The Administration of Ottoman Algeria (1517-1830)

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In the early sixteenth century Aruc and Hayru'd-Din Barbarossa established themselves as successful pirate captains in the western Mediterranean Sea. Aruc, the leader of their enterprises until his death in 1518, became aware of the political vacuum which existed in the Magrib and as a result worked to establish a personal kingdom. In 1517, he was invited to Algiers to drive out the Spanish and was killed fighting to maintain his position there. Hayru'd-Din then assumed control of Algiers and brought that city and all the territory he subsequently conquered into the Ottoman Empire. Barbarossa was unable to consolidate his position in North Africa and he withdrew to Cicelli because of the opposition of Spain and the rebellious tribes in the area around Algiers. By 1525 Hayru'd-Din was in a position to return to Algiers and fight successfully against his Spanish adversaries. In a series of military engagements the corsair reduced the Spanish Empire in North Africa to one enclave, Oran, and defeated the Spanish fleet. The Ottoman Sultan, Suleyman I, took notice of these accomplishments and made Barbarossa Kaptan Pasa (admiral) of the Turkish fleet. With Hayru'd-Din as admiral, the Ottoman navy dominated the Mediterranean Sea. Following Hayru'd-Din's death in 1546, control of Algiers passed quickly from the Barbarossa family to the Janissaries stationed in the Pasalik (province). While the province continued to recognize the Turkish Sultan as suzerain, political control remained in the hands of the Janissaries until the French conquest of Algeria in 1830. The fiction of direct Ottoman control was eventually abandoned when in 1710 the Sultan issued a firman (decree) that vested executive authority in a Dey elected by the Turkish soldiers stationed in Algeria. Despite the dominant role played by the Janissaries in Algeria, their economic dependence on the activities of the Ta'ifa ul-Ru'asa (corporation of corsair captains) forced them to share some political power with that body. The Ta'ifa ul-Ru'asa was ultimately responsible' for the institution of the Deylik in 1671 when the army failed to keep order in the Pasalik. The country did not suffer greatly from the political changes that occurred throughout this period, since the administration of the state remained in the hands of a bureaucracy which competently carried out the duties of government and maintained law and order. Indeed, though over half of the thirty elected Deys were assassinated, Algeria still functioned as a solvent, effective and generally well-ordered state. Eventually, however, the Pasalik's preoccupation with piracy and the designs of an Empire-conscious French minister l led Ottoman Algeria to the fatal conflict with France and to ultimate extinction.