Popular Culture and Mass Politics in Wartime North Africa, 1939-1945

World War II led to the collapse of the Third Republic, which was replaced by Vichy France in July 1940. The new reactionary regime sought to remake the inhabitants into obedient subjects. Political dissent was banned. The nascent cult of Marshal Pétain impacted the lives of even the youngest. Muslim men and women proclaimed their allegiance to the state in highly ritualized public performances.

The colonial authorities started to implement anti-Jewish race laws by late 1940. As a result, many Jewish professionals lost the ability to exercise their jobs and Jewish students were automatically ex-matriculated. While typhoid fever was spreading quickly across the region, hundreds of Jewish doctors had to close their clinics. Algerian Jews lost their French citizenship.

Meanwhile, the economic situation became increasingly dire. Despite a strict rationing system, the state could not provide enough food, clothing, and other necessities of daily life to the general population.

The landing of the Allied forces on 8 November 1942 facilitated the emergence of a more liberal public culture. Those who had resisted the Vichy regime demanded justice. Yet this widespread call for freedom did not included everyone: Muslims continued to be excluded from formal politics and Algerian Jews still waited to regain their citizenship. "Fighting France" might have joined the struggle against Nazi Germany, but it maintained the racial hierarchies on which colonialism depended.

Material conditions worsened and ordinary people continued to suffer.

The German Wehrmacht occupied Tunisia in December 1942 and tormented the country's Jews through forced labor and the confiscation of private property for nearly six months.

The liberation of Europe ultimately depended not only on supply shipments from the United States, but the contributions of hundreds of thousands of Muslims, Jews, and European colons. Yet the shared experiences of the war years did not just bring together men and women across communal lines – it also accentuated the differences between them. A new social order based on equality remained elusive. As a consequence, anti-colonial nationalist movements now demanded independence rather than petitioning the authorities for concessions. North Africa's decolonization had begun.