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The "Heroic" Stage: Ben Bella's Regime, 1962-65

With the declaration of independence, Ben Bella assumed the title of national president. The first postindependence elections were held for the new National Assembly on September 20, 1962, and on September 26, the National Assembly officially elected Ben Bella premier and formally declared the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria. Ben Bella formed his government from the ranks of the military and close personal and political allies, indicating that the factional infighting was far from suppressed.

The first and most pressing task of the new government was to restore some normality to the war-torn economy and polity. The end of the colonial period, although not entirely eliminating the French presence in Algeria, had dramatically reduced it. The mass exodus of Europeans resulted in a severe shortage of highly skilled workers, technicians, educators, and property-owning entrepreneurs. The national government quickly assumed ownership of the abandoned industrial and agricultural properties and began a program of autogestion, or socialist workers' management. Workers were responsible for overseeing their own administration through a series of elected officials. A national system of directors and agencies was charged with ensuring that the workers conformed to a national development plan.

A new constitution was drafted that committed the country to a socialist path, established a strong presidential system, and protected the hegemonic role of the FLN as the single political party. Ben Bella assumed control of the FLN executive as general secretary. In September 1963, Ben Bella was elected president for a five-year term. As the government increasingly tended toward a dictatorship, factionalism within the leadership began to resurface.

At its first congress in April 1964, the FLN adopted a draft statement, the Algiers Charter. The charter outlined the structure of the state and government and committed Algeria to the autogestion program envisioned by Ben Bella. The charter also reaffirmed the significance of the Islamic tradition in Algerian political culture.

Ben Bella was never able to capture the confidence of the Algerian public or the military. He was popular among the masses more for his status as a "historic chief of the revolution" than for his leadership competency. Despite efforts to thwart the rival military faction by strengthening the leftist groups, Ben Bella was unable to overcome the political challenge of his defense minister, Colonel Houari Boumediene, whose alliance had been critical to his installation as head of government in 1962. On June 19, 1965, Algeria's first postindependence president was overthrown by Boumediene in a bloodless coup.


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