Who was Hussein Dey, the Ottoman who ‘enabled’ France to annex Algeria?

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Recently, the controversy in Algeria regarding the final days of the Ottoman rule of Algeria – which led to the rapid fall of the city in the hands of the French – has returned to the surface.

The film “Hussein Dey”, which is in pre-production, has raised a strong debate around this Ottoman ruler "accused" of handing over Algeria to France.

A wide suburb in Algeria bears the name “Hussein Dey”, the last Dey of Algeria.

His full name was Hussein bin al-Hassan and ruled the country from 1818 to 1830. He was born in 1768 in Izmir, Turkey, and descended from a well-off family with important property.

Before he ruled Algeria, Hussein worked in the tobacco business in Istanbul before joining a military school and remained in Istanbul three years before going to Algeria in the year 1795.

He married a local girl in Algeria and had three daughters.

In the government’s courts, Hussein became a man of confidence to the Dey of Algeria Ali Khoja, who appointed him an imam because of his expertise in religious sciences and gave him the title of Khoja (meaning teacher), a function which made him close to the people and which wielded him great influence.

Hussein Khoja also took power over state property. He was a tax collector and then commander of the knights. Before his death, Ali Khoja recommended that Hussein Khoja succeed him.

Historians differed on the reasons for the collapse of the rule of Dey Hussein and the signing of the Treaty of Surrender with France, there are those who say that the Dey is the first responsible party, while others believe that strong circumstance caused the fall of Algeria.

(Photo: Thomas Bresson. François Georgin, graveur (1801 - 1863) via Wikicommons..
(Photo: Thomas Bresson. François Georgin, graveur (1801 - 1863) via Wikicommons..

Many sources confirm that France’s debt to Algeria were the direct cause of the colonization of the country and the end of the rule of the Dey and the Ottomans. In his book “The history of Algeria in the old and the modern,” researcher Mohamed Ben Mbarek al Mili says that the Dey expelled France's Consul Deval on the day of the Eid al Adha because France did not commit to paying its debts, he asked him to leave by waving his fan which angered the consul who told his government of what happened.

“The Dey was sitting while the consul was standing keeping a respectful distance,” he shouted: “Get out, and the Dey was pacing angrily to the point that one of the feathers of the fan touched the consul who seized the opportunity and withdrew, threatening that he would inform his government.”

In his book “Lectures on the Modern History of Algeria,” Algerian historian Abu al-Qasim Saadallah says that France, in retaliation for its consul, sent a warship to Algeria and asked the Dey for an official apology ordering him to raise the flag of France in all Algerian castles and to fire 100 in respect for the flag.”

He concluded saying: “the Dey refused all the conditions of France, the latter did not pay its debts, in fact its ruler declared war on Algeria, and began the French campaign of occupation in 1827, which ended with the fall of Algeria, while the French debt has not been paid to this day.”

Hussein Dey tried to resist through his army in vain, in the end he was forced to surrender. He was taken by the French ship Jean d'Arc on July 15th, 1830, to France and settled there for a short period of time with his family, he then left for Egypt where he passed away.

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