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A number of works have dealt with the socio-political and economic history of Algeria under the Ottoman protectorate; yet the intellectual and cultural life of this period remains poorly explored. We examine the question of ‘progress’ against the intellectual and religious life of Ottoman Algeria, analysing the reasons behind the negligent European intellectual influences upon Ottoman Algeria. We review pre-colonial Algeria’s cultural and intellectual landscape in order to assess the reaction of Algerian society to European ideas originating in the French Revolution and the Enlightenment. Algeria’s intellectual context, learning system, and the public practice of Sufism contributed significantly to building resistance to European intellectual infiltration and influence, while the European communities in Algeria played a marginal role in shaping Algeria’s intellectual and cultural life. In spite of its inherent political and geostrategic advantages, Ottoman Algeria failed to achieve a balance between military power and politics in the Mediterranean region, and its own inherent cultural resources.