France’s Macron in Algeria: Frosty ties, bitter history

Macron’s visit is an attempt to mend relations between France and Algeria, which hit a new low in the last year.

French President Emmanuel Macron is set to arrive in Algiers for an official state visit, in what many see as a thawing in frosty relations between Algeria and the former colonial power.

The three-day visit – Macron’s second to Algeria as head of state – aims to deepen the bilateral relationship between the two countries, a statement from France’s presidency said.

The statement added that the visit would “reinforce Franco-Algerian cooperation in the face of regional challenges and to continue the work of addressing the past”.

But in order to move forward, France must reckon with its brutal colonial past and occupation of Algeria, said Youcef Bouandel, a professor of political sciences at Qatar University.

“France’s official attitude is ‘there will be no repentance, there will be no apologies’”, Bouandel told Al Jazeera. “Indeed, Emmanuel Macron believes that ‘repentance is vanity’. The question that begs itself is why has France taken this attitude.”

Why have relations been strained between the two countries?

  • In October 2021, ties between Algeria and France nosedived after Macron was reported to have questioned whether Algeria had existed as a nation before French colonialism. He also decried Algiers’ “political-military system” of rewriting history in a discourse of “hatred towards France”.

  • According to French daily Le Monde, the comments were made during a meeting with Macron and French-Algerian descendants of the Harkis, Algerians who fought on the French side during Algeria’s war of independence.

  • The comments also followed a French decision to sharply reduce the number of visas it grants to citizens of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

How did Algeria react to Macron’s comments?

  • Algeria accused France of “genocide” and recalled its ambassador from Paris in October 2021.

  • The return of the Algerian ambassador to France is conditional on “total respect for the Algerian state,” Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune said at the time.

  • The Algerian government also banned French military planes from its airspace.

  • A statement from the Algerian presidency accused France of genocide, and expressed its “categorical rejection of the inadmissible interference in its internal affairs”.

What’s on Macron’s agenda in Algeria?

  • According to Bouandel, one of the main issues to be discussed is energy, given the continuing war in Ukraine and the need for France and Europe to look for alternative sources of gas to cope with the coming winter.

  • “Macron will also be looking at the Algerian market for French goods and to maintain its position as an important economic partner, especially given the growing role and influence of China,” Bouandel added.

  • French limits on visas for Algerians are also likely to be on the agenda.

What’s the history of France’s colonisation of Algeria?

  • France occupied Algeria for 132 years, before the latter won independence in March 1962 after a fierce and bloody war lasting more than seven years.

  • Algerian authorities say 1.5 million people were killed in the war, whereas many French historians put the number of those killed at half a million. The majority of those killed were Algerian.

  • On July 5 of the same year, Algeria officially broke free from colonial rule after 99.72 percent of voters backed independence in a referendum.

  • France has ruled out any form of apology for the colonial period, but said Macron would instead take part in “symbolic acts” aimed at promoting reconciliation.

What is the legacy of French colonial rule over Algeria?

  • The two countries have a complicated relationship, with Algeria often accusing France of meddling with its internal affairs.

  • Macron, the first French president born after the colonial period, acknowledged in 2018 that France had instigated a system that facilitated torture during the Algerian war.

  • “Recognition of the violence of colonisation is a highly divisive issue in France, particularly among the supports of the far-right who, traditionally, have been fervent defenders of France’s colonial past,” Bouandel said. “Consequently, instead of apologising for its brutal colonial past,  France took some steps to glorify its colonial past.”

  • On November 29, 2005, the French National Assembly passed a law that glorified French colonialism and made it compulsory for teachers to present a favourable account of France’s brutal colonial past,” Bouandel added.

  • French Algerians are estimated to be the largest minority in France, but many complain of discrimination.

 

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