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Fragmented Sovereignties in the Colonial Age: ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jazāʾirī (1808-1883) and the Making of an “Arab Hero” (Project funded by the SNSF)

Research project

At a young age, ʿAbd al-Qādir became the focus of transnational attention due to his fight against the French invasion of Algeria in the 1830s and 1840s and as the head of a polity in today’s western Algeria. When his troops were eventually defeated by the superior French forces, ʿAbd al-Qādir was interned in France in 1847, despite assurances of free passage in a self-imposed exile. It was not until 1852 that he was set free again by Louis Napoléon and allowed to settle down in the Ottoman Empire – first in Bursa and then in Damascus. In Damascus, ʿAbd al-Qādir quickly achieved the status of an influential notable, benefiting among others from French and Ottoman pension payments. He again gained wide international recognition as a result of his rescue of thousands of Christians during a massacre in Damascus in 1860.

Our research project aims to examine key moments in ʿAbd al-Qādir's life story and thereby provide new insights into transnational linkages in the Mediterranean and the beginnings of colonialism in the region. The focus is on how, during a period of European colonial expansion and profound social transformations, a militarily defeated and exiled Algerian notable was able to overcome various biographical fractures and rise to become an influential figure throughout the Arab world as well as an internationally respected personality. ʿAbd al-Qādir's variegated and mobile life story here serves as the framework within which the dynamics of social change and the reconfiguration of power relations in the era of colonialism become refracted and ultimately tangible in their complexity and contradictions.


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