Efforts for the liberation of Algeria and Tunisia: A convention in Berlin, convoked by Sheikh Salih al-Sharif

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The photograph shows a group of men and one woman standing on a stairway in front of a facade. In the background, chandeliers are visible. Sheikh Salih al-Sharif is standing in the first row, second from the left. This was taken to mark the establishment of the Algerian-Tunisian committee in 1916.


The picture shows the founding event of the Algerian-Tunisian committee in Berlin in 1916. On this day, a quite diverse group of people met in the Hotel Esplanade in Berlin. A declaration of independence for Algeria and Tunisia was read out and anti-French speeches were given. The event was covered by the German press and picked up by French newspapers a few days after. The audience was formed of Tunisian and Egyptian nationalists, German and Ottoman officials, high-ranking military commanders, representatives from economic circles, and scholars of Oriental studies. Many of those present were engaged in running Germany’s 'programme for revolution'. This photograph offers a snap-shot of Germany's wartime strategy to partner up with anti-colonial activists from French North Africa, India, Persia, Georgia, and Flanders. This strategic partnering took many forms. Such collaboration between committees and Germany were not restricted to only matters of propaganda, but also (as in the case of the Indian committee) included direct military undertakings or the organisation of insurrection or infiltration (such as into India or Persia).
The Algerian-Tunisian committee was founded in January 1916 by the religious scholar Sheikh Salih Al-Sharif al-Tunisi who had been sent to Berlin as a Turkish representative by Enver Pasha in 1914. In comparison to the Indian and the Persian committees, the Algerian-Tunisian committee was short-lived and only issued one official publication. The committee comprised of only three members: Sheikh Salih Al-Sharif al-Tunisi, the Tunisian Kadi Ismael Sefaihi and the Geneva-based Mohammed Bash Hamba. In line with the other committees, it relied on an existing network of North African exiles originating from the Algerian-Tunisian migrant community in Istanbul.
Al-Tunisi had cooperated with German propagandists in the newly founded Information Service for the East (Nachrichtenstelle für den Orient) since autumn 1914. Here, German officials produced propaganda leaflets in Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, or Persian to convince Muslim colonial soldiers to desert the Entente’s army at the front or revolt against foreign rule in their home countries. The committees were integrated in military and propagandist activities of Germany's ‘program for revolution’, coordinated by section IIIb of the Political Section of the Reserve General staff (run by Rudolf Nadolny) and the Information Service for the East. These committees were given the resources to meet and publish on a regular basis, particularly the Indian Independence committee and the Persian Independence committee.
Germany hoped that, in the long run, the independence committees would play their part in creating a post-war order favourable to the Central Powers. They hoped to open up new markets in independent nation states, and they also hoped that friendly engagement with colonised peoples would bias colonial soldiers and prisoners-of-war, leading them to defect.