republic which was first instituted in 1852.-History:The creator of the médaille was the emperor Napoléon III, who may have taken his inspiration in a medal issued by his father, Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland...

 for bravery at Monte Cassino
Battle of Monte Cassino
The Battle of Monte Cassino was a costly series of four battles during World War II, fought by the Allies against Germans and Italians with the intention of breaking through the Winter Line and seizing Rome.In the beginning of 1944, the western half of the Winter Line was being anchored by Germans...

 from Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle
Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle was a French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces during World War II. He later founded the French Fifth Republic in 1958 and served as its first President from 1959 to 1969....

. He refused to accept an officer's commission after learning of the harsh French repression that followed a Muslim rising in the small Algerian town of Setif in May 1945.

Before independence

Following election as a municipal councillor Ben Bella became a founder member of an underground organisation pledged to fight colonial rule, known as the Organisation Spéciale. This was the immediate predecessor of the Front de Libération Nationale
Front de Libération Nationale
Front de Libération Nationale may refer to:* National Liberation Front , a socialist political party founded in 1954 for independence from France for Algeria...

. Arrested in 1951 and sentenced to eight years imprisonment Ben Bella escaped from Blida prison, making his way to Tunisia and then Egypt.

At the outbreak of the Algerian War in 1954 Ben Bella was based in Cairo where he had become one of the nine members of the Revolutionary Committee of Unity and Action
Revolutionary Committee of Unity and Action
Revolutionary Committee for Unity and Action was a militant group in Algeria fighting French colonial rule. CRUA regrouped former elements of OS and radical from MTLD. In total the founders of CRUA consisted of 33 persons.CRUA would later evolve into the FLN.-Reference:* Tlemcani, Rachid, State...

 which headed the Front de Liberation Nationale
Front de Libération Nationale
Front de Libération Nationale may refer to:* National Liberation Front , a socialist political party founded in 1954 for independence from France for Algeria...

(FLN). He was arrested by the French in 1956, after his airplane had been controversially intercepted and brought to France, and released in 1962. His arrest led to the resignation of Alain Savary
Alain Savary
Alain Savary was a French Socialist politician, deputy to the National Assembly of France during the Fourth and Fifth Republic, chairman of the Socialist Party and a government minister in the 1950s and in 1981, when he was nominated by President François Mitterrand as Minister of National...

, opposed to Guy Mollet
Guy Mollet
Guy Mollet was a French Socialist politician. He led the French Section of the Workers' International party from 1946 to 1969 and was Prime Minister in 1956–1957.-Early life and World War II:...

's policies. While in prison he was elected a vice-premier of the Algerian provisional government
Provisional government
A provisional government is an emergency or interim government set up when a political void has been created by the collapse of a very large government. The early provisional governments were created to prepare for the return of royal rule...

. Ben Bella's first language was French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, not Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

. He learned Arabic while in prison. While in Egypt, Ben Bella met the Egyptian president, Gamel Abdel Nasser. When Abdel Nasser brought Ben Bella to speak for the first time to an Egyptian audience, he broke into tears because he could not speak Arabic
Arabic language
Arabic is a name applied to the descendants of the Classical Arabic language of the 6th century AD, used most prominently in the Quran, the Islamic Holy Book...

. It has been said that he refused to teach his own daughter French because he wanted her to learn Arabic first and not be in the same position he was. Like many Arab
Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...

 militants of the time, he would come to describe himself as a "Nasserist
Nasserism is an Arab nationalist political ideology based on the thinking of the former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. It was a major influence on pan-Arab politics in the 1950s and 1960s, and continues to have significant resonance throughout the Arab World to this day. It also...

" and developed close ties to Egypt even before independence was achieved. Abdel Nasser's material, emotional and political support of the Algerian movement would come to cause him troubles, as it played a major role in France's choice to wage war on him during the 1956 Suez Crisis
Suez Crisis
The Suez Crisis, also referred to as the Tripartite Aggression, Suez War was an offensive war fought by France, the United Kingdom, and Israel against Egypt beginning on 29 October 1956. Less than a day after Israel invaded Egypt, Britain and France issued a joint ultimatum to Egypt and Israel,...


Due to Pakistan's support to the cause of Algerian struggle for self determination and independence, Ben Bella was given a Pakistani diplomatic passport to make his foreign travels possible in the face of the international hunt down by the French and their allies. Ben Bella also traveled on a Pakistani diplomatic passport during the years of his exile from Algeria in 1980s.

Algerian independence

After Algeria
Algeria , officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria , also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa with Algiers as its capital.In terms of land area, it is the largest country in Africa and the Arab...

's independence, Ben Bella quickly became more popular. In June 1962, he challenged the leadership of Premier Benyoucef Benkhedda
Benyoucef Benkhedda
Benyoucef Benkhedda was an Algerian politician. He headed the third GPRA exile government of the National Liberation Front , acting as a leader during the Algerian War...

; this led to several disputes among his rivals in the FLN, which were quickly suppressed by Ben Bella's rapidly growing number of supporters, most notably within the armed forces. By September, Bella was in control of Algeria by all but name, and was elected as premier in a one-sided election on 20 September, which was recognized by the United States on September 29. Algeria
Algeria , officially the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria , also formally referred to as the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, is a country in the Maghreb region of Northwest Africa with Algiers as its capital.In terms of land area, it is the largest country in Africa and the Arab...

 was admitted as the 109th member of the United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 on 8 October 1962.

In 1963 he was elected President in an uncontested election, and also led Algeria's costly defense against Moroccan
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

 invasion in the Sand war
Sand War
The Sand War or Sands War occurred along the Algerian-Moroccan border in October 1963, and was a Moroccan attempt to claim the Tindouf and the Béchar areas that France had annexed to French Algeria a few decades earlier.- Background :...

. After stabilizing the country, Ben Bella embarked on a series of popular but somewhat anarchic land reforms to the benefit of landless farmers, and increasingly turned to socialist rhetoric. His policy of Autogestion, or self-management, was adopted after the peasants seized former French lands. In balancing factions within the Algerian government, notably the FLN army, the former guerrillas and the state bureaucracy, his rule became increasingly autocratic. Eccentric and arrogant behaviour towards colleagues is said to have alienated many former supporters, and, while he promoted the development of his own cult of personality, by 1964 he was dedicating more time to foreign affairs than local political developments. In 1965, Ben Bella was deposed by army strongman and close friend Houari Boumédiènne in 1965, and placed under house arrest until 1980, when he was granted exile in Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

. He lived for 10 years in Lausanne
Lausanne is a city in Romandy, the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and is the capital of the canton of Vaud. The seat of the district of Lausanne, the city is situated on the shores of Lake Geneva . It faces the French town of Évian-les-Bains, with the Jura mountains to its north-west...

, but was allowed to return to his homeland in 1990.

Ahmed Ben Bella was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union
Hero of the Soviet Union
The title Hero of the Soviet Union was the highest distinction in the Soviet Union, awarded personally or collectively for heroic feats in service to the Soviet state and society.-Overview:...

 on April 30, 1964

Recent activities

Ben Bella was elected President of the International Campaign Against Aggression on Iraq
International Campaign Against Aggression on Iraq
The International Campaign Against Aggression on Iraq is a campaign umbrella group launched in Cairo 2003, at the Cairo Anti-war Conference, to oppose the invasion of Iraq....

 at its Cairo
Cairo , is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in the Arab world and Africa, and the 16th largest metropolitan area in the world. Nicknamed "The City of a Thousand Minarets" for its preponderance of Islamic architecture, Cairo has long been a centre of the region's political and cultural life...

 Conference. Ben Bella has described himself numerous times in interviews as an Islamist of a mild and peace loving flavour. Despite his former one party state he now vocally advocates democracy in Algeria. He has described the militant voice rising in the Islamic world as having developed from an incorrect and faulty interpretation of Islam
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

. He is a controversial figure, but widely respected for his role in the anti-colonial struggle, and seen by many Arab intellectuals as one of the last original Arab nationalists
Arab nationalism
Arab nationalism is a nationalist ideology celebrating the glories of Arab civilization, the language and literature of the Arabs, calling for rejuvenation and political union in the Arab world...


President Ben Bella is currently Chairperson of the African Union Panel of the Wise, which is mandated to advise the AU Commission on issues relevant to conflict prevention, management and resolution. The other members of the Panel are: President Miguel Trovoada
Miguel Trovoada
Miguel dos Anjos da Cunha Lisboa Trovoada was Prime Minister and President of São Tomé and Príncipe. Currently he is the Executive Secretary of the Gulf of Guinea Commission.-Background:...

 (Former President of São Tomé and Príncipe
São Tomé and Príncipe
São Tomé and Príncipe, officially the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe, is a Portuguese-speaking island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa. It consists of two islands: São Tomé and Príncipe, located about apart and about , respectively, off...

); DR. Salim A. Salim (former Secretary-General of the OAU); Dr. Brigalia Bam (current Chair of South Africa's Electoral Commission); and Mme. Elisabeth Pognon (former President of the Constitutional Court of Benin).

Further reading

Aussaresses, General Paul, The Battle of the Casbah: Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism in Algeria, 1955-1957. New York: Enigma Books, 2010. 978-1-929631-30-8.

External links

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