The Middle East and North Africa were central regions in the history of modern French colonialism. France’s second colonial empire was founded in Algeria in 1830, after the loss of most of the first overseas empire in the Americas in the eighteenth century and the final defeat of Napoleon in Europe in 1815. France’s ”Islamic” empire was concentrated in North Africa, which remained the lynchpin both of a wider ”French Africa” stretching far south of the Sahara, and of France’s strategic position in the Mediterranean. However, the conquest of the Maghrib (Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco) was preceded by involvement in Egypt that, beginning with the Napoleonic occupation of 1798 to 1801, also had long-term significance, and was followed by rule over Syria and Lebanon in the Mashriq (Levant) between 1920 and 1946. Formal French control at the height of the empire therefore extended to both major regions of the Arab world, with informal influence (through schools, commercial interests, and, especially in the nineteenth century, technical and military advisors) reaching more widely, for example, into Iran.

While French imperial interests and policies were frequently formulated in direct competition, and often in real or imagined conflict, with those of Britain, the rationales and practices of French colonial rule in the Middle East were similar to those of the British in many respects. Perceived French commercial and strategic interests dictated decisions about colonial expansion to a large extent; colonial administration was for the most part ”indirect,” operating through local intermediaries, and the French, like the British, attempted to secure long-term influence in their colonized territories after the departure of occupation troops and administrators. Unlike the British in the Middle East, however, the French, particularly in North Africa, engaged in large-scale colonization of land by European settlers, and many French imperialists considered their project as part of a specifically French vocation to promote a republican and humanist ”civilization” worldwide. Perhaps most enduringly, French, like British, colonialism in the region created the context that shaped influential contemporary ideas about the societies and cultures of the Middle East and of Islam. These ideas were of great significance not only in the creation of dominant Western perceptions of ”the Orient,” but in the self-perception and political organization of the postcolonial Middle East itself.


Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt in 1798, and the subsequent occupation of the country that was ended by British and Ottoman forces in 1801, has often been seen as the moment marking the beginning of the Middle East’s ”modern” history, a fact demonstrating the salience of imperialism in Europe-centered conceptions of history, and overlooking internal developments in the region as well as its connections with and beyond Europe in the eighteenth century. The occupation was important, however, in that it effectively separated Egypt from the Ottoman Empire, a significant moment in the long process of the empire’s partition by European powers, and it demonstrates the importance of the broader social and cultural, as well as specifically political and strategic, aspects of imperialism that would continue to characterize the colonial relationship between France and the Middle East. As a strategic episode in France’s revolutionary war against the monarchical powers of Europe, the Egyptian expedition was intended to attack Britain’s communications with India. Coming in the wake of the French Revolution, it also marked the beginning of a newly asymmetrical relationship between post-Enlightenment, revolutionary, and ”modern” France and an Arab-Muslim world imagined by French writers, travelers, soldiers, and politicians as backward, irrational, and fanatically superstitious. A major expression of the new, scientific understanding of the ”backward” East by the ”advanced” West was the Description of Egypt.

The French occupation was resisted by the Egyptian population of Cairo, who rebelled in October 1798, and in the countryside. Napoleon himself remained in Egypt only a few months, and French troops were evacuated in September 1801. France retained great influence, however, as a political, economic, and cultural power, for the dynasty founded by the new ruler of Egypt, Muhammad Ali (or Mehmet Ali, r. 1805-1849), an Albanian soldier who arrived with the Ottoman army in 1801 and took effective control of the country in 1811. A series of Egyptian educational missions was sent to study in France from 1827 onward. Under the engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps, the Suez Canal project began in the 1850s as a primarily French undertaking. In 1876 France and Britain began exercising control of Egypt’s finances, to guarantee payments on Egyptian debts to European creditors. Politically, France eventually gave way to

Britain, when British troops occupied Egypt in 1882, but both in the legal system and culturally, French influence remained significant. French tutors educated members of the royal family, and French remained a language of the Egyptian ruling class into the twentieth century. Egyptian law was (and remains) largely derived from the French model.

French troops returned to Egypt alongside British forces in the two powers’ last colonial adventure in the Middle East, the Suez invasion of October 1956, when both governments, in collusion with Israel, attempted to overthrow Gamal ‘Abd al-Nasser’s Arab nationalist regime. At Suez, however, France was not primarily interested in Egypt, but in ending Egyptian support for the independence of France’s last colonial territory in the region, Algeria.


The Napoleonic army that invaded Egypt in 1798 had been supplied with grain from Algeria during campaigns in Italy, and from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, the rulers of Algiers dealt as diplomatic equals with European monarchs. The Ottoman Empire exercised a nominal suzerainty over the North African regencies of Algiers and Tunis, but a local dynasty was established in Tunis in 1705, and the rulers of Algiers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were selected from among leading members of the city’s military forces, governing notables, and corsair captains (privateers). The pursuit of corsairing by ships from Algiers, when European fleets had largely abandoned this form of warfare, was partly the result of European merchants’ closing their markets to North African shipping at the end of the 1700s, but gave rise to the stereotype of ”Barbary piracy” as ”the scourge of Christendom.” This image persisted through the colonial period. Debts on Algiers’ grain shipments to revolutionary France remained unpaid by the Restoration government, and in 1827 a confrontation in which the ruler of Algiers, Husayn Dey, struck the French consul with a fly-whisk, escalated into a French naval blockade. In 1830, beset by domestic pressure, the government of Charles X (r. 1824-1830) launched an invasion that toppled the Ottoman establishment in Algiers. Charles X himself fell from power only weeks later in the 1830 revolution, and the new government inherited an indecisive military occupation of Algiers. As projects for both military and civilian colonization gained support, however, the conquest expanded in the east and west of the country, and southward toward the Sahara.

Resistance to the conquest emerged almost immediately, as Algerian leaders, sometimes in rivalry with each other, responded to the collapse of central authority.

In the west, the emir ‘Abd al-Qadir (1808-1883), acting at first in the name of the Moroccan sultan, defeated his local rivals with French help and tried to come to terms with the French, to limit their occupation to coastal enclaves while establishing his own state inland. In the east, the city of Constantine fell in 1837 but its Ottoman governor, Ahmad Bey, led resistance in the Aures Mountains until 1848. Local revolts broke out throughout the country, and French troops penetrated further inland and into the mountains in “pacification” campaigns, repressing resistance on the edge of the Sahara in 1849 and in the Djurdjura Mountains of Kabylia in 1857. ‘Abd al-Qadir surrendered in 1847, and the last major revolt was crushed in Kabylia in 1871.

By 1872 Algeria had lost one-third of its 1830 population of about three million. To the colonial lobby, influenced by social Darwinist ideas, this was a sign of inevitable racial decline among the “natives,” who were destined to be replaced by “industrious” European settlers. Later Algerian nationalist writers called it “genocide.” The European population, however, never expanded significantly after the turn of the twentieth century, and instead of presiding over a demographic replacement of “natives” by colonists, colonial politics became obsessed by the demographic “threat” of a rapidly growing Algerian population (5 million in the 1920s, ca. 9 million by 1954), apparently set to overwhelm the Europeans (ca. 800,000 in the 1920s, ca. 900,000 in 1954). White minority rule was preserved by refusing full French citizenship to Algerian Muslims (indigenous Algerian Jews became citizens by decree in 1870), limiting or blocking the reform programs that began to be proposed after World War I, and repressing nationalist opposition from the late 1920s into the 1950s. By the time of the centenary celebrations of “French Algeria” in 1930, the country, considered as three departements of metropolitan France, was seen by officials, settlers, and travelers as an “integral part of France”—as, indeed, it had been designated in 1848.

Algeria’s situation set it apart from other Middle Eastern colonial territories: It was ruled as part of France’s “interior,” its economy was entirely geared to French interests (especially the export of minerals, cereals, and wine), and its administration, public services, industry, infrastructure, and major landholdings were almost entirely controlled by a large and assertive European population. Algeria’s precolonial social, political, and cultural institutions were either destroyed or subjected to pressures that were generally experienced with lower intensity in other parts of the region; much of what survived colonization was uprooted in the war of independence (19541962), which dislocated much of Algeria’s rural society as well as finally precipitating the departure of the colonial European population.

By the later nineteenth century, this Algerian model of total conquest ”by the sword and the plough” (war and settlement) gave way to supposedly more enlightened methods known as ”peaceful penetration” and colonial development. The security of the Algerian frontier and the prospect of land and investments encouraged colonial soldiers and commercial lobbyists to press for the extension of French rule to Tunisia and Morocco. In Tunisia, the state-strengthening policies of Ahmed Bey (r. 18371855) and the promulgation of a constitution in 1861 were intended to prevent foreign domination. Funding the expansion of the state and its powers, however, led to unmanageable foreign debt and rural insurrection when taxation was increased to meet debt repayments. British, French, and Italian influence in Tunisia’s politics and the economy increased, and in 1869 the regency was forced into bankruptcy, with an international financial commission set up to protect the interests of European creditors. On the pretext of securing the Algerian border against incursions by Tunisian tribes, a French military expedition occupied Tunisia in 1881. A protectorate was imposed, under which at first the management of Tunisia’s defense and foreign relations, and then also domestic government and the economy, fell under the control of a French resident-general and his staff. Officially the resident-general was only chief advisor to the Tunisian monarch, the bey, but the beys quickly became almost powerless figureheads in whose name policy was enacted by French officials appointed by the foreign ministry in Paris. Beys who attempted to assert their own authority were threatened with military force, as in 1922, when Muhammad al-Nasir Bey’s palace was surrounded with troops to prevent his abdication in protest against French policy, or removed, as in 1943, when Munsif Bey, who opposed Vichy France’s anti-Semitic laws and hoped to restore his own sovereignty, was deposed and exiled.

Control of land, towns, industry, and commerce passed largely into European hands. By 1914 European control of the country’s productive resources had already almost reached its maximum extent—about one-fifth of the total cultivated land, and almost half of the richest land, was owned by just under five thousand Europeans. A European landholding averaged 250 hectares (618 acres), whereas the Tunisian rural population of about 480,000 families retained holdings averaging about 6 hectares (15 acres) each, or became tenants of landlords at increasing rates of rent. The tendency toward concentration of landholdings was marked throughout French North Africa, with small colonial farms as well as formerly private, collective, or tribal lands being absorbed into large, European-owned estates. In the fertile area around Tunis, by 1950 Europeans held between 30 and 50 percent of all cultivated land. The concentration of the best land in the hands of a small group of individual and corporate owners paralleled the increasing urbanization of both the European and indigenous populations. In Algeria, in the early 1870s almost half the European population lived on the land; only a quarter remained by 1936. And whereas in the 1890s the Europeans outnumbered the Muslims in major Algerian towns, by the mid-1930s the proportions of urban population were equal, and by 1954 there were almost twice as many Muslims as non-Muslims in the main urban centers. French political dominance was also threatened by rival European powers, especially in Tunisia, where in 1901 there were only 24,000 French, but over 71,000 Italian, citizen settlers. French predominance was ensured by naturalization campaigns, in which Europeans of Maltese, Italian, Spanish, Greek, and other origins, as well as indigenous Jewish families and the few Muslims who converted to Christianity, were encouraged to take French citizenship. In Tunisia, the French colony began to outnumber the Italians only in the 1930s. But among Algerian or Tunisian Muslims, only a small number, mainly decorated war veterans, members of important families, or those with access to education and liberal professions, wished or were allowed to gain the full political rights that came with French citizenship.

Louis Lyautey with Sultan Moulay Youssef, Circa 1925• Louis Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey, the French military leader and resident-general of Morocco from 1912 to 1925, dines with Moulay Youssef, sultan of Morocco.

Louis Lyautey with Sultan Moulay Youssef, Circa 1925• Louis Hubert Gonzalve Lyautey, the French military leader and resident-general of Morocco from 1912 to 1925, dines with Moulay Youssef, sultan of Morocco.

Similar factors as those leading to the annexation of Tunisia were responsible for the gradual incorporation of Morocco, first under French economic and military influence, and finally, in 1912, into formal political control under a protectorate. The Comite de l’Afrique francaise (French Africa Committee), a lobby group of business and political interests set up in Paris in 1890, and military officers anxious both to secure Algeria’s western borders and to extend and consolidate their African conquests, pushed for French dominance in Morocco against Spanish, Italian, German, and especially British rivals, all of whom had material or declared commercial and political interests in the country. Increasing European commercial and financial control over Moroccan products and markets increased local resentment and instability, undermining the credibility of the sultan. The ruling Alawi (or Filali) dynasty had been established in the seventeenth century. The sultan was understood to be invested with authority by virtue of the recognition of Morocco’s religious and political leaders that he would uphold the law, the integrity of the country, and the duty to defend it from foreign enemies. The increasing instability of the throne, however, largely caused by imperial penetration, contributed to the insecurity that European powers saw as anarchy threatening their interests, and hence to further pressure for direct imperial intervention. In 1907, when riots broke out in Casablanca, the French navy shelled the city and landed troops (some of whom joined in the rioting). When Moroccan tribes rose in revolt against the French occupation of Casablanca, they called on the sultan’s brother to replace him, leading to civil war in 1907 to 1908. The new sultan, ‘Abd al-Haflz, however, was financially dependent on France, which now controlled Morocco’s internal revenue, banking, and remaining state-owned commerce. In 1910, a French military mission took over the organization of the Moroccan army. When unrest broke out again in 1911, French troops occupied the major cities, and the sultan had to accept the establishment of a protectorate. Most of the country fell under French control, while a Spanish protectorate was set up in the Rif Mountains of the north and in the coastal strip of desert to the south that became the Spanish Sahara (now Western Sahara). The city of Tangier, on the strait of Gibraltar, became an international zone.

The protectorate regime in Morocco was especially influenced by the work and ideas of Louis-Hubert Lyautey. France’s first resident-general in Rabat, Lyautey was an army officer who served first in Indochina (Vietnam) as it fell under French control, and who played an important part in the gradual extension of French rule to Morocco after his arrival in the Sahara, on the border between Algeria and Morocco, in 1903. Lyautey ruled Morocco for thirteen years, and was buried there when he died in 1934. When his remains were transferred to Les Invalides in Paris in 1961, he was officially celebrated as the theorist of French imperialism at its most “humane.” Lyautey’s model of colonial conquest and rule was the antithesis of what had happened in Algeria. Instead of total conquest by force of arms, the destruction of indigenous institutions, and the takeover of land by thousands of colonial settlers, Lyautey proposed what he called “peaceful penetration” of territory and the “association” of local institutions and society with what he saw as the enlightening and modernizing influence of France. Peaceful penetration meant that armed force was to be used as a last resort; instead, the army should establish outposts providing security for travel and trade, medical assistance, and policing, and reach agreements with local leaders whose positions would be strengthened by the French, and through whom French influence would spread. Association meant indirect rule, by a handful of European planners and administrators, through existing local institutions, which, like the law, customs, and way of life of the people, must be preserved, while their environment and economy would be modernized, rationalized, and made more productive.

The actual operation of colonial rule hardly worked as straightforwardly as the theory supposed. After 1913, when landownership began to be registered and traded on an open market, Moroccan peasants became landless cultivators or tenants on estates owned by local notables or by Europeans, and property transactions involving Europeans, as elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East, were taken out of the jurisdiction of local courts and entrusted to French courts. The attempt to preserve and codify local custom provoked the beginning of mass nationalism in 1930, when a decree was passed placing civil law in Berber-speaking areas (much of rural Morocco) under Berber customary law, and criminal law under the jurisdiction of French administrators; the decree was seen as an attack on the country’s Islamic law and customs, and as an attempt to divide Berber-speaking Moroccans from their Arabic-speaking Muslim compatriots. The careful preservation of Morocco’s urban heritage in the great medieval cities of Fez and Marrakesh led to the creation of a kind of “urban apartheid,” with the old cities’ development frozen and new, effectively racially segregated European towns developing alongside, but distinct from, them. The European population, too, especially in the rapidly developing city of Casablanca, became numerous and relatively privileged, and when decolonization became imminent in the 1950s, European terrorist groups emerged to oppose it in Morocco (under the name Presence frangaise, French Presence) as in Tunisia (La Main rouge, the Red Hand) and Algeria (Organisation armee secrete, Secret Armed Organization). As in Algeria and Tunisia, however, colonialism in Morocco also contained space for North Africans to challenge the system on its own terms. In 1934, Moroccan leaders called for a “real protectorate” that would work in the interests of Moroccans, just as Tunisian constitutionalist leaders in 1905 to 1907 called for a reformed protectorate to benefit Tunisians, and Algerian liberals from 1912 to 1936 made proposals for Algerians to gain full civil and political rights within French Algeria.

Despite Lyautey’s theory, armed force remained integral to French colonialism in the Maghrib. After the occupation of Fez, messianic religious figures led resistance in the north and south of Morocco until 1918, and so-called pacification campaigns continued in the countryside until 1934. In the Rif Mountains of the north, French troops and air power were used in 1926 to 1927 to repress the resistance led by the emir ‘Abd al-Krlm al-Khattabi, who set up an independent Republic of the Rif after defeating the Spanish army in 1921. Armed resistance to colonial rule reemerged in both Morocco and Tunisia in 1952, and in 1953 the sultan, Muhammad ben Yusuf, was deposed at gunpoint by the French and forcibly removed into exile. But by 1955 the French government, faced with the end of one colonial war in Indochina (Vietnam), and the beginning of another in Algeria, opted for a negotiated transition to independence for the protectorates, in Morocco on March 2, and in Tunisia on March 20, 1956. In Algeria, however, the renunciation of French sovereignty was unthinkable, and decolonization came only through another long war, from November 1954 to March 1962.


Formal French rule in the eastern Mediterranean was more mitigated, and of shorter duration, than in the Maghrib. Nonetheless, here too French colonialism both drew on and departed from an earlier, longer-term historical relationship with the region. And in the Arab east as in North Africa, France’s empire sought to imprint a durable cultural and social influence as well as expanding the metropole’s political and strategic power.

France’s relationship with the Ottoman Empire had been ambiguous, as part of the long struggle for dominance among the European powers. The Ottomans, as the world’s most powerful Islamic state and the dominant power in the eastern Mediterranean and southeastern Europe, were important allies of the French monarchy against the Holy Roman Empire, dominated by the rival Habsburg dynasty, during the sixteenth century. From 1853 to 1856, French as well as British soldiers fought in alliance with the Ottomans to protect the empire against Russian expansion in the Crimean war. At the same time, French expeditions against Egypt, Algiers, and Tunis captured territory that had been under at least nominal Ottoman sovereignty, and French commercial and financial expansion in the nineteenth century played an active part in imperial Europe’s penetration of the central Ottoman state. From 1890 to 1914, France was the largest investor in the Ottoman Empire, with double the investments of the nearest European rival, Germany. When the impossibility of servicing debt on state loans led to Ottoman bankruptcy in 1875, France was part of the international consortium managing the state’s debt and the revenues appropriated to pay it, 63 percent of which was in French hands by 1913. After 1883 a French-owned agency controlled the production, processing, and tax revenue on tobacco in the empire. The port of Beirut, and the road and railway linking Beirut with Damascus, were constructed by French companies.

As in Morocco, economic interests became the prelude to political control when the Ottoman state, allied with Germany in World War I, collapsed following defeat in 1918, and its territories were partitioned. France’s diplomacy at the end of World War I, which aimed at control of Syria and Lebanon as France’s share of the former empire’s provinces, was based on these material interests combined with longstanding cultural claims—especially the claim, originally made by Louis XIV in 1649, to protect the Maronite community in Lebanon (members of a Christian church linked to Roman Catholicism). French troops occupied the Lebanese coast and pushed inland, but an Arab government set up in Damascus in 1918 attempted to assert sovereignty over as much of historic Ottoman Syria (present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine) as could be preserved from European rule. Financially dependent on Britain, however, and faced with internal instability and French force, the Damascus government fell before French troops who occupied all of Lebanon and Syria in 1920, under a mandate from the League of Nations for the governance of the two countries. The mandate system devised after World War I changed the international rules under which colonialism operated, so that Syria and Lebanon were never “French” in the way protectorate Morocco and Tunisia were, much less annexed as Algeria had been. European rule was now supposed to guide the political and economic development of mandated territories until they were judged capable of self-government. If national independence was explicitly foreseen as the outcome of colonial rule, however, European powers hoped to create states in the mandated countries that would be locally effective and stable rulers while remaining firmly under imperial influence after formal independence was declared. The effects of imperial strategies intended to ensure this, however, turned out to be unpredictable.

The long-standing French relationship with the Maronites in Lebanon helped shape a Lebanese republic partitioned from Syria in such a way that the Maronite community became politically dominant, but in a “Greater Lebanon” that was made economically viable only by the addition of areas inhabited mainly by Sunni and Shia Muslims. The institutionalization of confessional communities as political units, and the country’s changing demography, meant that the National Pact of 1943, which set the proportions of each community’s political representation, was soon out of step with the country’s social makeup. Divergent loyalties on local, regional, and international levels—to conservative and Christian Lebanese nationalism, radical and secular Arab nationalism, or, more recently, revolutionary and Utopian transnational Islamism—later aggravated these tensions when the Lebanese state imploded in civil war in 1958 and again in 1975.

Gunnery Instruction in Lebanon, Circa 1925. Soldiers of the regular French Levant army instruct volunteer forces in the use of rifles in preparation for threatened attacks by Druzes and revolutionary Syrians.

Gunnery Instruction in Lebanon, Circa 1925. Soldiers of the regular French Levant army instruct volunteer forces in the use of rifles in preparation for threatened attacks by Druzes and revolutionary Syrians.

In Syria, French rule was imposed against widespread popular opposition and was faced with a major revolt in 1925 to 1927, repressed by massive military force. At the same time, Lyautey’s Moroccan model of imperial administration was now orthodox doctrine for colonial officers and officials, and many aspects of the theory of rule recently applied to North Africa were adopted in the Levant. This included ideas about the Middle East’s population being fundamentally characterized by division into separate, mutually hostile, ethnic or religious groups. French administrators arrived in Lebanon and Syria with ready-made assumptions that, like the divisions they believed to exist between Berbers and Arabs, cities and countryside, peasants and nomads, in North Africa, the Levant’s people existed only as ethnic groups or sects, in anarchy among themselves and having known nothing but oppression by “despotic” Muslim rule under the Ottoman sultans. Developed and articulate political demands of Syrians for unity and independence were ignored as agitation fomented against French rule—supposedly by the British. On this basis, colonial rule divided Syria into autonomous ethnic mini-states, and although this policy was subsequently revised, French administration continued to instrumentalize preconceived social fracture lines, attempting to find support in the countryside against the cities, where the most organized opposition to the mandate was located, and in Christian and other religious minority groups against the Sunni Muslim community and its dominant urban notables. The previously isolated and heterodox Alawi community, an offshoot of Shia Islam living mainly in the mountainous northwest of Syria, were heavily recruited into the military, giving them a new-found dominant role in Syria’s armed forces after independence.

After the failure of negotiations with Syrian leaders for a treaty relationship in 1933, unrest and a general strike in 1936 forced concessions from the French and a Franco-Syrian treaty that provided for nominal independence and allowed elections to be held. But the Kutla, or National Bloc government that took office in November 1936, resigned three years later, after the French parliament failed to ratify the 1936 treaty and agreed to cede the partly Turkish-populated district of Alexandretta, in northwest Syria, to Turkey. Military rule was imposed and the parliaments dissolved in 1939, with the onset of World War II, and in 1941 British and Free French troops invaded Syria and Lebanon, removing the Vichy government’s administration there. In 1943 the constitutions, suspended in both countries before the outbreak of the war, were restored and new elections held, giving majorities to nationalist governments who proclaimed independence from France. The French administration began to transfer civilian government functions to the nationalists, but attempted to maintain France’s cultural and military presence in both countries. After mass protests and violent demonstrations in both Syria and Lebanon, France was forced by international pressure, particularly Anglo-American, and eventually from the U.N., as well as by massive popular demand, to evacuate its troops from Syria in April, and from Lebanon in December 1946.


The lasting influence of French colonialism on the shape of society, culture, and politics in France’s former territories in the Middle East, and on their relationship to the former colonial power, was not always what the imperial planners had intended, but in several ways it continued to be important. The models of the colonial state, as a republic, in Lebanon, Syria, and Algeria, or the monarchy in Morocco, and its bureaucratic practices were largely taken over into the independent nation-states that followed. In Morocco, former officers of the colonial army became the mainstays of the armed forces and internal security when the sultan returned from exile as King Muhammad V, and the institution of the monarchy, through which the French had attempted to rule but that had become the central symbol of nationalism, inherited a stronger state than it had ever possessed before the protectorate. In Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, the nationalist leader who had studied law in France, embarked on a rationally authoritarian, top-down “modernization” of law, the economy, and society, enabling important social liberalization, especially in the status of women, but never political democratization. The sectarian political divisions, and the class positions of dominant and subordinate social groups that they often expressed, continued to influence developments in Lebanon and Syria. Despite the rejection of French cultural preeminence, French educational models and institutions, especially French-language secondary schools in North Africa and Egypt, and higher education institutions, notably St. Joseph University in Lebanon, remained important in the education of new ruling groups. France remains important in the commercial and political connections of social and cultural elites from its formerly colonial countries, and with the exception of Algeria and Syria, these territories (including Egypt) remain members of the intergovernmental “Francophonie” organization, a grouping of francophone countries, especially those formerly part of the French empire.The connections between France and its former colonial territories in the region are also significant for migration, tourism, investment, and trade.

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