the Mucem revives the epic of Abd el-Kader

the Mucem revives the epic of Abd el-Kader

« Abd el-Kader »

at the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, in Marseille (1)

Warlord, founder of the first Algerian state, but also savior of persecuted Christians in Damascus, great mystic and scholar, Abd el-Kader fascinates on both sides of the Mediterranean. His story is however less and less known in France, where it has disappeared from school textbooks. Through 250 works and documents, the Mucem (museum of European and Mediterranean civilizations) in Marseille has chosen to shed light on its multiple facets.

The idea comes from Father Christian Delorme, who gave the museum his collection of memorabilia and old newspapers around the emir. At the time of the commemorations of the 60e anniversary of Algerian independence, the priest from Lyon, a tireless artisan of interreligious dialogue, sees in Abd el-Kader “a figure who represents both pride for Algeria and a man of encounter and mediation who can help us reconcile our wounded memories”.

The Treaty of Tafna

At the Mucem, the journey begins with the entry into resistance of this son of a religious notable who, at the age of 24, takes the lead in the jihad against the French conquest in the region of Mascara. Among the archives on display, the Treaty of Tafna recalls that in 1837 General Bugeaud recognized in the name of France the sovereignty of the young emir over a large part of western and central Algeria. For two years, he organized an administration and a regular army there, minted his currency minted with verses from the Koran (exhibited in the window), had Turkish abandoned in favor of Arabic, which became the official language, while trying to forge diplomatic alliances, as evidenced here by a letter to the consul of the United States.

In 1843, the French soldiers took the smalah of Abd el-Kader, its nomadic capital. Painted by Horace Vernet, the immense panorama of this defeat, which remained at the Palace of Versailles, is presented to the Mucem by a film. Alongside him, weapons from the smalah (2) and paintings from French museums evoke these years of struggle and neighboring resistance, particularly in Kabylie. An old engraving shows the exchange of hundreds of prisoners proposed in 1841 to Mgr Antoine-Adolphe Dupuch, first bishop of Algiers, by Abd el-Kader, a gesture that remained as a precursor to humanitarian rights in times of war. In 1847, the emir ended up laying down his arms against the promise of being able to go into exile in the Middle East…

A strategist open to dialogue

The section devoted to his imprisonment in France revives the inglorious memory of Louis-Philippe’s perjury. Taken by Gustave Le Gray, a photograph of the vanquished, dark eyes stubbornly averted from the lens, betrays his dismay. He is not the only one, given the “list of patients treated at the Château d’Amboise” where 25 members of his suite will die. However, other documents show that “the illustrious captive” does not give up, forging friendly ties with great personalities, addressing a poem of praise to the Archbishop of Paris. Both a strategist and open to dialogue, this Sufi mystic seduces. Louis Napoleon played it in 1852, on the eve of the plebiscite which was to bring him to the presidency, by freeing the emir and inviting him to take part in the ballot, an event hailed at the time in one of L’Illustration.

Authorized to go into exile in Turkey then in Syria, French and English spies on his tail, Abd el-Kader “maintains a careful balance between loyalty and distance», points out a historian in the catalog. Aspiring to the modernization of the Arab world, he visited the Universal Exhibitions in London and Paris, supported the Suez Canal project, which he saw as a “Isthmus between East and West”. The emir also deepened his faith during retreats and spiritual teachings, as evidenced at the Mucem by the manuscript of his Book of stops.

An image retrieved by advertising

In 1860, sensing the imminence of anti-Christian riots in Damascus, Abd el-Kader obtained arms from the French consul and, with his supporters, saved many Maronites. From then on, his popularity in France was at its height. Gathered in showcases at the Mucem, knick-knacks, stamps and advertisements for chocolate or…wine show off his bearded face in abundance! Contacted by the Freemasons, the fine politician agreed to be initiated in 1864. To the point of permanently blurring his image in Algeria where some still consider him, today, as a traitor having made a pact with the colonial power…

Marseille: the Mucem revives the epic of Abd el-Kader

In its desire for reconciliation, the exhibition eludes the controversies that still taint the memory of the emir. At the end of his life, he dreamed of himself as a peacemaker declaring: “If Muslims and Christians had wanted to give me their attention, they would have become, inside and outside, brothers. » Rehabilitated in 1947 by the young writer Kateb Yacine as a hero of Algerian independence, recovered in 1966 by President Boumediene who had his remains repatriated to Algiers, Abd el-Kader embodies all the painful tensions of this history shared between two shores.


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