The Arab Center for Research and Policy Centers welcomed a lecture from Amal Ghazal at the weekly seminar on 24 April 2019. Dr. Ghazal is a professor of history and the director of the Centre for Comparative Muslim Studies at the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada and presented on "North Africa from the War of Tripoli to World War I: between Independence and the Ottoman state".

Beginning the lecture, Dr. Ghazal highlighted the political and intellectual movements and activities in the M'zab Valley in the Algerian Sahara during the First World War. She linked the Mozabites with the Ottoman and Maghrebi intellectual and political networks calling for Islamic unity and the need to fight French colonialism in North Africa.

The lecture focused on the efforts of the Mozabites, through their movements within the framework of the Ottoman empire and Maghreb during the First World War, to obtain autonomy and stay separate to Algeria as a French colony. In this regard, Dr. Ghazal highlighted that the experience of the Mozabites sheds light on three topics related to the history of the First World War era:

  • First, the need to find a single narrative linking the Italian occupation of Tripoli in 1911 and its consequences, and the events of the First World War in North Africa. The Italian occupation, according to Dr. Ghazal, led to the creation of resistance networks between Tripoli, Tunisia and Algeria (as well as between the Sahel and the Sahara) linked directly to the Ottoman administration in Istanbul. It was the same networks that led the resistance in North Africa during the First World War, and also within the framework of supporting the Ottoman Empire. Mobilization and preparedness during the World War were not born of the moment but were a continuation of developments during the Italian occupation.
  • Second, the lecture highlighted that the Italian occupation had reintroduced the interest of Moroccan political activists - specifically in Algeria and Tunisia - in the Ottoman Union, and to rally around the Ottoman state as a "lifeline". The activists feared that the occupation of Tripoli would lead to the complete end of the Ottoman presence in northern Africa and the elimination of any remaining hope for Ottoman support for the restoration of sovereignty from the European occupation, especially the French occupation of Tunisia and Algeria. In this context, Dr. Ghazal demonstrated that the idea of the unity of Morocco under the umbrella of the Ottoman state crystalized as an anti-colonial political movement, and that these Maghreb-Ottoman identities emerged again during the First World War. This connection between the Maghreb and the idea of the Ottoman state, as a strategic project and identity during the World War, is evidence - in Ghazal's opinion – of the continuity related to the importance of the Ottoman framework in North Africa, despite the French colonialism.
  • Third, the author concluded by presenting political developments during this war in North Africa, which contrasted with the stereotypical portrayal of the world war as a catalyst for the emergence of anti-Ottoman political movements, including nationalist movements. Thus, the Lebanese historian concluded that the experience of the Mozabites and their quest for independence outside the framework of Algeria, but within the framework of the Ottoman and Maghrebi unity, were evidence of alternatives to the typical narratives of the First World War.