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History weighs on Macron’s visit to Algeria

Macron’s visit aimed to open a new chapter in the tumultuous relations between Algeria and France. (AFP)
Macron’s visit aimed to open a new chapter in the tumultuous relations between Algeria and France. (AFP)
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28 Aug 2022 01:08:41 GMT9
28 Aug 2022 01:08:41 GMT9
  • Paris struggles with a colonial history that it refuses to face

Sarra Benali Cherif | Arab News France

ALGIERS: French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Algeria carried important economic prospects, over which lukewarm diplomatic ties cast a shadow.

From a French perspective, Macron’s visit aimed to open a new chapter in the tumultuous relations between Algeria and France.

From an Algerian perspective, it was more about asserting political sovereignty vis-à-vis the former colonizer.

Dr. Tayeb Beroual, a political scientist at the University of Algiers and specialist in security and development affairs, said the visit was planned with the aim of moving forward with certain issues.

“Macron carried on his shoulders the weight of historical consequences and of political pressure to obtain economic gains from Algeria.”

He noted that this political pressure stems from a certain political class that was enthusiastically awaiting this visit because it perceived it as an opportunity for both economic development and rebuilding bridges to “unite the two countries.”

However, the Algerian population, which is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its independence this year, has not forgotten the French president’s stance and recognition of the role of the Harkis — a stance that has angered the Algerians who perceive this as an old influence of French Algeria.

A negative perception, Beroual noted, adding: “Algeria expected a global recognition of colonial crimes for which the French State was responsible.”

France’s Sahel challenge

Beroual said that in the wake of geopolitical issues in the Maghreb and the Sahel, Franco-Algerian cooperation deserves to be rebuilt on more solid foundations.

“A visit of anticipation,” he called it, noting that Macron is well-aware that he could not negotiate concessions on the Algerian side, especially with the decline of France’s political presence on the continent.

The expert pointed out that the same goes for security concerns.

“We can see that the French lobby has started to retreat in the Sahel, especially in Mali,” he explained, adding: “If France wants to keep an eye on the Sahel, it would be through Algeria. If France wants to ensure a constant supply of hydrocarbons, Algeria is essential; a fact which Macron has understood.”

Beroual is unwavering about the French leadership.

For him, France has lost its role as a leader in Mali to the benefit of other powers, and this is what drives Macron to “rearrange his affairs so that Paris can succeed in redeployment in the region, but this time as a partner to safeguard its interests, not as a hegemonic power issuing orders from France.”

Dominant rhetoric

The issue of memory also marked Macron’s visit.

Even if both French and Algerian officials continuously exchange formal messages on the imperative need to focus on the future of relations between the two countries far from all the ideological, political, and cultural quarrels, Beroual stressed: “Paris struggles with a colonial history which it refuses to confront. If we were to talk about this period, we would get this dominant emotional tone from both sides.”

Beroual noted: “The issue of memory has been exploited by France as a pressure tool, instead of being a gain for Algeria.”

He added: “Everything sounds like the echo of dominant rhetoric from Paris, and the remnants of this domination appear through recurring returns of old lobbies, for whom it is inconceivable to see a country emerge as economically powerful on the southern shore of the Mediterranean.”

Algeria gained its political independence, Beroual said, but it has remained bound by a certain economic dependence on France, which jealously wants to guard its interests in Algeria, the gateway to Africa.

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