Abbas began his political career supporting the idea of integration with France with full equality for Algerian Muslims as French citizens. However, his position shifted in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and he became a proponent of Algerian autonomy. In 1938 he founded the Union Populaire Algérienne (Algerian Popular Union).
At the beginning of World War II Abbas enlisted in the French Army, although he never received a commission. He became disillusioned upon France's defeat in 1940 and the advent of the collaborationist Vichy government. In February 1943, following the invasion of Algeria and Morocco by American and British forces, Abbas presented the French and Allied commanders his "Manifesto of the Algerian People." Co-signed by other Algerian leaders, it proposed a new Algerian regime based upon equality, full freedoms, and partial autonomy. In May 1943, pressed by followers of the more radical nationalist leader Ahmed Messali Hadj, Abbas issued a supplement to the earlier manifesto that demanded "an Algerian state," although only through legal and peaceful means.
In 1944 Abbas, along with Messali, established the Amis du Manifeste de Libération (Friends of the Liberation Manifesto). After France's liberation from Nazi occupation, the French government imprisoned Abbas several times for his pro–Algerian independence and anti-French leanings. By the early 1950s, Abbas had concluded that an autonomous union with France was unworkable, and he then became a staunch advocate of full independence. In 1956, as the nationalist insurgency grew in Algeria, he escaped to Cairo, Egypt, and joined the Front de Libération Nationale (National Liberation Front).
On 18 September 1958 Abbas became premier of the Algerian provisional government in exile in Tunis, Tunisia. When France finally granted Algeria full independence in 1962, Abbas became president of the first National Assembly of Algeria. In 1976, however, he was placed under house arrest for his outspoken criticism of the Algerian government. Later he was allowed to go into exile.
Abbas wrote many books, including La nuit coloniale (The Colonial Night, 1962); Autopsie d'une guerre (Autopsy of a War, 1980); and L'indépendence confisquée (Confiscated Independence, 1984), his denunciation of the regimes headed by Ahmed Ben Bella and Houari Boumedienne. Abbas's pharmacy, which had been confiscated by the government, was returned to him in 1982. He was fully rehabilitated in 1984 but withdrew from political life. He died in Algiers, Algeria, on 24 December 1985.
Andrew J. Waskey
Horne, Alistair. A Savage War of Peace: Algeria, 1954–1962. New York: Viking, 1977.; Lacouture, Jean. Cinq hommes et la France. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1961.; Stora, Benjamin. Ferhat Abbas: Une utopie Algérienne. Paris: Denoel, 1995.